Your Son Looks Mixed

Jaxson and Sophia Being Silly-I'm Not the Nanny

Jaxson has two Vietnamese classmates in his preschool class. I love this program because the students are very diverse, not just in race but culture as well. Sophia attended the program for two years and her classes were equally diverse, including Vietnamese students in both years. I love it because I encourage the kids to try out their Vietnamese language skills with their fellow Viet classmates.  Sophia and her classmates used to quiz each other on their Vietnamese during their snack breaks. Jaxson isn’t as fluent as Sophia was at his age, but he’s had a renewed interest in language. (We’ve been rewatching the Dino Lingo DVDs together.)

I also try to speak Vietnamese to these preschoolers’ parents. Most Vietnamese people seem surprised when I speak to them in our native language. I guess I don’t look like a typical Vietnamese person (whatever that is). Or maybe when they see me with Jaxson, they assume I’m some other kind of Asian.  The mother of one child was shocked to hear me address her in Vietnamese, but later seem relieved to have someone to talk to. Now we chat and make small talk when we run pass each other during morning drop off or while we wait for preschool to let out. Just like I do with the other non-Viet parents. We just chat in Vietnamese instead.

The family of the second Vietnamese child hasn’t quite warmed up to me yet. I’ve met the classmate’s father, mother, grandmother and aunt. I’ve only spoken with the father a couple of times because he’s not usually the one to pick up. One day, as we waited for our children to finish their projects before pick-up, the grandmother asked me which kid was mine. I pointed out Jaxson.

After a brief pause, she looked at me. “Well, he looks mixed,” she said in Vietnamese.

“That’s because he is,” I responded, also in Vietnamese.  It was the best response I could think of right then. After all, it’s the truth. My son is mixed race.

I focused my attention back on Jaxson, but I could feel the grandmother looking at me. Judging me. I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now. Perhaps I was being too sensitive. Was she really judging me? Would have asked if Jaxson had lighter skin? If he was mixed with a white daddy instead of a black one? Probably not. Instead she might have mentioned how handsome he was because of his biracial skin.

This is one reason for my reluctance in finding a Vietnamese community or group for our family. Vietnamese folks, especially those who are immigrants, are not as accepting of folks who marry outside our culture, much less race. We’re a conservative community. (Never bring up Barack Obama around my dad.) I have relatives who pretend I no longer exist because I married a black man. It took my parents years to come around. The younger Viet generation (hello, millenials!) or those who have married outside the Vietnamese culture are cool with us. In fact they think our kids are beautiful. (I think so too, but I’m biased.)

The other mother and I still chitchat. Our kids enjoy playing together in preschool. She’s never asked me about Jaxson’s race. She’s met my husband.

I don’t have a solution or answer to this. I know it’s an issue that I personally have to come to terms with because I don’t want my kids to miss out on their Vietnamese community. But I don’t want them to be alienated for not being 100% Vietnamese either.  This won’t be the last time that I’ll be judged by a Vietnamese person for choosing to marry outside of my race and culture. It’s not just me. I have non-Viet friends who married into a Vietnamese family, and for some, the family barely tolerates them. All I can tell them is that I don’t know how to change it. It took my parents a long time to come around. I don’t think it was anything I did either. Well, except for popping out two grandkids for them.

No matter what, I’ll keep talking about this. Everyone wants to be accepted by their culture. When you find someone in which you share a language, who grew up eating the same foods as you did or celebrates the same holidays as you, it’s natural to want to connect with them. It always hurts when they deny us that connection, no matter how superficial or flimsy the excuse is.

Have you had a similar experience with your culture or family?


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