Sixteen years ago, my husband and I wrote a column in the Statesman for a year about raising a multicultural child. We worried about a lot of things. What box would our son check on the U.S. Census form? Would he identify more with his Mexican-American roots or his Jewish-American roots? Or both? How would our two families come together over rituals and holidays?
By the time our daughter came along, almost three years later, we had figured most of it out, and many of the things we worried about never became issues.
Austin and, really, the world my children experience is a big multicultural place. Many kids are just like them: a blend of many cultures.
Occasionally, I am taken aback when there is an issue. This winter my daughter came to me to complain that schoolmates didn’t believe she is Hispanic. Jewish maybe, but, according to them, she does not “look Hispanic enough.” (Ironically, she looks more like her Mexican-American side than her Eastern European Jewish side). What does not looking “Hispanic enough” even mean?
Luke Whitehead created the website MixedNation.com, a Facebook page and a new book, “Perfect Lil Blends,” which highlights real children who are all kinds of different blends of cultures. Whitehead has an African-American father and a white mother. “I was seeing two beautiful cultures come together out of love,” he says. But he also saw some issues growing up. “At times you feel forced to pick a side,” he says. “You feel not black enough, not white enough.”
His mother always told him as a child that he was “the best of both worlds.” “When I was younger, it was, ‘Yeah, right, Mom.’ … But it stuck with me.”
As he got older, he realized the blessing of being from different cultures. Now, at 36, he’s a parent himself. His son is mostly African-American, but his wife has some white roots as well, and some of his nieces and nephews look white although they have black within their cultural background, Whitehead says. His family is full of diverse roots, including American Indian, too.
“Everyone has their own beautiful blend,” he says.
The website and the book try to highlight many examples of beautiful blends, not just black and white but all kinds of countries of origin, all kinds of religious mixes.
The site is also filled with beautifully blended celebrities telling their stories, as well as tips on what to say to people and to your children, stories from real families and more. It also touts ending racism.
A lot of people have expressed concern about what feels like a recent rise in racism. “We try to help spark the conversation and spark the stand against racism,” Whitehead says. “It may never be completely gone, but the reason I’m hopeful is I’ve seen it personally. We can change people one person at a time.”
Racism, he says, is something you’re taught, not something you’re born with. “We’re teaching the opposite.”
“We try to help parents to inspire them, to help their kids be proud of who they are,” Whitehead says. One of the things he suggests is having kids ready with a response and a tactic when kids say something hurtful or misguided, or when they ask an unthinking question like, “What are you?”
For my daughter, the answer to those ignorant kids at school might be, “I’m a beautiful blend of Jewish and Mexican-American.”