the other half

April 26, 2011 |  Category:   family growing up half life parenting

Technically 1/4.

I always wonder if mixed race people identify more with one side of their racial makeup than the other. I also wonder if you become influenced by how you identify yourself based on how you look, mostly because that’s what other people see first – your outward appearance. I’ve written about my identity confusion growing up, but my struggle wasn’t about race or ethnicity, but rather, nationality. My girls are undoubtedly American (as I am too), but I wonder if they’ll ever feel confused about what race or ethnicity they “belong” to. Will it matter by then? Does it matter now? They have stronger ties to their Korean heritage than their Russian, Norwegian or Italian side and that mostly comes from being around my side of the family more. Like many families, this centers mostly around food. We always joke that while Mia may be the whitest looking half-Asian kid ever, you can tell she has Korean in her strictly by her love of Korean food (I mean do you know any other kid that can snack on those tiny dried anchovies, right out of the bag, fish head and all, like potato chips? Yeah, thought so). Claudine, who looks more Asian than her sister, doesn’t stray at all from her typical kid diet of Mac & Cheese and other carbs.

But I’m reminded every time we do go up to visit Mark’s uncle and father upstate, that the girls have another ethnic side that we don’t really address here at home, except for these trips to visit family (we don’t really ever learn much about Mark’s Norwegian side of the family in Washington). When we do go upstate, we hear stories about how Mark’s grandmother had a pot of mushroom soup and pierogies waiting every time any grandchildren came to visit.

Mark’s uncle’s house is full of family treasures like the Russsian eggs. The girls like to try and spot Mark, as a child, in all the old family photos hanging up around the house. I’m realizing how important it is to show the girls this side of their family history too. It’s nice to think that they will have fond memories of driving up to Uncle Mike’s house, where a bowl of soup and a plate of pierogies, always await them.

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  • diamondkelt April 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    That chess set is gorgeous btw. I think that the girls will figure it out on their own which nationality they want to associate more with, but you’re doing a great job showing them each side as best as you can and that’s more than most people do. 🙂

  • MichelleChung April 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I can relate to this. My kids are half Korean, half Norwegian. My two middle daughters are the same ages as your daughters. Both sides of our families try to bring in culture through food and clothes.[The hanbok vs. the bunad] We live somewhat closer to the Korean grandparents and spend more time eating Korean food… The Korean food is more colorful.
    P.S. My two year old son eats dried anchovies while watching cartoons.

  • chickything April 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Oh my I thought you were in a museum! That is my dream home! I wish there is a house like that I can escape to! it’s just so special and that chesterfield sofa is just to die for.

  • hollie April 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I love these photos! I always joke that my daughter is going to grow up unaware that she isn’t a full blood Greek, because its the only part of her heritage she is ever exposed to. I need to start doing more to teach her otherwise!

  • jessica April 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Food will definitely keep you tied to a culture! I’m only half Japanese but identify more with it than my Chinese half. I grew up eating that way and it’s hard to forget what tastes like home 😀

  • Chantale April 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Gorgeous photos Jenna! I love that couch.. Wow but the girls look so much older..they’re so pretty. I always wonder about the same thing. We’re the opposite, we visit my in-laws (the french/irish side) more than my side. My 6yo isn’t too familiar with korean food and my hubs isn’t a fan of it so we don’t eat it very often. Shame really. I guess we make as much of an effort as we can.. Have your kids started asking you questions about their heritage?

  • theresa April 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Well, I think about this all the time… I am mixed race myself, half American, half Swedish, half black, half white. Born in Sweden, raised in the U.S. Growing up I felt I was black mostly because that is how others saw me but I also saw myself as Swedish because I was raised very Swedish (holidays, traditions, my first language and of course food). The difficult part for me was that most Americans couldn’t accept that a dark skinned person could be Swedish (at least not in the 1970’s). Now that I am back in Sweden after 30 years I feel very American and I try to keep home life American… via the language, the films we watch, the books we read and the food I make. It’s both easy and hard…

  • Renee April 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    As a mother of three biracial kids,being ages 12,14 & 16,I can completely understand about the confusion you feel for yourself and what lies ahead for your children.Obviously,they all stay home with me so they are more influenced by me and therefore relate more to their American side,but they do know that they are only half white,half asian…..but what does it really mean to be half asian because they don’t speak the language,nor dress in their clothes,so I think it’s a little tough for them to really relate as truly being half asian.Of course,when they went to school,people assumed I was the nanny or adoptive mother since people always assumed they were foreign and born in some other country since their big brown eyes and skin color let you know they are not 100% white.I may never really be able to understand what my kids think about being biracial but I do know that they love having a mix,it’s like having the best of both worlds.It makes for interesting conversations when people ask them where they are from and they say Louisiana. 🙂 I think biracial kids probably relate more with the race of the parent that spends the most time with them,unless both parents more sure to involve them with activities or family members of both sides of the family.My kids have only met their asian grandparents once,so they really don’t spend time with any asian people (besides their dad who is more American than I probably am. 🙂 )They do love southeast asian food,but maybe that’s because that is really all I eat,too.We don’t live near any relatives so they aren’t really swayed to be more of one race than the other.But I think they do get annoyed when people want them to label themselves as only one race,but they proudly claim both races and don’t see why people can’t accept that you can be two races at the same time,they don’t want either of us to have our feelings hurt by claiming one race more than the other.But since you live in such a diverse place,I don’t think it should have any negative effects since most people are mixed races these days,it’s just when you come to states like ours (VA) where people have problems with 2 different races mixing…as if it really is a problem.We live in America where there are many different types of people and our kids are no different so they should fit right in to what America stands for.It looks like your kids have some really great relatives that can teach them so much about their ethnic backgrounds so they will truly understand where they come from and combine it into something amazing that lives on into the future.At least we know that our children will certainly be more open minded since they know what it can sometimes feel like to be different than what is sometimes considered to be the norm,they have something most kids don’t have and I know most kids would be envious to have parents from two different countries.I think it makes our kids feel like they have the world in the palm of their hands since they can say they are part of 2 different countries and really almost 2 different worlds.Whew,I just wrote you a novel,sorry about that,but I just wanted to include my 2 cents. :)You can see younger pics of my girls on my blog if you are curious.

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  • leslie April 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Jenna!
    This post resonates with me as my three kidlets are multiracial too (Japanese, Irish, Black, English, French Canadian). Our family history is mixed, dating back to the plantation workers in Hawai’i to black slaves in the south. . . little by little our story is unfolding for our kids. It may take a lifetime for them to learn it all!

    My oldest daughter was in the MIXED book seen here:

    You can also view her at the MIXED exhibit too on my husband’s blog:

    My kids love thumbing through this book of portraits. It’s a beautiful book!

  • alexis April 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    My kids are half Italian/French/Irish (me) and half East Indian (my husband) (although the East Indian component comes via Trinidad).
    I had to laugh over the comment about Mia and Korean food – my younger daughter (4) looks completely white and she loves Indian food and anything spicy. The older girl (6) looks more like her dad, but thinks pepper is too hot (she’s whiter than I am when it comes to food…) The younger one also loves to “help” in the kitchen, whether it’s rolling out pizza dough or west Indian roti.
    I think you do tend identify with whatever you are exposed to: I always identified more with the Italian side, as that what I was exposed to growing up. Living in a large city, we have also been able to expose the kids to all sorts of food that we didn’t try until we were adults.

  • Shara April 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Such a wonderful post and so cool to see by all the comments how much this resonates with so many people! My husband and I talk about this all the time, we are both “mixed” but don’t really like any one nationality in particular. I really do think and hope this will just be more and more common in the future. And then we’ll all get to try lots of new food!

  • kin April 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    i love that little wooden donkey on the bookshelf so much

  • Nina April 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I am half Korean and half white (English, Scottish, and Dutch mostly). I was closer to my dad’s “American” side of the family when I was younger, but in high school I started identifying more strongly as Korean or Asian American, partly because high school is so strictly stratified on racial lines. I think that subconsciously I felt more accepted within a minority grouping rather than with the “mainstream” white people. I experienced a good amount of racism from white classmates growing up regarding my mixed ethnicity (and this was in Southern California, mind you) so maybe that’s partly why. That said, even amongst other Asian Americans I never felt fully accepted. I was always “the white girl” amongst other Asians (I, like Mia, look more “white” to other Asians but am usually identified as Asian or somehow “exotic” by white people).

    Maybe it’ll be easier for kids this generation. My own kids, who are around your kids’ ages, are 3/4 Korean and 1/4 white. I wonder how they will navigate the issues that I found so difficult.

    Ultimately, I think marrying into a Korean family and then having children made me think really critically about my ethnic/racial identity (hence part of the reason I and other Korean mom bloggers started Kimchi Mamas).

    It’s not so much about confusion, I think, as it is about yearning. Yearning to belong, yearning for acceptance, yearning for identity. Adolescence and early adulthood magnifies that yearning, I think, for everybody, regardless of how simple or complex their ethnic and racial makeup, but being mixed race does bring its own unique issues.

    Anyway, I love how you write about these issues. 🙂

  • Guisela April 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Hi Jenna!

    Glad to find your blog! You got a great pics, your girls are sweet. Humm about ethnicity well I’m a Peruvian married to a French-Canadian. I will see how my little Mia-Valentina will see those mix :). Now my little start talking more Spanish & French and this is so curious for me 🙂

    Have a great day!

  • Dana April 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Loved this post. Love this blog.

  • Renita April 27, 2011 at 1:39 am

    It will be hard, but your kids are growing in such a diverse times, experiencing cultures, art, food, and ethnicities. They will figure out how to navigate through the world. They’ll will wander in and out of who they are and start to build their own histories … They especially have the social advantage of seeing all kinds of people through the interactions with your business. I can say that I have great empathy for both of my ethnic roots-Black and Filipino… I always feel ‘with them’ .. no matter what shape or form

  • gail April 27, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Love these photos of your father-in-law’s home. They are so genteel and old world.

  • Laura April 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    When someone asked my oldest what her nationality was, she said Danish. I corrected her…we’re Canadian, born and raised; but it was interesting she said that. The Scandinavian side is so predominant with us, the Ukranian and the Mennonite pushed to the background, except for the food!

  • sylvï April 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    genetics and genealogy both fascinate me, and i get a twinge of envy reading about all these diverse families. i grew up thinking i was 1/8 swedish, but it turned out even that great grandmother was born in the swedish-speaking part of finland! being a 100% finn, i still don’t always quite know where i belong, having grown up identifying with a lot of american and british music and movies, for example. culture and identity these days is so much more complex than just just a few decades ago. but across times, i’m imagining there have always been those who feel like world citizens and aren’t afraid to roam around and mix with others, and those who have wanted to stay with their own kind, sticking to set ways of being. and so my own mixed heritage just goes back way longer than church books or written history.

  • elainegan April 28, 2011 at 3:43 am

    I’m sure your daughters will both discover further and accept which ethnic root they’re confident in their growing years, you’re doing great a job 🙂

    I too look forward to teaching our baby (due in Nov) Chinese/ Malaysian/ Australian/ English food, history and language. So much to absorb for the little one, lol.

  • dawn April 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I have been wondering what your ethnicity was 🙂 So excited to read you’re Korean 🙂 These same thoughts have been lurking in my brain since I’ve had my little girl, who is half Colombian, a quarter Korean and a quarter American. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever really struggled to figure out my identity, but rather had a lot of fun embracing both sides. My early days were spent in Korea and my first language was Korean, but you would never know by my appearance. I grew up mostly here in the States, so I guess I should identify more with my American upbringing, but I feel like a lot of the time I identify more with my Korean side. Unfortunately, I don’t look Korean and often times that makes me feel like a fraud. I tried once hanging out with the Korean crowd at University, but that didn’t go all that well as they didn’t accept me. Over time, I realized being biracial made me unique from most other people and knew that because I wasn’t fully Korean or American, that that made me special. I hope our girls will feel the same way too 🙂

  • jen April 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

    beautiful post–
    and resonated with me as well (as with many, i see) — my husband is russian, and i am american. we live in moscow but speak english at home. and i always wonder who my kids identify the most with. moscow is all they remember, despite our occasional trips to the states. but it’s funny, i believe they call themselves americans and prefer english over russian. and i wonder, what would have been different if we had chosen to speak russian in the home instead? if we made trips to the states less often? if they didn’t have a close relationship (via skype) with their american grandparents?
    how much influence a mother has. . .

  • AK May 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    I am 1/2 Japanese and 1/2 white. As a young child (who was raise mostly by my Japanese mother and Grandparents) I spoke a lot of Japanese, we celebrate all the Japanese holiday’s etc…. the older I got, I lost the Japanese and the “holidays” just became holidays and lost a lot of their significance. I became more and more americanized and less interested in my Japanese heritage. Now as an adult, with my OWN children, it deeply saddens me that I cannot teach my children to speak and understand Japanese- that when we celebrate a Japanese holiday, I have to google it to make sure I am explaining it and celebrating it properly. I look almost full asian (spitting image of my mother) but people can tell I am not full- because of this, I of course identify more with my asian side yet… I don’t FEEL asian. I understand a lot of my mannerisms are VERY Japanese, which just comes from being raised by a Japanese mother and grandparents… but I am just deeply saddened by my lack of knowledge on my own culture. I think a lot of the time the reason it is hard to related to my caucasion side is because there isn’t a whole lot of cultural significance to that side. My father is a European mutt, but majority Scottish. We are so far removed from our Scotland ancestors, that we don’t know what it means to be Scottish. My father just knows what is like to be a caucasion male growing up in America. My Japanese family, despite being 2 generations of Japanese born and raised in Hawaii (my great grandparents came over from Japan) still stuck very strictly to the Japanese ways. There is simply MORE culture to absorb on that side of the family. I married a Samoan man, who is also a bit absent from his culture for similiar reasons that my children will be- his mother is only 1/2 Samoan and does not speak the language nor know as much about the culture as his father does who was born and raised on the islands. I hope my children embrace BOTH sides of their culture, but because they are only 1/4 Japanese, I find myself completely divulging myself into Japanese culture to have a better understanding of “my people” not only for them, but for myself. I also tell my bilingual friends- TEACH your children to speak another language! They may not use it as they get older, but at least they will have that CHOICE!! Something I desperately wish I had! I love your blog and your girls are beautiful! My older child looks like a little mixed asian kid, and my youngest could pass as full Samoan. You never know what you’re going to get with these beautiful mixed kids 🙂

  • Claire June 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Have you read Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?”
    It has a chapter on mixed-race identity development in children and adolescents.

    I’m not a mother yet, but am thinking a lot about what’s to come if and when I have kids… thanks for sharing.