My husband is Chinese-American.
I’m so white looking, I make a point of assuring any new neighbors of color that I did not vote for Trump.
Our son took after me.
Occasionally, an Asian-American woman would ask me if Baby D’s father was Asian, but no one ever appeared to be surprised that I was his mom.
It was different for my husband. He took Baby D to the grocery store when Baby D was about 2. An old white man got in Andy’s face and asked, “Is that your son?”
Andy said, “Yes.”
The old white man snorted and said, “He don’t look a thing like his daddy!”
Andy replied, “That’s because his white mama traded up races.”
(Okay, no, he didn’t really say that. Or even think it. That’s just what I wish he’d said. Maybe the guy would have had a heart attack and there would be one less racist in America. Andy, of course, just wishes he’d decked the guy.)
Like many first generation Americans, Andy turned his back on all things from the old world. He wouldn’t speak Cantonese. He cooked American/ European cuisines, only buying his first Chinese cookbook after we got together (when he learned I loved hot and sour soup).
Between Andy’s disinterest in Chinese culture and the fact that Baby D was raised by an uptight, white, stay-at-home mom, it’s probably not surprising that Baby D grew up feeling “white”—even though his last name ended in Wong.
In preschool, when Baby D’s diverse class discussed heritage, Baby D’s best mate Nate said, “And you’re Chinese.”
“No, I’m not!” Baby D replied. On the way home, Baby D told me how funny it was that Nate thought he was Chinese.
“But you are,” I told him. “You’re actually genetically more Chinese than white.”
“What?” exclaimed Baby D. “I’m Chinese?”
I sighed. “Yes. And I am a parental failure.”
Now, you can argue that Andy should have been the one to teach his son about his Chinese side of the family, but that’s asking a lot from someone who learned early that survival depends on assimilation. Plus, Andy never cared about American holidays, let alone Chinese ones.
If Baby D was going to learn anything about China, it was gonna be up to me.
Well, me and all the AMWF bloggers in Asia–Jocelyn Eikenburg, Marta, Mary, Susan Blumberg-Kason, and many others who no longer post. They taught me about Chinese traditions like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn festival.
I found and bought mooncakes in September. We ate them by moonlight on the patio and I told Baby D (and Andy) the different versions of the story of Chang’e.
I ordered red envelopes for Chinese New Year and stuffed them with crisp bills. (This began Baby D’s love affair with cash, but that’s another post.)
I persuaded Andy to make nian gao, the one dish he remembered form his childhood.
We found a dim sum place within a few miles that Andy grudgingly pronounced “acceptable.” Baby D discovered nai wong bao and pronounced it “awesome.”
I showed my son lion dances. He loved them.
I got him training chopsticks. He hated them.
Last year, I ordered a few decorations for Chinese New Year: a red tablecloth, some double happiness trivets, a lantern, and a flag. Hopefully the characters on the flag and lantern don’t say, “Ha! Stupid white people will buy anything!”
I told Baby D stories about his great-grandmother, fleeing the communists with her lead-lined teapot.
I tried to get Baby D’s Nai-nai to tell him more about the ghost festival and other superstitions, but she protested that their family was Christian and didn’t do any of that nonsense.
Some parents put their kids in Chinese school on the weekend, but my kid threw a fit at the idea of school instead of sports.
He did eventually announce that Mandarin would be his elective in public school.
I hugged him and exclaimed, “It’s so awesome that you want to learn more about your heritage!”
“Uh-huh. The older kids told me that the teacher has parties for all the holidays! With treats!”
Not exactly the rationale I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.
Perhaps someday he’ll be able to tell me what the characters on my lantern mean.