Today, meet Nina and her gorgeous, multicultural family of four. Nina shares some great stories about how cultural differences led to a few unique dilemmas that, in the end, she and her husband resolved with respect, compromise, and a little extra cooking!
Tell us about your family. What makes you multiracial/multicultural?
My husband and I have been married for seven years and we have two sons, an almost 4-year old and a 7-month old. My husband is a second generation Polish-Ukrainian American and I am a 1.5 generation Filipino American. We speak fluently our respective languages and try to teach them to our sons.
How did you and your partner meet? What attracted you most to him/her?
My husband and I first met during our college orientation. We have been classmates, labmates, carpool mates and friends for a year prior to dating. We stayed committed to one another throughout various life transitions, including my out-of-state move to attend graduate school. After ten years, we decided to tie the knot and start a new family of our own. We just celebrated our 7th anniversary on July 16.
What attracted me most to my husband was his devotion to his family and his multiculturalism. On the first day of our meeting, I overheard him call his parents on a payphone, a gentle and respectful tone of voice with a steady cadence, sometimes in English but sometimes in an unfamiliar language. That really piqued my curiosity about
him. Of course I found him attractive too!
What started as a curiosity about his cultural background has led to a realization of our many similarities and differences. Our religions match, our family-centric values comparable, our educational and career aspirations complementary, etc. But the differences in cultural values in addition to personal/individual idiosyncrasies have challenged our relationship. These cultural differences were most apparent during our wedding and our kids’ baptisms. Decisions like how many godparents to invite became battlegrounds. But in the end, our love, trust and respect for one another prevail and we compromise.
You mentioned some cultural differences came up around things like wedding and baptism. What sort of differences came up and how did you ultimately work them out?
For our wedding, our cultures clashed so planning was a nightmare! First, it’s traditional for Filipinos that the groom pays for the wedding, but in western cultures it’s the bride. It was an awkward situation and we didn’t want to upset either parents so we decided to pay for it ourselves. Then the wedding party: Filipinos believe in extended family networks so we invite a bunch of godparents for the new couple and they are part of the wedding entourage. We have a coin bearer (boy carries blessed coins as a symbol of prosperity) and a tradition of tying a rope over the couple prior to lighting the unity candle. My husband’s family was so confused about this whole thing and they think it’s weird.
Then for our kids’ baptisms, again extending family by having lots of godparents was the norm in the Philippines. So I wanted to invite several of my siblings and friends, but my husband was shocked as he was used to having one set of godparents only. He actually fought me on this and insisted on one couple, but I negotiated and got him to raise it to two couples!
On more daily matters, food choices have been so tough early in our relationship but much better now. I prefer rice dishes, spiced, colorful dishes. But not my husband! So many times now I prepare two dishes (if I have time) for each of us and my son can mix it up on his plate! On holidays and birthdays with my family, he usually goes hungry because he won’t eat the food or will nibble of some “safe” dishes like white meat chicken and white rice or cakes. He is getting better and has been trying out more dishes. On holidays with his family, I find the food less colorful and less seasoned. But over time, I have developed a liking for Polish food and though I can’t say my husband likes Filipino food, he does try a lot more dishes.
How did your family and friends respond to your relationship? Were the cultural or racial differences an issue for them?
With respect to our racial difference, most friends are enlightened and liberal so it has been alright, but some family had issues at first. My Asian parents were worried about how I will be treated and assimilated into my husband’s Caucasian family, surely out of their instinct to protect me. I felt awkward when first introduced to my husband’s family and relatives, wondering about what stereotypes they might hold and how I stack up—but to put into perspective, I guess that’s how most folks feel when they first meet their in-laws. Now, I hear family members make reference to race-based features in my sons (e.g. “Asian nose,” etc.) but I do not perceive these comments derogatory.
What is the most fabulous thing about your kiddos?
The most fabulous thing about my boys is their utmost trust in me. My eldest son, a boundless ball of energy and curiosity, absorbs anything and everything I tell him (to the point I really have to censor my grown-up conversations when he’s around). It’s awesome to see him apply what I informally teach him through day-to-day conversations and activities. As for my baby, he’s such a bundle of joy at this age, full of smiles and giggles and very playful. When I had my second child, I no longer had the “new mom” anxiety, so this time around I was able to enjoy the baby more and worried less about his growth/development.
What is your philosophy on “how to raise a multiracial/multicultural child”?
Before I became a mother, I resolved to raise my children to appreciate their multiracial and multicultural identities and instill in them a sense of pride. That means exposing them to our culture and tradition through food, language, music and customs. Maybe when they are older, take them on a trip to our countries of origin and learn about history and heritage. Although race and color has not been formally discussed with my preschooler yet, he is able to understand four languages and differentiate our three diverse cultures.
As an immigrant, I experienced acculturative stress during youth and early adulthood. I had to learn the hard way. Most of my friends tried to assimilate into mainstream. I tried to hold on to my ethnic identity but I did not receive much reinforcement, certainly not really proud of it. I spoke with an accent; I was not fluent in English; I ate rice every meal. I was a minority Asian female in Caucasian-male dominated institutions. But through research I learned more about my heritage and history and developed a sense of pride in my ethnic identity. Then I sought social networks that reinforced my evolving sense of cultural identity. My marriage to a Caucasian man has certainly tested my beliefs and values, and periodically we still argue about differences in cultural values, but in the end we realize we cannot change that about each other and just accept it.
Thus as a parent of multiracial, multicultural children, I hope to teach them to be humble (an Asian cultural value) yet proud (a Western cultural value) of their diversity.<
Does your family have any special traditions or celebrations related to your cultural/ethnic heritage?
I am teaching my sons the customary deference of Filipinos whenever they meet elders in my family and to use the proper titles to show respect. My husband’s family will teach them Ukrainian traditions like how to make “psysanky” eggs in Easter.
What is the climate like in your town for multiracial families?
We live in a suburban town near Chicago that is predominantly Caucasian. Occasionally when I go to public facilities, I get “casually” questioned about my residency because I do not look like a “typical” resident (or maybe it’s because I look so haggard after dragging an active preschooler and a fussy infant around). Fortunately we live near a diverse metropolis and nearby towns have high concentration of multicultural residents, so there are lots of ethnic shops and restaurants to make me feel “at home.”<
What does your family enjoy doing for fun or to spend time together?
Every Sunday, I make a Filipino-style brunch (eggs and bacon over garlic fried rice) and we eat together as a family. Then we decide our agenda for the day. Our popular Sunday tradition is a “family drive” to Costco. There are plenty of toys/books for my son to fiddle with on the shopping cart while we tackle our grocery list. My husband and preschooler always order the pizza and berry sundae from the Costco Café.