I’ve noticed some time ago that Angelo seems to have an affinity to Chinese people. It was not apparent until over the summer where Valentina found her connection. As a mixed race family we’ve never really discussed ethnicity. When Angelo was about 16 months old, we bought the book The Colour Of Us by Karen Katz. I think I’d come across it on via the one of the Multicultural Kid Blogs forums. However, the book does not address ethnicity and race directly. The story teller, 7 years old Lena, speaks in terms of colour and shades as her artisan mother taught her. We enjoyed the book together. Angelo clearly knows the Chinese race because his dad would say ‘we are going to the Chinese shop’ or ‘this is Chinese food’ or ‘say hello to Chinese uncle’ and we kind of sort of celebrate the Chinese New Year with a meal at least. In his mind there is little doubt about whom and what was Chinese. All other races have never addressed, not intentionally we just never did. Now that Angelo is 4 years old and Valentina is 23 months, both children seem to be identifying with different parts of their ethnic origin.
Recently I was preparing lunch for both children. I asked myself what Angelo would eat. What would Valentina eat? Once I’d made a decision, I plated up and presented them with their meals. I said “Angelo you have Chinese noodles and chicken, Valentina you have meat rice and peas with sauce”. After the words left my mouth I realized that their personal taste seemed to be reflecting how their racial identity might be developing. They have got the same parents, they are being raised in the same way with the same circle of friends and yet they have made different connections. The only difference I can see in their life events to date is that Angelo knew his paternal Chinese grandmother. When she was alive there were regular family gatherings. For the first 1 ½ years of his life, Angelo was surrounded by his Chinese family. His popo (granny) passed away several months before Valentina was born. We moved house and our world became smaller. It was just us four most of the time with the odd visit from friends. Where my family are concerned, the children only know them via Skype.
We attend various children’s groups, therefore, both children are used to interacting with adults and children of different racial backgrounds. Yet, I have noticed that Valentina seems to relax faster with a black person. While Angelo seems to think that any Chinese person he meets is somehow related to him or will want to be his friend. If he sees someone who looks Chinese he will point them out, not in a rude way. I think its way of showing what he knows. Although his dad is mixed race like him, Angelo sees his dad as Chinese (we have never talked about his dad’s heritage). He’s comments are based purely on facial features. Angelo is a mini version of his dad. At 4 years old he still has strong Chinese features. I say still because I when he was born everyone was waiting to see if/ how his features would change. When is personality his begin to show but his features stayed the same I would hear comments like “ Now I can see the black in him” .
I’m not sure if their physical features have any bearing on how they see themselves. While Angelo has more Chinese features, Valentina is more like a best of both Hovis bread. She looks like me when I was her age except for the shape of her eyes. YET! People will still say she looks like her dad because they notice her eyes before anything else. I borrowed the American term Blasian to ‘define’ them so to speak, on the blog and social media, its not a term used in conversation with them. Strictly speaking its does not encompass all that they are because while I define myself as black, like many West Indians come from a mixed heritage background myself. The time is fast approaching when we will have to discuss our heritage, race and ethnicity in a meaningful way.
Since he’s begun nursery, Angelo, has begun mentioning colour in comparison to his. It’s as if he’s seeing me for the first time. One day, recently, while walking home from the playground, I heard Angelo tell his sister, “you are Chinese”. I asked him why he thought she was Chinese. He went into an explanation that was as clear as mud. Then, I asked “Ok, what are you Angelo?” to which he responded “I’m just a boy, I’m me, Angelo”. He’s still quite young and trying to make sense of who he is and his world. Who knows what shape his teenage personality and racial identity will take. One thing is for sure to me he’s not ‘just a boy’. He’s my everything. I love him more that I can express.
Are you a parent to mixed race child(ren)? How do they define themselves? Do you talk about race and cultural heritage with you children? Do they embrace it or reject it? I’d love to hear from you.