As the mother of two children who are five-and-a-half years apart in age, I am more aware than most of the similarities and the differences between them.
There are more commonalities than differences between the two.
However, there is one thing that is remarkably different between them and that has to do with their appearance: my son doesn’t look Asian. My daughter doesn’t look very Asian either, but she looks enough like me that it’s obvious she’s my child.
My son, though, is another case.
With his pale skin, blue eyes, and light hair, he’s a dead ringer for his father. I joke that it is a good thing he was born at a birthing center rather than a hospital because if I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t believe he was mine either.
Granted, his appearance wasn’t a total shock. Despite my very Asian appearance, I actually am more than half European of which the overwhelming majority is Northern European. My mother’s side is predominately blondes and redheads, and my great-grandmother was a Swedish immigrant. A DNA test taken over a year ago revealed that my so-called 100% East Asian paternal side wasn’t actually 100%. As it turns out, I had a great-great-grandfather who was a Dutch Jew.
I always knew I had those recessive genes. Still, it was a bit of a shock to meet my son for the first time. Of course I didn’t care what he looked like—I thought he was the most beautiful baby boy I ever saw, but I knew that there would be many people who would see us together and not realize he was my biological son.
The first time it happened he was about 3 months old, and we were seeing a new doctor for the first time. “Are you the caretaker?” asked the very nice nurse who came in to administer his vaccines.
“No,” I replied. “I’m his mother.” Just to clarify I added, “His biological mother.”
“Oh”, she said. “Sorry!”
“Please don’t apologize!” I said— I meant it 100%.
Recently, I met another very nice woman who remarked how amazed she was at my son’s blue eyes.
I remarked that it was a surprise to me as well given how I looked.
“Oh. Is it because you’re so, um, dark-eyed?” she asked, obviously trying to be polite.
“No,” I said. “It’s because I am so Asian looking!”
I could see that made her somewhat uncomfortable. It was a little surprising to me as it was certainly not my intention and in my mind, I was only pointing out the obvious.
Frankly, had I been her or the aforementioned nurse I would have assumed I was the nanny or wondered where my son got his coloring from.
It’s not about being rude or racist—just curious.
As someone who grew up in a military town and went to school with many biracial and multiracial people and fell into the former category myself, I was well used to be asked and asking, “What are you?” I never once thought of it as racist.
It wasn’t a perfect place to be, but in some ways it was light years ahead of the supposedly progressive place I know call home.
Despite being known for it’s tolerance and liberalism, I have noticed in the nearly 15 years that I have lived here that there isn’t a lot of racial interaction.
Many times I will show up at places and be one of the few if only people of color there.
While I know Caucasian couples who have adopted Asian or biracial children and would be appalled at the mere idea that someone might ask them where their children are from or if they are really their parents, I know for a fact that some have assumed I was my kids’ nanny.
Talking about race makes many people uncomfortable. Even noticing a racial difference makes some people uncomfortable—they feel that if they comment or ask questions, they’ll be called insensitive or, God forbid, a racist.
It’s sad, because I believe that one of the best ways to combat racism and racial stereotypes is to ask questions.
Granted I am biased, but I think both my kids are beautiful examples of multiracial beings.
It is fascinating to me think of all the diverse places my son’s relatives came from and how his father and I randomly met to create him.
Still, at the same time, I am aware that my kids’ experiences—especially my son’s—will be different from mine. Even though he is part of me, he will not be subject to the racism and prejudices I experienced growing up.
He will not be asked where he’s really from and as a white male, he will have a certain level of privilege that even his sister will not experience.
I also wonder if there will come a point when he realizes that.
As much as I love my son and know he will always be part of me, there is a certain level of complexity there when I see how he and I will probably have very different life experiences on many levels.
I am sure that throughout his life, people will see us together and wonder if I am his biological mother.
To them I say: it’s okay to wonder and perfectly okay to ask questions.
In fact, I welcome the latter.
It’s not an offense to be curious and does not make you a racist…I promise.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: author’s own