Monday, July 5, 2010

Of Eggs and Bananas

Forgive me a little ramble here…but it’s been on my mind today. I’ve recently moved across the country, and thus have joined a new church congregation. Our new congregation is a wonderful mix of old friends and new faces, and I’m enjoying getting to know everyone.

Seattle is Home for me, and that was one of the major reasons we moved back. Another reason, and a very big one at that, is the sizeable Asian population here. Growing up, my elementary schools were 30-50"% Asian, and I always loved having such a diverse pool of friends. (Even as a child, I loved to eat…and loved the VARIETY of things my friends’ moms could make! Egg rolls from Kim, cabbage rolls from Jack, and sushi from Mrs. McMath, an immigrant from Japan. Yummy!)

My husband is from Hong Kong, and I am a sort of Euro-Mutt. My family emigrated out of various European countries at least three or four generations ago. That makes my children nearly exactly 50% Caucasian and 50% Asian. (You don’t know HOW much fun I had marking that on the census this past Spring! If one check is good, two is…better, right??! Well, maybe if you’re silly like me, and like checking boxes…..)  As much as I’d like to say that children are color blind, and ethnicity doesn’t matter…it does. My daughter is always looking for similarities between herself and other children. Look, mommy, our dresses are the same color! Look, Mommy, I have brown hair and YOU have brown hair! Look, Mommy, Lucy and I both have pig tails! It’s important to me that while growing up, Ming Wai and Siu Jeun be able to look around and see other kids that are like them – mixed. (I apologize if this term carries any negative connotation. It’s the common term used in Hong Kong. Wan hyut, or “mixed blood”, is the formal term.)

I have a number of friends, both in my new congregation and older friends from the area, with “mixed” babies, and it got me thinking about culture. When I was working as a missionary in Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to partner with a number of native Hong Kongians. My language skills grew by LEAPS and bounds, and I was able to learn more about these people we were working to serve. A wise church member pulled me aside one day and pass along some wisdom that she had gained while serving her own mission, twenty years before. She had had the opportunity to partner with several sister missionaries from America, which sometimes led to clashes in opinion, temperament and habits. She was taught, by her mission president, that when partnering with someone so different from yourself, you must adapt. She, as the Chinese part in the equation, should learn to be a “banana” – yellow (or Chinese) on the outside, but white (or American) on the inside. She must work to truly understand her companions way of thinking if they were ever to work together and serve each other. And vice versa – the American sister must learn to be an “egg” – white on the outside, and yellow on the inside. I took that advice to heart, and tried my very, very best to adopt a “Chinese Heart.” (I think anyone who has ever lived away from “home” can relate to this idea.)

As I raise my children, I’m trying to raise them to be…both. Can you be both? Can you successfully teach children to be comfortable with two cultures, from opposite sides of the world, if the children have never actually visited both cultures? I wonder if any of my friends are trying? My relationship seems to be the minority, where my in-laws are immigrants and so staunchly Old Country.

So, my question to you, dear friends, is this – when raising your kidlets, are you simply raising them to be American…or do you consciously add other cultures to the mix? Are your kids “mixed”? (And this could be anything from American/Japanese, to Oregon/Tennessee. Or adopted, intercontinentally.) To me, raising multi-cultural children implies adoption languages and habits from other cultures…and not just serving sushi every Tuesday and hamburgers every Wednesday.

So, speak up, ladies. It’s hard to hear you over the babble in my head!


  1. For me, I don't want to tell my kids that they're different. (LDS vs not, etc.) When they realize that we live differently than others, then they'll know. Obviously I'm not in your situation. I would take what works for your family, and celebrate it without making a big deal of "Dad's mom and dad celebrate this and this is how we're going to do it too, and nobody else around here is like you AT ALL. Especially not my side of the family- you're so different from them, and they don't understand what we're doing." Heh.

    And here I thought you'd be writing about backyard chickens and imported produce. I have post-purchase guilt for a bag of Mexican avocados...

  2. My mom tried her best to introduce us (in our small Idaho town) to various cultures and ideas. I try to do the same for my kids. I don't raise them as "mixed" in any sense, we just are who we are, but I do try to make them aware of the world around them to show them that our way isn't the only way. I do miss living in Seattle for its amazing ethnic diversity. Now I have to try a little harder to expose my children to other cultures.

  3. Well I don't have any children as of yet. But hope to in the near future. My husband is from Taiwan and I am something of a Euro-Mutt myself. We have had the conversation on how we plan to raise future children and hope that they will get the best of both worlds. We are fortunate that we live in Vancouver with a huge Asian population as well as being very culturally diverse.