"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas


My husband is Japanese: born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. So my two daughters are biracial. Or you could call them "halvsies" or "hapa" or "mixed". I prefer the term "swirled" (and I love this company's products) because it doesn't have the connotations of "half" or of being only part of something rather than a whole unto themselves.

One concern I have living in South Beaverton is how my children will be accepted into the community and what I can do to help them.  One reason we chose to live here is that there is a community of Japanese and intercultural U.S./Japanese population in this area. However, it is resoundingly white outside of that circle. I worry that I will never really understand my daughters' identities or problems as I am also resoundingly white. (In fact, when we lived in California, I was often asked if my daughter was adopted.) I do not want my children to ever be ashamed or regret their dual heritage.

So this raises many issues I believe I share with Portlanders who have chosen interracial or international adoptions: how much of the non-U.S. or non-mainstream white culture do I encourage in them? By sending them to a Japanese preschool am I hurting their chances of becoming mainstream Americans? Should I send them to the local elementary school (which will be mostly white) or try to find an international school we can afford? How does greater Portland treat ethnic Asians in general? Will my children always have to answer the question "Just what are you anyway?" because we live here?

Since I am new to this area, I don't have much experience with these issues yet here in Beaverton/SW Portland. I may be worrying over nothing. Anyone else out there with a bicultural/biethnic/or transracial family? Anyone else out there experienced a situation where multiethnicity was an issue?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

My kids are multi-ethnic from the standpoint that they are Vietnames/Chinese/Dutch/Austrian. But I tend to view myself as multi-ethnic (Vietnamese/Chinese)...yes, these are two distinct and different cultures. However, I often find that American society tends to lump the term "Asian" into one category. I think it's great that you're proud of and sensitive to your children's dual heritage, but I also don't think the "t-shirts" convey the best message about multi-ethnicity. The message I get when I see the t-shirts is that multi-ethnicity is about "white + other culture" which is in my opinion encourages stereotypes. Just one mama's opinion, but I probably wouldn't buy these t-shirts for my children. I think it's fantastic that you are looking to enrich your children's lives by immersion in the Japanese culture! However, some of your questions seem a bit "antiquated". Perhaps it's just me, but I think multi-ethnic families are fairly common in society. Or perhaps it's that it seems that way because my family is one big mix of multiple cultures. Anyway, what is maintream America, and is that really soemthing you'd want your children to be a part of?

I'm Filipino and my husband is Swiss (but was born in Kansas City - long story about his roots), and we've actually wondered if our son will encounter any prejudices growing up being a multi-ethnic child. And then we realized that of course he will, because we all are at some point. I grew up here, and while Portland isn't terribly ethnically diverse as most would like it to be, it's not a city that is living in the dark ages (I can't speak for much of the rest of the state...). There are those who aren't accepting of multi-ethnic families anywhere you go, but we've never encountered them here. If you live in S. Beaverton I bet we're almost neighbors...one of the reasons we love having moved out here to the weird PDX/Beaverton/Tigard vortex area is because it actually is more diverse than where we were before. I almost think you're not giving some of those folks in your area enough credit - you are making the assumption that because they are white there is the possibility they won't be understanding/supportive of your family; many of those "white" folks may be of mixed ethnicity as well, but you can't tell by just looking at 'em :) You talk about yourself being "resoundingly white," but you too have some sort of ancestry, right, that you are proud of? We want to immerse our son not only in Filipino and Swiss cultures, but in French, German, Italian, Portugese and Spanish cultures. We figure we'll have to talk to him about the facts: that there are people who won't "get" or approve of him being multi-ethnic, but that's fine - he doesn't have to be their friends or get them to understand. I have to admit I'm not down with the "swirled" t-shirts. I actually find the term itself offensive, and think the t-shirts (while sickly clever) do perpetuate the stereotypes, but that's just me. My brother got one of the shirts for his baby and he loves it. Thanks for bringing up this topic - it is an important one that many families like ours do live with and it's always interesting to hear others' perspectives.

Thanks for being so gentle in your criticisms. Rereading that post, I don't think it comes off as I wanted it to (rueful chuckle). I do tend to worry about "white + Japanese" because just coming from 4 years in Tokyo, that's the way people perceived my chidren for so long. They were "half", and I guess I am looking for some way to make them feel complete and at the same time and worried that our move to Portland (somewhat based on not wanting them to grow up in the more culturally homogenous Tokyo) might bring a new set of problems I hoped to leave behind me.

I am glad it isn't that way so far. I like the swirled t-shirts that are the picture of bread and rice together, as that describes our family perfectly.

In my worries about sending my daughter to a Japanese preschool, I think that I am not so worried that she won't be able to participate as an insider in mainstream U.S. culture, but that she may never really feel a part of either Japan or the U.S. I worry that, as in many essays I read of multicultural/multiethnic writers who grew up in the U.S., she will feel like an outsider no matter where she goes.

On the other hand, it is a major priority in our family for our daughters to grow up fluent in both the language and culture of Japan and the U.S. So I think we are already setting her on a path of difference. Different is not bad. In fact, being fluent in two cultures/languages can only be an asset to her professionally and personally, but it does come with a different set of problems then the ones I encountered growing up.

Hmmm, I still feel like I am not articulating the set of emotions I've felt since returning to the states.

Anyway, thanks for any and all input.

I like the "swirled" shirts as well. The rice and white bread one cracks me up also.

My husband is from Vietnam and is half black as well, and I'm caucasian. Though my husband lived in Vietnam as a young child he mostly grew up in the US and doesn't have many ties to the cultural aspect of being Vietnamese. I've always referred to her as "half" this and that, though explaining it all can be a bit wordy. I wasn't quite prepared for being asked so often what my child "is." I obviously knew she wouldn't be white, but it still threw me off the first time someone asked me what she was, I actually answered "girl" being completely clueless as to what they were actually inquiring about. And then there's the people that ask if she's mine. That's a whole different post.

I am attempting to prepare myself for challenges that may arise, but I'm not sure quite how to do this. Being caucasian, I don't feel as if I have similar experiences that will help me help her through what she may go through growing up.

I know how you feel on a certain level, and though I have no real advice, I did want to express that I relate to what you are feeling on a different, but somewhat similar level. Does that make any sense? I have a hard time actually verbalizing what I am feeling on this subject, or maybe I just have a hard time knowing what I feel on this subject. It's a tough one.

I've been thinking about what to say to this because I've been there, and to some degree now my child is going there. My mom is caucasion (I call her Texan) and my dad is Arab. For many years as a child/young teen I felt as if I didn't fit in either category and I somehow didn't see fitting into BOTH if I could fit into either... does that make any sense? Now I realize that the cultures both define who I am today and that I truly am both American and Arab (even if neither wants to claim me). Now that I've married a caucasian guy (british/german/dutch) I have a very fair baby who's 1/4 Arab. I am trying to make Arabic and the Arab culture as much of a part of his life as I can because I feel like you can only add value, not detract, by doing this.

On another note, I had some random man try to engage Andrew in conversation the other night at a public event. Andrew was already overwhelmed by the noise and the chaos, so he wasn't very open to the man's banter (hey - he's 2.5, he doesn't give 5 to any and everyone!) so when he didn't respond, the guy says "ahhhhh, you mutt" and for some reason that really hurt. Probably more than it should have...

I am Filipino (born & raised in SF) and my husband is also Filipino (born & raised in NY). My girls are Filipina through-and-through. So, we/they aren't *multi*-ethnic/*bi*-ethnic, just plain old ethnic. We've lived in different places - SF, Boston, NYC, Atlanta, and they've all had very different socio-ethnic fabrics. [multi]ethnicity is always an issue. What I have loved about Portland in the 2 years we've been here is how open communities are about everyone. Portland is a pretty white city, but everyone wants to know your story beyond "what you are". My husband and I miss our Filipino communities and we wonder how our daughters will view their Filipina-ness as they grow up with a less concentrated Filipino community here. We feed them Filipino food, teach them parts of the language, surround them with their extended family when possible so all that culture and tradition can diffuse into our family. From what I can tell of the "vortex" area where you live, it's a richly diverse community, which is great. It's also great just knowing that mamas like us embrace differences in opinion, in background, and in experience.

And, also, I really appreciated a discussion once on CityMama's site about multiethnicity and Portland: http://citymama.typepad.com/citymama/2005/02/confused.html

Kirsten: I hope my comments weren't too harsh. They didn't intend to be :-)

I really appreciate the post, and that it brings to the forefront some of these important issues that we struggle with as mamas. I'm also feeling my way through the raising multi-ethnic children as well. Time will tell if we made the right decisions, but right now, it feels right to introduce them to the different cultures that make up their lives, and to explore other cultures as well!

What thoughtful dialouge, Mamas!

There are lots of great preschools that emphasize diversity in their program...Helen Gordon Child Development Center at PSU (right off freeway or Max line) is my fave. Call to talk to Will Parnell about your question; it will make his day! He's been the co-director there for years, and anti-bias education is his life. There's lots of ethnic diversity, same-sex parents, socio-economic diversity, (children of both students and professors,) It's just inherently diverse because of the nature of the urban university.

Even in 2005, our town is still pretty segregated along racial lines. Sadly, there is nothing antiquated about your question at all.

hooowee! you should have seen the discussion at my site about those shirts! here's the link:


I just found this website and thought this post was interesting. I realize I'm coming to the party late, but thought I'd throw in my two cents as well.

I can totally relate to Shetha's post. My mom is Korean and my dad is Caucasian and I often felt as though I didn't "fit in" with either group while growing up. It was hard at times as a child, but I think it's just part of growing up. Kids are mean. They'll find something to pick on another child about so if it isn't your hair color, it's your clothes or the way you walk or something else that doesn't really mean anything. I grew up in Portland and I have always found it be be very accepting and open to all people. I've never had any issues as an adult with being mixed. My spouse is Caucasian (British/French Canadian) so our son is 1/4 Korean. He looks like me and I'm sure there will be some issues as gets older, but all we can do is instill in him a good sense of self and confidence... I just don't see it as as big of an issue as your original post makes it sound. I really don't.

On another note, my cousins also grew up in Portland. Both of their parents are Korean. They have always attended public school during the day followed by a couple of hours at a Korean school. That's one way to ensure equal billing for both cultures. They also spend several weeks every summer in Korea with relatives. At home they speak Korean with their parents, but they are as American as apple pie...

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment