Raising a multicultural family: what I didn’t tell my kids

By Roni Roseberg

My two adult sons have a multicultural heritage. I’m Jewish; my father and four grandparents were immigrants to the US who escaped from pogroms in Eastern Europe.

My boys’ father is Chinese American. His grandparents were also immigrants who came to the US seeking a better life.

My boys were born in the San Francisco Bay Area, an area with its vast range of cultures (I think that has something to do with the area’s famous assortment of restaurants and arts).

We didn’t anticipate any difficulties with racism when we married and had children, and fortunately didn’t encounter any.

Happily, families like ours were commonplace.

One thing I never said to my two boys though is: “You’re half this, and half that.”

I didn’t like the idea of a human being “being half anything”, so I said you have Jewish heritage, Chinese heritage, and, being born and raised in the US, American heritage.

Instead of anything lacking, we emphasised the cultural richness of their background.

According to Jewish law, children born of a Jewish mother are Jewish, not half anything, and I raised them Jewish. Today, they consider themselves Jews. Though there were occasional cultural differences that came up, the boys were never put in a position of choosing one culture over the other

A toast to my boys and daughter-in-law (who is also multicultural)!

It wasn’t difficult to celebrate lots of different events and holidays. Family on both sides were very willing to help. We had enjoyable celebrations in San Francisco’s and Oakland’s Chinatowns, and Passover dinners and Hebrew classes in temple where they were celebrated their bar mitzvahs.  

Additionally, I was working with the international population at the time. My boys attended lots of delightful international potlucks, and students from all over the world were guests at our home. We were also guests of one of my students and her family in Mexico City.

We made an effort to live in a multicultural neighbourhood. I remember the kids saying: “My friend Mandy is coming over today” – not “my Black friend, my Filipino friend or Mexican friend”.

I didn’t ask, and I never knew what little rainbow of kids would knock on my door. Many, if not most of them, had varied heritages like my boys, and it was never an issue. 

Lastly, though we didn’t avoid topics, we avoided generalisations based on ethnic group, colour, religion or other characteristic when having conversations at home.

Most generalisations are so vast as to be totally useless. Nor were the boys ever told who to socialise with. Not surprisingly, my sons, now grown, have friends of all backgrounds.

When it comes to their friends and life partners, all I care about is respect and good sense. So far, my sons have done very well. I know that as they face their fellow humans, they will be fair, open-minded and moral, and that is what I wanted.

In our house, it was always about human rights. I didn’t have to tell them in words; it was lived.

Today, I’m very sad to say, I worry for my sons.

What if they are stopped by adrenaline-charged police for a trumped-up reason?

What if someone who buys into the “China flu” accusation has a grudge against Asians? Will my handsome boys’ Eurasian faces be their undoing, or might it be their last name?

Might an antisemite deride their Jewish heritage?

As a participant in the civil rights movement, I had fervently hoped that racism might be dead by now.

I, like all parents of children of colour, fear that a speeding ticket, a misinterpreted gesture, fear of a virus, or simple, blind racism, will trigger a deadly act by someone who doesn’t know that my sons would be very good neighbours.

I raised moral human beings; more than anything, I sincerely hope find themselves among the same.

Now, after all, I have to say to them something I never wanted to say: “Be careful”. 

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