For a bunch of white kids that grew up in Vermont and rural New York, our family has expanded to encompass a surprising (maybe statistically unlikely?) amount of diversity. With a single generation and a few relationships, our family has gone from very homogenous to white, black, and Chinese, American, Canadian, and Puerto Rican, as my siblings, step-sibs, and I have created families of our own. If you can’t tell, I think it’s pretty cool! My brother and his long-time girlfriend shared their story here a couple of years ago, and today I am thrilled to introduce you to my stepsister’s family.
A little background
I titled this post “Around the Globe” because Jen and Dan’s relationship really has seemed to span the globe. Jen and Dan met a few years ago at a concert Dan was performing at in San Francisco. While they met on the West Coast, both actually lived in New York City where Jen worked in the art world and Dan worked as a musician. After dating for a couple of years, they married and last fall welcomed their first child, Padme. In January the family moved to Hong Kong, where they plan to live for the next year or two.
My family is from Vermont but my parents moved to a small, rural community in New York State, on the Quebec border, when I was a baby. It was a homogenous community: mostly white, Catholic, with French-Canadian roots.
Dan and I met at a rock concert in San Francisco. Dan was the keyboardist. I was in the city for a friend’s wedding. I thought he was cute but mostly I was impressed by his relaxed confidence. To be honest, the fact that Dan is ethnically Chinese never crossed my mind when I met him. I’m not trying to gloss over racial issues—it’s just that for whatever reason, personally, that notion of difference did not come into play until I started spending more time with Dan’s family in Ontario.
Now, Dan’s Chinese background is the biggest influence on my life! It’s why we’re in Hong Kong! Dan’s family legacy gives him career opportunities here. So suddenly the part of his identity that was sort of peripheral the first couple years of our relationship is in our face every day. He speaks Cantonese. He has insight to local customs that I would never have. I feel fortunate to be able to straddle both the expat culture and the local culture through him; it is quite segregated here and my experience would otherwise be very limited. But I still think of him as Canadian.
When we participate in Chinese customs, it’s usually out of respect for his parents. They organized a Chinese banquet for our wedding rehearsal dinner, and we had a tea ceremony. His mom had a red cheongsam made for me, which I wore at the reception. I liked participating in those traditions; I was learning something new and I felt initiated into his family.
When our daughter, Padme, was born, Dan’s mom came to stay with us for six weeks. I was nervous about it—I’d be nervous about anyone staying with us so long during such a stressful time—but it worked well. I appreciated the help and I learned a lot about Chinese post-natal care.
Padme’s racial identity has been much more of an issue here in Hong Kong than it was in the U.S. People generally like babies here. Most can tell Padme is mixed and become curious. They are also not shy about staring or commenting on appearances. Some days they’ll say she looks white, other times they’ll say she looks like Daddy.
I am glad that Padme is growing up with a mixed heritage. It’s pretty incredible to think about her as the product of two families, from opposite sides of the world, who converged through a chance meeting for maybe half an hour in a city where neither Dan nor I lived at the time. I want her to feel proud about where she comes from. I have bought her Chinese/English books, and books on Hong Kong and the Chinese zodiac. Dan speaks Cantonese with her at home, and we just started her in a Mandarin/English playgroup.
This summer we’ll be home in Harlem for a month then we’re going to Vermont to introduce her to my family there. Dan’s sister and her husband and kids are joining us and I’m super excited about that. It’s such a nice feeling when bonding with people simultaneously evokes a sense of expansion.
Would you like to share your family’s story? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.