seeking advise from multi-cultural families regarding kids finding they are different

Earlier this year I found my soul mate. Seems weird to have to bring this up but it pertains, I am white and she is white and has 2 boys age 4 and just turned 7. They are from different Mexican fathers. Neither father has much contact with the boys, the 4 yo has some phone contact once a month or so but the older has had none for years.

Earlier this summer I proposed (we will be married in april and I will be adopting the boys) and both of the boys now know me as Dad now. Its awesome and i could not be happier, our family is happy and FULL of love and affection.

My fiance has never taught the boys anything about them being different (both look predominantly Hispanic) in any way. Well in public school - kindergarten - the oldest one day says, “Im Mexican!” after school. So we said YES your birth dad was Mexican. All was good. He is well adjusted and KNOWS he is loved by us and all has been good.

He is in first grade this year and today however he tells his mom “I feel like I don’t fit in with the family because I’m part Mexican”. WOW… where did this come from? I was at work but she told him it didn’t matter because we were all family and skin color doesn’t matter. She tried to talk to him more about it but he just kept changing the subject. Well she is pretty broken up thinking that he must feel so lonely and not knowing how to fix it. I’m worried as well. We are looking up kids books on the subject but I was wondering if the Masses have any advise or similar experiences to share.

If this is the wrong place please move at your discretion. I wasn’t sure.

It looks to me like you created this new family, and you are over-the-moon happy with it. That’s awesome. But remember, just because everything looks like a fresh new start to you guys, it may not be for the kids. They may not have as easy of a time forgetting the past and basking in the bright new future.

It seems to me that this is essentially about the birth fathers.

You seem to see the birth fathers as largely irrelevant- given the happy and loving family you have- and don’t understand why the children don’t also see that. They may take on that attitude eventually, but from time to time in their lives they are going to have to figure out how their birth father fits in to their identity. Our culture does have certain beliefs about blood lines and identities, and the kids are going to pick up on that and need to figure out how that fits in with their own sense of self.

And this whole drama is being played out under the guise of being about race. You guys have largely ignored the racial issue. But the boys know it is there (especially as their peers gain an awareness of different races) and need to figure out how to make sense of that. It is easy for you to say “You’ve been raised in a white family, you are essentially white,” but it isn’t just that easy for them. They know they are Mexican, and they know that means something. So they are going to need to figure out what that means to them.

I suggest you let them explore the idea of being Mexican a bit. You don’t want to make Mexican culture some kind of forbidden thing. Take them to some cultural events. Make some tamales at Christmas time. Chances are they will lose interest soon enough and being part Mexican will become more of a “fun fact” than a deep part of their identity. But then again, you never know. Barack Obama was pretty much raised in a white family, but he began to identify strongly with African-American culture. Identity is never an easy thing. While having a loving and stable family will of course be very helpful as the children figure things out, it won’t completely erase all of the issues. Some stuff just needs to be worked through.

Eh, my parents are both from Spain, but we’re all Navarrese whereas Mom is Catalan. I don’t remember “finding out” that our ancestry was different from that of our friends, neighbors and cousins any more than I remember “finding out” that some people are brunettes and some are blond (Dad was ash blonde, Mom raven’s wing brunette).

I grew up hearing Mom speak Catalan with her relatives but not with us (I speak Catalan now, but she still can’t bring herself to speak it with me); as for not speaking Basque (which is the second language in Navarra) that’s because my maternal grandmother didn’t speak it being “a well-born missy from the big city” and Dad never learned it either, being a perfectionist who didn’t try anything twice if the first time had been hard (two of his brothers do speak it, as did his father). We had family and neighbors in the whole linguistic spectrum; from my Catalan cousins being shifted from having school completely in Spanish to having it completely in Catalan, to some Navarrese cousins speaking Basque at home, to friends going to school in Basque. When I was 4 (that’s before my brothers were born) we moved to southern Navarra, where Basque is rare, so growing up as monolingual kids was normal; the Catalan mother still counted as “exotic,” though.

The only piece of advice I have is don’t deny the kids their full cultural heritage if you can: if they can grow up bilingual, it will come handy later.

Oh, and your kids aren’t Mexican anywhere except in the Yu Es Ei unless they happen to have the nationality, carajo! They’re American, with Mexican ancestry; they’re as American as they want to be. As American as Tiger Woods, Angelina Jolie, or… uhm… just pick someone who plays their favorite sport and who is American-born :smiley:

I’ll never understand this American fixation to be from anywhere except the place you’re from (semi-kidding, but you’re the only ones who do that kind of shorthand, which sounds real strange to both foreigners and children).

Well, you aren’t anything but Spanish anywhere but Spain.

The Dutch do this too, wondering in a semi kidding manner about the whole double barrelled thing in the US while not even noticing their own shorthand involving local and regional dialects, not to mention the definition of a foreigner which officially includes any person whose parents were not Dutch-born-in-Holland, but which in application includes anybody who doesn’t look Dutch irrespective of citizenship status.

The fixations of peoples involving identity, personal and community, may fairly be said to be universal.

That was the kidding part. But the part about thinking that the kid is being confused by the several meanings of “being Mexican” is serious, and my multicultural experience is very similar to that of my classmates with German and French mothers with re. “finding out” something that was part of our lives since we were born (the German grandmother of the first ones still won’t adress them directly, she always tries to use her daughter as an interpreter, although the kids grew up speaking German).

I have a Korean son. My son has no interest at all in being Korean or being different - interestingly, many of his close friends are Asian (but our area is fairly heavily Hmong).

Give the boys opportunities to explore their Mexican heritage - that’s easy in most parts of the country. Integrate Mexican American heritage into your daily lives. Simple things like get a tortilla maker. Or celebrate Day of the Dead. But because you don’t want the kids to feel different - integrate your heritage and Mom’s as well. “Dad is German, so we are going to celebrate Oktoberfest” "Mom is Swedish, so we will make lefsa. " Point out that everyone in your family brings in a unique cultural heritage. And work to create your own family traditions as well that are “your family” heritage.

Some kids feel very drawn to their birth heritage - particularly if they “look” the part. Others don’t care. Follow their lead.

Call the entire family “Mexican American” - its a little strange when I say “we are a Korean American Family” but we are.

If it is really bothersome, find therapists that work with multicultural adoption or support groups or play groups. They are out there and often adoption agencies can set you up with appropriate counselors.

Kids will ask each other, “What are you?” just out of curiosity. And sometimes they’ll parrot some weird purist stuff that their parents have said. (People, in the name of nationalistic/race/cultural pride, will sometimes overdo the “we’re 100 percent ________ and we do things the ______ way, but you’re not _____ enough!” stuff, which kids take to heart, wanting to fit in.) So a kid at school could have asked, and when your soon-to-be-adopted kid explained the family situation, that kid could have informed him that he simply can’t fit in with you guys because he’s not all white like you. Kids come up with these weird theories. Or it could be more indirect.

The kid could just be in need of some reassurance, generally. No big deal.

My youngest kids are half white, half Asian. Our part of the country is extremely diverse, and mixed kids of all kinds are common, so it’s been easy so far. The Asian side of the family is very tight-knit and proud of their culture and specific heritage. I’m sure that down the road, cousins will say, “you’re not _____ enough” to my kids. I have worked hard to explain to the kids that they are both, and can embrace and be proud of all their heritage, and it’s not better to be one or the other. And families can be made of anyone.

I’m white, my wife is Asian, and, as my son likes to say, our kids are “halfanese.” My advice is to let them embrace their heritage as much (or as little) as they’re comfortable with. While the best way to do this would be through their family, it could also include everything from teaching them Spanish to (as **even sven **suggests) making tortillas.

Just don’t make a big “today we will embrace your ethnicity” thing out of it. The advantage of living in a multicultural society is that we can eat cake one day and churros the next.

My kids are half British half Japanese, living in Japan where nothing short of 100% Japanese blood will forever make them “foreigners”.

Both of them have had their troubles, the elder more than the younger in that it hurt him more. We also found a very safe small village school for them so the younger one has benefitted from never having been in the big public school at all.

The elder one went through a phase at around 6-9 years old of wanting me to come to kindy/school open days then telling me I wasn’t to open my mouth so they wouldn’t know I’m not Japanese. Good luck with that one kid… He also had a bit of a fit about “don’t stand with me so people won’t think you are my mother” in public places like the zoo or other days out. My husband got very angry and upset about that and told him to go and find another mother if he didn’t like the one he’s got, and that tailed off fairly quickly.

That said, now at 13 the elder one is a very balanced “half” and truly cannot say which he is more, Japanese or English. He is very proud of his both-ness and he plays it off as cool, which most of the kids in his new JHS are falling for. He gets some snide comments but he just laughs them off as jealous or ignorant.

The younger one is pretty much Japanese in nature, language skills and attitude but oddly he looks very much more western - at nine he still is blond-ish. He on the other hand has never had any problems with me being English in his school or in public, but he relentlessly uses Japanese with me these days because it’s easier (and he thinks that anything Japanese is better - he’s totally bought that cultural gem!)

On the other hand he’s at the stage of thinking very deeply about his family and how it’s made up. Many conversations are had about our DNA and who contributed what, and how. He attributes culture to DNA too which is funny. I just got informed last night that it’s Mummy’s DNA that lets us decorate the Christmas tree each year!

We do have a lot of small family traditions that are simply just ours. Not specially English (though we have Christmas etc) and not specially Japanese (though we have 7-5-3 etc) but just ours. All kids love small family rituals and it’s part of what makes us a unit, against the rest of the world!

Some of ours - decorating the Christmas tree together no matter what. My husband lives away and we always save it for a day he can be with us. He stayed extra late last weekend so my elder son could get back from school to do it together. We eat sushi for every birthday and exam success in the family. The tooth fairy comes to our kids but leaves the teeth under the pillow so they can be thrown in the proper Japanese manner the next morning. The kids don’t get new year’s money but they get lots of Christmas presents, not just one. I can’t remember many of the small rituals we have but there are a lot, some that the kids made up themselves but they serve to bind us together and make up our own culture that is unique to our family.

It sounds like that is the sort of thing you need to be working on to make your new family stick. Trouble is some of these just come from time together and some can be “manufactured”.

But yes, to have pride in where you are from AND where you are going is a big thing, and I’m glad that you are happy to address this with your new kids. I do wish you a lifetime of happiness together!

The only people from whom I’ve received that have been strangers. Not Basque enough, not Catalan, not Hispanic, not White… heck, I’ve even been told I can’t be an engineer because I’m a girl! I think the only self-label that no stranger so far has told me I “can’t be” is Catholic - but of course, I’ve been told I’m not a Christian :stuck_out_tongue:

But always, always, strangers.

I am Salvadoran, with a bit of Irish ancestry. My ex is of Polish, German and Irish ancestry. Our daughter looks more white than Latina, and everyone compliments her on her looks. She says she wishes she looked “more Latina.” I think it’s because we live in an area where most of the residents are Mexican or Central American, so it may be an attempt to fit in with her classmates. Her dad and I tell her we love her no matter what she looks like. My parents, who live with us, talk to her mostly in Spanish, so at least she understands it to some extent, though she doesn’t speak it that well. We teach her about Salvadoran customs traditions, and one of her favorite foods is refried beans. She doesn’t like pupusas. Oh well, more for me. I think children’s thoughts on race and ethnicity change as they grow older and learn more, and it’s important to discuss it with them if they want to do so. It’s also important to remind them that their ethnic identity is not as important as whether they are good human beings, period - to themselves and to others.

I just talked to her about this, and told her that I will always love her, no matter where she comes from and where she goes. To me, that’s the most important thing.

Thanks all!! Good to know this is normal ya know? I mean i knew it was going to happen some day… but wow… in first grade?? Kids really look at differences that young? I sent this to my fiance… I think she is worried that he is asking questions because of something she did not do right. I myself am thinking… Its healthy that feels free enough to bring it up and she did right cause he feels close enough to voice his concern. I think thats a major step! Now that we know… maybe we do other things. At bedtime tonight she talked to him and they talked about all the ways he and all of us were alike.

All of you have good advice… and i will be taking much of it… thanks all, nothing more then i expected from dopers!

I will second this, and add …

Peel the skin off their bodies. I challenge you to tell WHAT color the skin was without peeking. Everybody is the same under the skin.

You are assuming that they have a dark complexion. There are many Mexicans who have light complexions. I challenge you to tell me the nationality of many members of my family.

It also ignores the very real issues around claiming and belonging as well as the prevalent racism against Hispanics in parts of the country. It doesn’t matter if the look the same on the inside if they feel different on the inside because they look different on the outside. And how you feel on the inside is way more important than how you look on the inside.

I make no assumptions about the color of their outsides, i can guarantee the color of their insides. And honestly, it really doesn’t matter to me what color their insides or outsides happen to be.

I was adopted (as an infant) by parents who are a different ethnic background than I am.

If you have any specific questions, I would be happy to give any insight that I may have, but of course its a bit different for me that the situation your family is in, (not to mention that my parents are just about the two most loving, caring, wonderful people in the world) because of my age when I was brought into the family.

I wish the very best for you and your family, Matthew

After reading my post, I wanted to say that when I mentioned that I feel my parents are the “best in the world”, I dont want to sound like I am casting aspersions on your (or anyone else’s) parenting.

I am sure you will be an absolutely great father!!!