Today my 7-year-old daughter is participating in her day camp’s Fourth of July parade. The children will be marching around waving American flags, as they do every year. Ari looks forward to this parade, the fireworks on the Fourth, and she enjoys listening to how the United States gained its independence.
Throughout the year, we have discussed how this country is a true melting pot of people — many from other countries. “Like me!” she says smiling, referring to China, her country of birth. “And like grandpa,” I add, acknowledging that my dad is from Poland. (Of course, she’s too young to understand that he escaped the jaws of Nazism.)
Part of the narrative woven into our family life is how wonderful China’s people are. And how the United States tolerates people of all backgrounds and beliefs. We root for China and the United States during the Olympics. I expose her to Chinese-related customs and holidays, while celebrating Jewish holidays. We are a multicultural family who embraces tolerance.
And we are also a conspicuous family. But in America, the land of the free, tolerance of conspicuous families sometimes falls short. A Caucasian mother with an Asian child is not always well-received. In fact, we have encountered more than our share of ignorant, unsavory comments from people of many nationalities and countries.
And what’s worse, most of them are said right in front of my daughter. I give appropriate responses because how I answer these questions will affect how Ari perceives herself. I must quell my impulse to tell these ignoramuses where to go. Sometimes I educate, but much of the time — depending on how shocking the comment is — we walk away. Ironically, we live in a diverse area.
So to those sometimes-well-meaning Americans, let me set the record straight on this Independence Day holiday:
* Yes, my daughter speaks English. Quite well, thank you very much.
* To the Chinese-food delivery guy who pointed at Ari and asked, “Wow, you’ve got a real Chinese girl living here?” Yes. She’s real. And her favorite food is Chinese food. Imagine that.
* To the Americans who call my daughter a “China doll,” knock it off. Once again, she’s a real person. For her dance recital, she eagerly wore some make-up, but then looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I don’t look real; I look like a China doll.” To stave off any more pain, I told her that she was real, not a doll.
* I’m not an American mom with a Chinese daughter. My daughter is also American.
* How much did I pay for her? Um. None of your damn business. I’ve been asked this in front of Ari many times, as well as “Did you buy her?.” Each time I’m asked these questions, I wish I could say what I really feel like saying (not appropriate in front of a child). But here’s the answer my pre-adoption classes trained me well for: “As much as it costs to give birth.” That answer shuts them up.
* No, her eyes are not too small. They are perfect.
* A woman stopped us in a store and kept repeating ad nauseum how lucky Ari is to be in the United States and in an American family. When I told the woman that I was so lucky to have my daughter, she then said “In China, they hate girls. They throw them in the garbage.” Ari and I quickly walked away. Later, we had an age-appropriate talk about China’s then-one-child policy.
* Stop calling Ari a lottery baby because she was adopted in the United States. She doesn’t play the lottery, she’s not a baby, and she isn’t completely lucky. Adoption is also a story of loss — the loss of a birth family and her native land. I know she experiences some grief, as do I. I want so much for her to know her birth family, but that will never happen. We want to go to China in the future, though.
I’d like to think these comments don’t faze Ari, but about six months ago, she told me, “This isn’t working out for me. Being an American.” I told her that there’s prejudice and hardship everywhere, and to keep an open mind because many people in our country eagerly embrace differences in others.
Truth is, my open-minded daughter is giving the United States another chance. This July 4, she will be celebrating with her best friend in red-white-and-blue style. She’s embracing America. I only hope other Americans follow suit.
How have you and/or someone you care about deal with unsavory comments from others?
If you are in a conspicuous family, how do you and/or your children fare in society?
If you are from the United States, how are you celebrating Independence Day?
Tags: America, China, Chinese American, conspicuous families, Fourth of July, Independence Day, prejudice, United States