Genetic cocktails and DNA mixes: Raising our HAPA (mixed-race) kids
In my previous entry, I revealed to you my heart’s desire of having two kids with Ian. As a newly engaged woman, I am really excited about the prospect of a new family life with my fiancé. And while I am set on pursuing a career over immediately having a child after getting married, Ian and I have discussed children several times in our relationship.
We are both thrilled at the thought of having mixed/HAPA kids. We think it’s cool. The Philippines has a very rich cultural background and almost everyone can claim to having a mixture of Chinese and Spanish lineage brought about by years of intermarriage within these cultures. I have no way of confirming whether I have Chinese flowing in my veins. My chinky eyes may rather be a result of having a Japanese maternal grandmother. My paternal grandfather, on the other hand, is part-Spanish.
Ian’s heritage is an interesting mixture: When we first met, he described himself to me as “quite the mutt”. Born to an American Jewish father of Polish-Austrian and Ukrainian descent, Ian has hazel-green eyes, hair everywhere :D, and an overall look similar to how Jesus was described to us back in the Catholic school that I first attended. Ian’s mother is French and Scottish. Enough said.
Now you understand our fascination. If ever anybody asks our future children what they are (which I am sure would be frequent), they would probably need to inhale deeply before answering because it’s going to be a looooong reply.
It is an amazing thing for us – the coming together of varied cultures to make one harmonious family. I feel privileged to be a part of this. It had never crossed my mind that our children would potentially have a problem dealing with their multiracial ethnicity, because it was never an issue for me and Ian. We both came from multicultural backgrounds so first and foremost we understand that it is something to be proud of rather than loathed or embarrassed. I feel like we will be responsible parents and guide our children to foster the same kind of appreciation for their mixed heritage as well.
Mixed race is God’s photoshop!
Now, I am not the authority when it comes to marriage and motherhood; as you know, I am yet to be a wife and mother myself. Yet I do have some ideas on how to handle being a mother to mixed kids. I’ll rely heavily on instinct, or since I am about to be Ian’s wife, I’ll refer to it as “Weinstinct” (Weinstein + instinct, get it?)
Weinstinct Tip #1. It’s all about acceptance.
Have you ever wondered why your nose doesn’t look like your father’s? Why your complexion doesn’t match your mother’s? Why your sister is fairer than you and why you are darker? I suppose we all have. Procreating is almost like joining the genetic lottery: You can never guess what you’ll draw from the bowl. Chinky eyes, almond eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, straight hair, curly hair, freckles, no freckles, tan, fair, yellow skin, etc. Imagine factoring in a mixture of races and you get a very confusing DNA cocktail. Considering the mixture of our lineages, an accurate guess about such potential physical characteristics would be quite an amazing feat. Now, figuring your future children’s appearance is NOT the issue here. In fact, it doesn’t even really matter. What matters is how you’re going to tackle it when your child asks you the very same questions. Tricky, eh?
The solution is NOT to focus on the question but rather on what the question implies. Your child is wondering why he/she looks different from you. Correct. Yet additionally, he/she is wondering if it is okay to be different from you. Of course it is! But he/she doesn’t realize this yet. Your job as a parent is to make your child FEEL that these differences are indeed okay. Curly hair, straight hair, fair skin, brown skin, dark brown skin, whatever! Make them feel accepted. We all want to be validated right? I don’t know if I will do a sufficient job at this myself but what I do know is that I will try my very best so that my children would feel loved, appreciated, and valued no matter what they look like. I can only hope that it’s enough!
Weinstinct Tip #2: Own it so it doesn’t own you!
Parents tend to be very protective. That’s their nature. Of course we will all try to work hard to provide our respective children with the sense of security and belonging that they need. But parental protection can only extend so much. Try as we may, we are not sure whether some people outside of our homes will try to hurt them and screw with their self-esteem.
My greatest fear in becoming a HAPA mom is the thought of my children growing up in an environment that I did not grow up in. I wouldn’t really know how to deal with it. I hear horror stories of bullying in American schools, and I see the concept of “social casting” popularized by the media: the cheerleaders, jocks and the cool kids sit over here, the nerds over there, the Asian kids on one side and the losers on the other side. It’s sooo scary! I don’t ever want my little boy coming home to me in tears because he was teased for being of Asian descent. Beyond my protective shield, I am powerless, and my child is defenseless. Come to think of it, children spend more time in school than at home, and so it becomes as much of a venue for developing character as the home. What if my child turns out to be shy and timid because he was excessively bullied in school without my knowledge? What if he acts out our underperforms or hates going to school because he doesn’t want to be smacked in the head or “labeled” time and time again? I would really hate for that to happen. I cringe at the thought of it! Harsh realities are looming, and they are out there waiting to bite when our unsuspecting children are left unguarded. You can’t be there wherever your kids are, can you?
The tip then is NOT to keep your eyes on your child and extend your protection all of the time (sure you could but that’s still not quite enough), but also to let your child learn to protect himself. Strengthen your child’s inner core: educate him, talk to him about his heritage, encourage him to be aware of the many cultures he has, allow him to accept himself as you have, let him embrace his mixed-ness and carry it as a badge of honor. That way, it (being multiracial) can never hurt him. Instead, it becomes a source of pride. This may seem easy but it isn’t always implemented. Some parents carry within themselves a colonial mentality or an inferiority complex and more often than not their children do “inherit” it. But that’s a separate issue entirely.
Going back, Tip # 2 then leads us to tip # 3 which is of a similar theme:
Weinstinct Tip # 3 Expose your children to the world: Travel!
It has been said that travel is the greatest form of education. The best way for your HAPA children to get to know their heritage is to experience it. Traveling is a wonderful opportunity for them to explore these other aspects of their identities, and at the same time it provides a venue for them to cultivate appreciation for it. I certainly dream of one day taking my children to visit exotic locations, cultural heritage centers, historical places, etc. both in Asia where I came from, and in North America and Europe where Ian’s family is from. I would have them wander the cobbled streets of European countries with me, run-hop along metropolitan boulevards, explore the thoroughfares of third-world countries and bathe under the tropical sun.
Sure, you can also take your children to places that are not in the long list of their genetic origins. It’s also healthy to know more about other cultures. I actually feel like taking my mixed family on an adventure, trekking on roads less traveled, and marveling at the sights and being amazed by the varied but equally splendid sceneries that the world has to offer. I would have my children become acquainted with different modes of transportation: the Japanese bullet train, the Thai tuktuk, the Philippine jeepney, the small Parisian cars—hell, even the not-so-reputable New York City subway. If this world is a big, big university and the streets are classrooms, then that is where my children should be.
Weinstinct Tip #4 Teach your kids to care.
Where I don’t want my children to be is on the couch sitting all day playing video games and watching dumb TV. We can all agree that the last thing a parent would want would be for his or her children to be spoiled, stuck-up, obese reality-TV-show-watching spawns. Children need to be aware that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that there are issues we have to care about, and that amidst the wonders of the Earth there’s also so much injustice and suffering going on. If my children are going to be students of life, they have to study the most important subject in the world: The Plight of Humanity. Now this doesn’t only apply to HAPA kids, it’s for everyone else too. I think that a big chunk of what being a parent is about is teaching your children to be productive and contributing citizens of the world we all live in, reinforced by an understanding of justice and a sense of empathy. Ultimately, I think those values are what brought Ian and I together. Values that we would surely want to inculcate in our future children and hopefully they would pass on to their children as well. Such values are not only about interaction with people from within or outside of your own culture, race, etc., but also about just generally being a person who exercises fairness, equality and respect to his fellow men, because at the end of the day, whatever color or race we may be, we are all from the same Earth mother.
Okay, perhaps I have been sounding a bit too preachy (or hippie \m/). And so this concludes “How to Handle your HAPA kids 101” in four (4) easy Weinstinct steps: