Catherine Sibuma is back and is here to get real about her experience in a interracial family.
It isn't often that I stop and think about it, but my spouse and I are an interracial couple, our children are interracial. I am white and my spouse is Filipino. We met many moons ago (2001?!) in the elevator of our building while we were both living in Manhattan. Me, for graduate school at NYU, and him, for work as a consultant. I was born and raised in Alabama by parents from the Northeast, and he was born in the Philippines and emigrated as a child to the US where he was raised by his Filipino parents. We've been married for almost 12 years, and have 3 (soon to be 4) gorgeous children.
Despite our different races and nationalities, we are culturally similar. We've also gotten pretty lucky in how we have been received and accepted by our families, although his parents were a bit more... skeptical than mine. My parents were both college educated professionals as were his. We both grew up (mostly) in the U.S. but for my husband, American culture and the Asian culture he experienced at home were pretty different.
We don't pretend to know anything about overcoming serious hardship and heartache about being accepted as a couple. While my husband has experienced subtle (and very occasional overt) racism in his workplace and everyday life, neither one of us knows what it is like to live with racial persecution. The legality of our relationship has never been called into question and we have never experienced discrimination because of our marriage. It feels very important to me to talk about this because I know that many couples exist who do face very serious opposition.
We do on occasion do get some pretty funny comments, questions, and reactions, especially in regards to our children! Some are pretty offensive, some are amusing and observant, some are pretty head-desk worthy, and some are just amazing in their honesty. Here are a few that we've experienced.
To my husband:
Person: Oh, I used to work with a lady from there! You people are just so NICE!
Husband: (Blink, blink) Uh, thank you...?
This was said to my husband by an acquaintance of my family before we were married when finding out he was Filipino. Cringe-worthy and head-desk worthy FOR SURE.
To my husband while applying for our wedding license:
Us: We would like to apply for a wedding license, please.
Clerk: (looking skeptically at husband) Well are you a citizen?
I mean, this WAS in Bay Minette, Alabama so it's not entirely shocking. But dude, DUDE, that was pretty fury inducing.
To me about my newborn son:
Couple: Soooo... like... he looks kinda... his eyes look...
Me: Asian? That's because his father is Filipino.
Couple: Ooohhhh, okay. Is he yours or was he...?
Me: Adopted? Nope, I gave birth to him a week ago.
This exchange happened in an aisle of Babies R Us and was particularly ironic considering the couple asking was an Asian woman and a white dad pregnant with their first.
Also to me about my 3 month old son:
Random guy: "Awww, look at that CUTE Asian baby!"
This was yelled at me by a man in front of Target. I mean, accurate, but I had to chuckle at the qualifier there. I mean, you really don't hear folks saying "Awww, look at that cute white baby!" do you?
Said to me on a playground by another mom referring to all three of my kids:
Other mom: They don't really... look much like you. Do they look more like their dad or something?
Me: Yup. They look much more like their dad. My light eye color doesn't stand much of a chance from a genetic standpoint."
OM: Chuckles and appears a little unsure of how to respond to the discussion.
After she seemed all uncomfortable, I just wanted to say "Well, you ASKED, why get all weird about it NOW?".
Said to me comparing my two sons:
Person: So, he looks more like you, you know, white only a little more tan. And he looks way more Asian like your husband.
Me: Yup, we each pretty much got one.
I loved and appreciated the honest description and observation here. No dancing or tiptoeing around the topic!
We also get asked:
- Sooo, what do you eat?
- Do your kids eat Asian food?
- What languages do you guys speak at home?
- Have they ever been to the Philippines?
- Was your husband born in the U.S.?
We are both happy to answer these questions! The the answers are: we eat a little bit of everything all types of food. Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, American, Ethiopian, Indian and yes, our kids eat those foods too. We only speak English, and no, my husband doesn't speak Tagalog. The kids and I have never been to the Philippines, but my husband was born there and has been back for one visit. People are curious and that is a very good thing. If you see us out and about and want to ask a question about my family, ask! We are happy to answer, truly.
We have the excellent good fortune to know many other interracial families, each with their own story. We may look different from the outside but what binds us more strongly than anything are our core values. We value love, family, reciprocity, respect, and candor which mean more to us than any cultural differences.
If you are interested in seeing more families like ours (and maybe yours too!), you can check out a website inspired by a Cheerios commercial that featured an interracial family. It posts submitted photos of interracial families and is called wearethe15percent.com.