What's Chinese and What Most Definitely Isn't
July 21, 2011
As I've mentioned a time or two on this website, I am a pasty white chick descended from Eastern European peasant stock. My husband, in contrast, is a Devastatingly Handsome Chinese Man. Our kids are, in my totally not biased opinion, a gorgeous mix of the two. Chinese and, uh, Mutt.
I used to fret over Properly Exposing The Culture and all that, but at this point in our parenting careers we're pretty relaxed about the whole thing. The kids are well aware that they are "half Chinese" even if they don't really know what that means. They know they have Chinese grandparents, that we often go out for Chinese food, that Daddy is Chinese but Mommy isn't, China is far away, that girl on Sesame Street does indeed look Chinese - stuff that I feel is preschool-appropriate knowledge and awareness. I mean, it's not like we're going to sit them down tonight and have the Race Matters talk at age four and nearly-three.
That said, Jackson, in particular, is bringing up Chineseness quite a lot lately, and I'm sort of stymied as to how to respond. Possibly because he doesn't talk about it in a way that actually makes sense. Oh no, the stuff he's doing is, for bizarro example, picking up a ribbon from a birthday present, tying it around his sister's waist and telling her "that's Chinese". Uh, okay?
I mean, there's been some more obvious mentions, like when they're being buckled into my in-laws' car for a weekend trip and Jack says, "This is a Chinese car!" Actually it's Japanese, kid, but I know what you're trying to say. But writing your name sort of fancy-like? With a bit more flourish than your usual block letters? And then saying, "This is a Chinese 'J'! This is a Chinese 'A'! This is a Chinese 'C'!" Well, I'm not quite sure what to do with that.
My kids' formal Chineseness education has pretty much consisted of dim sum and a Ni Hao Kai Lan computer game. My in-laws haven't shown a lot of interest in teaching the kids the language or the characters (my husband doesn't speak or write), although I wonder if they ARE interested, but just find it overwhelming. They've sung songs in Chinese, they expose them to all sorts of foods and sometimes they attempt writing the numbers (even I can write one, two and three!) but that's about it. And now I'm wondering if Jack and Molly need a bit more. Or, should I say, would be interested in more.
We happened to bring it up at dinner last night and it was obvious my mother-in-law was thinking about it as well. She immediately told us about a Chinese school in her town (40 minutes away) (every Saturday) but she was willing to make the commitment to get them there! (I told her I wasn't... not quite.) But she did say she regrets that she didn't do more for her son, my husband, who, it must be noted, hated Chinese school growing up.
I don't know if I want to send them to Chinese school every weekend morning. Many of my Asian-American friends have stories of hating their respective schools and I don't know if I'm ready for that leap. But I DO feel like I need to be a little more proactive. So here's my little list of ideas:
- Check out some little kid Asian culture books from the library. We've checked out two or three books about kids going to dim sum with their grandparents that my kids obviously loved. We could do a little more of that.
- Look up some preschool-age Chinese language apps for our iPad. Isn't there an app for everything? Something that might teach how to write numbers and letters or basic words. They've done this with Kai Lan plenty of times, but we're bored with those games. We need something new.
- Try not to roll my eyes or ignore my kid when he busts out the random "THIS is Chinese!" labeling. I know he's just exploring and wondering and figuring it out on hiw own. It's obviously coming from a genuinely interested place and if I can turn it into something useful or at least correct, then it might be good for all of us.
I'd LOVE to hear how other biracial/multi-racial kids are processing their worlds. What are you parents doing about it?