My Chinese Son- Thoughts about Multiculturalism

No, Harold is not adopted.  He was born in China, the biological child of my husband and me, while we were stationed at the American Embassy in Beijing.

People often ask, upon hearing that he was born in China, if he has dual citizenship.  China does not permit citizenship for any person not of Chinese parentage.  He does have a Chinese birth certificate, though, in addition to the Certificate of Birth Abroad that our embassy issued.

Now, though, at age 4, he is suddenly embracing his birth country.  He says he is Chinese, he is eagerly speaking the Mandarin that I have been teaching him since he was newborn. Who knew he was listening?  I’m not sure of the trigger, but suddenly he is enthusiastically Chinese.

All of this multiculturalism reminds me of an exchange that happened 2 years ago.  We’d been back in the U.S. for about 6 months.  It was the winter holiday season and 5 1/2 year old Bob asked, “why don’t we celebrate Kwanza?”  I replied that it is not our culture.  He asked, “what is culture?”  So, I replied, “Grandma and Grandpa are Christian, so it is part of their culture to celebrate Christmas, your friend Keith is African-American, so his family celebrates Kwanza, we celebrate Chanukah because we are Jewish,” and Bob interrupted, “and Chinese!”

He was completely serious.  He had lived in China from the time he was 2 until 5, major years in the development of identity.  In his mind, being Chinese was as much a part of his culture as being Jewish or American.  In between Chanukah and Valentines Day we celebrate Chinese New Year.  It all seems very natural to him.  I now see the same happening in Harold.

By living overseas in a community filled with friends from literally dozens of nations, our kids really do see the world through rose-colored glasses.  Their vision allows them to see people as people.  They like some, they don’t like some, but none of it is based on background or genetics or nationality.  If they tell me of a new classmate with a clearly foreign sounding name, I might ask, “oh, where is he from?”  Their answer, always, is “America.  Of course.”  Even when they lived abroad, if a person spoke English, they were American, (or English, as they liked to call anyone who spoke English) even if the person was carrying a Chinese passport.

So, there are certainly many downsides to the 10 moves that we have done over the 13 years we’ve had children, but I must give credit where credit is due: Thank you US Navy for sending us overseas and helping our kids build a strong foundation of colorblindness.

Of course I know Harold is no more Chinese than the Queen of England, but I’m happy that in his eyes, anyone can be anything.

 Zack, Dwight and Bob 2008
 It doesn’t get much more multi-cultural than this picture:
  Yarmulkes and Chinese New Year Clothing
                    Bob and Harold 2009
 Harold 2009
 Dwight 2009
Zack 2009
SO, the question is, how do we do this at home?  How can we make our schools truly multicultural?  Yes, our kids study together and play together, but by the time they get to middle school, there is often, still a separation… in 2012.  White kids hang out with white kids, Asian kids with Asian kids, Indian kids with Indian kids… you get the picture…

But Why?

Of course, it starts at home.

I’m not downplaying the importance of individual cultures, nationalities, religious practices, etc.  I am only pointing out that the world would be a better place, perhaps, if we all spent a few years living abroad, volunteering in a neighborhood other than our own, working beside people who don’t look like us, but who, of course we will find act much like we do.

I don’t know if the environment we experienced overseas can be duplicated or its effects replicated, but wouldn’t it be nice if it could be?

My point is, my kids have a point.  I ask where a child with an unusual name is from out of curiosity, but why does it really matter?  Everyone is unique for who they are, what they stand for and what they believe and by getting to know each other, we can learn all about them and our world.  But, what matters most is friends are friends, people are people.
Perhaps this line of thinking makes me a Pollyanna, but wouldn’t this be a better place if we all wore rose-colored glasses?
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About Commander in Chief At home

Erin is a military spouse and, sometimes temporarily single, mom to 4 boys. She's a parenting coach, writer, teacher, special needs (Autism) mom, and much more.
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