There is no worse feeling than when people think you and your child are unrelated. At least, that’s how my mother felt.
I am half German and half Filipina, and I remember many times when I would be out with my Filipina mother and people would come up to her and say, “What a cute child! Are you her nanny?” or “Is she adopted?” One person even went so far as to flat-out deny I was her daughter and insisted, “I just don’t see how that’s possible.” All because I did not look exactly like her.
Incidents like these stuck with me and are among the major challenges parents face when raising a mixed-race child. I decided to speak with parents here in the New York metro region to hear their accounts of raising bicultural children today.
In my own experience, identifying as multiracial is complicated because you look “different” from others. It’s challenging because you do end up relating to one side more than another—yet you are not entirely of that race, so you are not always fully accepted even within that group. On the other hand, it feels great to be able to celebrate more than one heritage and be able to better understand other cultures.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, 9 million Americans identified as two or more racial categories when asked about their racial background—and this number is surely increasing. In New York City, 4 percent of the population identified as “two or more races” in the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, while statewide more than half a million New Yorkers did the same—and the number is surely growing.
A Cultural Melting Pot
Courtesy Nicole Perrino
Nicole Perrino and her family live in the Bronx, where she says the diversity makes them comfortable raising mixed-race kids.
Often revered as a cultural melting pot, New York City and its suburbs are home to people of countless ethnicities. It is therefore not surprising that interracial relationships are on the rise, and with them, the birth of multi-race children.
Nicole Perrino is the founder of the blog Bronx Mama and is Italian-Irish. Her boyfriend Luis is Dominican, and their daughters are Briana, 10, and Gia, 4. They live in East Bronx and found that the area has a blend of both of their cultures. “It’s so diverse and you never know what a person is just by looking at them,” Perrino says.
Betsy Vilca is a blogger at Betsy V, YouTuber at Thats Betsy V, and a mother of two children: Ziana, 4, and Gunner, 1. She is Peruvian and her boyfriend Bobby is Irish. They live in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, which is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country.
Vilca expresses concern about how her kids will be treated based on the current political climate. “I feel like it’s much more accepting to be a mixed-race family than it was years ago,” she says. “But at the same time, with Donald Trump in office we’re concerned our kids might be ostracized because they’re not white-white and they’re not Spanish.”
Vilca is able to have her kids learn about both sides of their heritage in New York by going to St. Patrick’s Day activities as well as eating Peruvian dishes such as lomo saltado, a stir-fry of sirloin steak with onions, tomatoes, and French fries served over a bed of rice. “It’s very cultural here in New York and I feel like they’ll be able to identify more with different cultures when they get older,” Vilca says.
Courtesy Betsy Vilca
Queens mom Betsy Vilca, who is Peruvian, says she and her husband, who is Irish, teach their kids about both cultures.
One way to preserve tradition is to teach kids to be bilingual or to “speak their mother tongue.” Vilca’s daughter Ziana understands Spanish when she speaks to her, but sometimes refuses to respond because everyone around speaks English. Vilca grew up in Garden City Park on Long Island and felt the same way. “I grew up with a lot of Caucasians and my parents only spoke Spanish, so I couldn’t identify with those kids and was ostracized in that aspect,” Vilca says. She hopes her kids will grow up to speak Spanish fluently and understand it better than she does.
Maria Adcock is the founder of the blog Bicultural Mama and is Chinese-American. She and her husband Matthew, who is Caucasian, live in Suffolk County and have two daughters: Ailin, 8, and Aimei, 2. Ailin is enrolled in Chinese school and Aimei will follow in her footsteps once she is old enough to attend.
Adcock wants her daughters to go to Chinese school because there are not many Asians in her area and her family lives out of state, so her kids do not have a chance to hear relatives speak Chinese very often. She attended Chinese school growing up and wants her kids to be exposed to the culture, language, and traditions. “Some of the challenges of raising mixed-race children are ensuring that the minority heritage traditions are passed down and that my kids are embracing it and proud that there’s this part of them,” Adcock says. “It’s very easy for them to lose the minority heritage because they’re not immersed in it.”
Adcock hopes that her daughters will continue to celebrate both cultures. She says Ailin identifies more with her Chinese side, but says that could change if she decides she wants to choose to embrace her Caucasian side more. “My husband’s family is nearby and we see them several times a month,” Adcock says. “That’s why I feel like I need to make sure that the other side is being reinforced as well.”
There was an instance where Adcock was with Ailin at the post office when she was a baby and an older woman approached them and said, “Oh my gosh, is that an ‘Amerasian’ baby?” Adcock talked to Ailin about racism and what to do if she is bullied. She grew up in Michigan and said she was teased, so she wants to make sure her kids know what to do if that ever happens. “I want them to be proud at a young age and try to protect them as much as possible.”
The term “Amerasian” is used to define a person born in Asia to a U.S. military father and an Asian mother. It was first used during the wars in Korea and then Vietnam and could be applicable to U.S. citizens of any ethnicity, so this was a misinformed comment that made Adcock feel taken aback. “I can tell that she didn’t mean it in an offensive way because she was smiling and said she knew other ‘Amerasian’ babies,” Adcock says. “It was just kind of strange to be called out that way.”
Teaching Kids to Understand Others
Courtesy Jen Rabulan-Bertram
Jen Rabulan-Bertram and her family live in Denville, NJ, and call themselves the “token mixed family” of their area.
Jen Rabulan-Bertram is the founder of the blog Next Kid Thing. She is Filipina-American and her husband Jeff is German, English, and Irish. Jen, Jeff, and their kids Jack, 9, and Josh, 5, live in Denville, NJ, and say they are the “token mixed family” of their area.
Rabulan-Bertram grew up in Virginia, where she says people made racial jokes toward her and repeated racial stereotypes, so she made sure her kids learned how to embrace others. The common refrain in their household is that everyone is different, whether it’s how they look or if they are differently abled. Josh is in special education, so it is especially ingrained in her kids that they accept anyone regardless of race or physical differences. “You don’t know the other person’s story, so you just say that everyone is different,” Rabulan-Bertram says.
Rabulan-Bertram says Jack has been learning about his culture in school and hopes he grows up to embrace both sides. “Having a mom that looks one way and a dad that looks another is definitely something he should be proud of,” Rabulan-Bertram says. “Whether it’s having awesome food and learning about how his grandparents grew up in a really cool island, I think it’s important for him to know that.”
As for me, being bicultural has allowed me to understand the world and empathize with others through a lens not many people can use. I understand and accept that people will continue to give me weird looks because they cannot figure out what my ethnicity is. I understand that I will be too Asian in some people’s eyes and too white to others. I understand the struggle to be accepted in society because at the end of the day, I’m still a minority. And I would never change any of it because I am proud of who I am.
What to Do When Your Children Come Face-to-Face with Racism
Raising a Bicultural Child
Main image: Suffolk County blogger Maria Adcock and her family at a birthday party. The kids are half Chinese and Adcock hopes they embrace that side of their heritage.
Courtesy Bicultural Mama