Raising a biracial child in America is tricky. Anyone who has ever filled out an application or census will tell you, it’s not easy to identify Americans these days.
Over the last two centuries, America has become a nation of diverse race and ethnicity. Even the term “race” itself has become ambiguous, as it no longer refers just to a person’s linage or nationality. The issue of race will become more complex as America will continue to be a multiracial, multi-ethnic nation comprised of people from all over the world, an assemblage of racially or ethnically defined subcultures.
Especially being a first generation immigrant, I grew up searching for my own identity. It has taken me almost four decades and living all over the world to realize that identity like race is subjective to the people and the society in which you live. I realized that although I always saw myself as an American, people rarely accepted me as one. Especially when I lived in Europe, people would go so far as to ask where my grandparents were from in order to identify and define who I was.
Therefore, even before our boy was born, I feared that these issues will magnify for our child being that he will be a product of a three very distinct cultures: German, Korean and American.
As soon as my husband and I decided to start our own family, we had to make a decision whether to stay in Germany or move back to the U.S. After 5 years of living abroad, I knew all too well the perils of being an immigrant and an ethnic minority in Europe, and it wasn’t difficult for us to decide moving back to the States. Although multiracial families in the U.S. may confront the same challenges, I knew we would have better chance at finding a community that embraced diversity and different cultures in America, and we wanted our child to grow up in a place where his multicultural heritage will be valued and celebrated rather than being a hindrance.
So, we were thrilled when we moved to San Francisco, which turned out to be one of the most racially diverse cities in the U.S. with one of the highest Asian-American population. Arriving at the airport, I knew immediately that we were in the right place – it felt like home.
My husband, who is white German, and I are not an anomaly in San Francisco. We’re not stared at or gawked at, as we have been in Europe and Asia. We simply blend in in this bastion of multiculturalism. Best of all, people rarely ask, “Where are you from? Where are you really from?”
Although we were concerned about how our multicultural family would function in San Francisco, once we began venturing out to the parks and playgrounds and saw that they were filled with families that looked like us, we knew that we had found an ideal place for our son.
Nevertheless, raising a biracial child has exposed me to issues that differ from my own, growing up as a child of immigrant in America. Although from the moment he was born, my husband and I have done our best to incorporate all of our cultures into his daily life, we know that he will have questions about his own identity – identities.
My husband being a native German speaker has always spoken and read to him in German, and we communicate with one another in English. Although I do not speak Korean to our son (mostly due to my lack of proficiency in the language), often, he has heard me speaking to others in Korean as well as reading books in Korean and about Korea. We make sure that all components of his heritage are embraced and celebrated.
Sadly, a society often classifies its citizens, and soon or later, I’m aware that our son may have to choose his race. Physically, he looks like an Asian boy. He has dark brown hair, brown eyes and facial features that are so similar to mine that when I look at his baby photos, I feel as I’m looking at my own. However, racial identity is more complicated than what someone looks like on the outside, and our son may just as well identify himself to be German or white when he grows up.
He understood early on that my husband and I were racially different, and that he was different from his dad. Without any previous discussions, he knew at the age of 6 that he was not white. He brought it up so casually at the dinner table and in such a matter-of-fact way, and as shocked as my husband and I were, we continued the conversation as if we were talking about recess.
We were naïve to assume that our son would not be aware of our race. Children are perceptive and smart, and they will see the differences in people. However, our boy understands that he is an embodiment of three wonderful heritages and all the rich history and culture that goes along with it.
When we travelled to Korea, he tries his best to practice the few sentences he knows in Korean. In Germany, he communicates with my in-laws in German even if it sounds more like Germanish, a mixture of German and English. More importantly, when we’re traveling abroad, he says with complete confidence that he is an American – something that I was rarely able to do.
Luckily, San Francisco truly is a bastion of multiculturalism, and we live in a city where almost every child we encounter is of multi-cultural heritage. Although racial issues and problems are far from being eradicated in the U.S., our son is growing up in a wonderful community where diversity is a norm.
We celebrate Lunar New Year, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our son’s favorite meals are ramen noodles soup, Korean tacos and bratwurst, sometimes all together. I love that he craves sushi as much as pizza or nachos, and we could just as easily have dim sum for brunch as blueberry pancakes.
He is the product of this diverse city as much as my husband and I, and he is a quintessential German-Korean-American – or simply, an All-American boy.