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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family
Confronting Common Misconceptions About Transracial Families
When you have a multicultural, multilingual, and multiracial family you get used to some strange comments, bizarre questions, and amazing assumptions.
Some you are prepared to deal with, some you learn to handle as you encounter them, some are forgettable, and some stay with you and don't let go. There is one such interaction in particular I remember and it happened at daycare.
Back when I was still working full time, Isabel and Noah spent some time at a small daycare by our house. As I mentioned, my children are bilingual. We have been blessed with the opportunity to teach them both Spanish, my native language, and English, my husband's mother tongue. They speak each language equally fluently.
One afternoon I picked up Isabel from the toddler room and took her with me to pick up Noah from the infant room. As we were saying goodbye to the daycare teachers, I said to my children: "Vamos que Daddy nos espera." (Let’s go, Daddy is waiting for us).
Clearly understanding the request, Isabel got ready to leave.
Upon witnessing this, one of the afternoon helpers said to me in amazement, "I didn’t know they spoke three languages!"
Three languages? I quickly did the math in my head and it did not add up. Confused, I asked her, "Three languages? What do you mean?"
She replied without skipping a beat, “Well, they speak English, Mexican…” (Insert wide-eye, appalled look on my face here.) “…Er…I mean Spanish, and African!”
This question brought to light two assumptions people make about transracially adopted children. One is frustrating for its implications and the other one is actually funny in its absurdity.
The first assumption this lady was making is that a non-black couple adopting black children had to have adopted them from Africa. Often the first question we are asked by strangers about our children is: What country are they from? Our response, “The U.S.,” is usually followed by an indirect inquiry as to why we chose to adopt black children domestically. Nobody would dare ask this directly, but we have come to discern that the underlying question is: If we are not out to save the poor children of third-world countries, why would we purposefully choose to adopt African-American children rather than children who look more like one or both of us?
Many times, when we reveal our children were both born in our state, the look we get back is more of concerned confusion than surprise. As a society, we still seem to believe that the idea of adopting a child from a foreign country is to be praised as heroic and selfless, while adopting an African-American child domestically is foolish for all the potential issues of race, culture, and prejudice families can encounter.
This is disheartening because, in the state where I live, the majority of children in foster care and in need of forever families are children of color. When we were going through the process of adoption, we were told there were about 40 couples waiting for each healthy, white infant born. We simply chose to adopt the first child available, knowing full well that statistically our family would probably look like it does now.
While assuming our children are African is not hurtful in itself—we respect, and make no judgment about, families who have adopted internationally from Africa or other parts of the world—it does feed into the stereotype that all transracially adopted black children have been brought home from abroad and it minimizes the very real need for families for children of color in this country.
The second, and more comical, assumption the woman was making was that my children would speak a particular language based on their ethnicity. This is more common than you would think. I have friends who have been asked how they would communicate with the Hispanic infant they had just adopted since he or she probably only spoke Spanish! While communication barriers are a real concern for families who adopt older children from abroad, that is not the case for newborn or infant adoptions.
I was so dumbfounded by the daycare helper’s comment that I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless and at a loss for an appropriate answer. I couldn’t believe that in this day and age, with a world of information instantly available to us, there is still such depth of cultural ignorance. Not only were my children not born in Africa, they were clearly not raised in Africa since they were still babies, and “African” is not even a language!
I think I mumbled something about them not speaking African and left. Later, of course, I thought of a million different answers I could have given her, ranging from a polite dismissive one, an educational one, or a rude one.
In the end, I never said anything else. What would I have gained from pointing out to her the ridiculous nature of her comment and embarrassing her? Instead I chose to extend her a little grace and hope that she wouldn’t forget this encounter. I have no poker face and I could tell from the woman’s face and from the way she looked and talked to me from then on that she knew her comment had not sat well with me that afternoon.
I have to remember that not everyone has had the opportunity to expand their horizons and enrich their worldview by experiencing or learning about other countries and cultures. I also have to remember that most often questions and comments like this truly come from a lack of knowledge, not malice or rudeness. The woman was a sweet daycare helper and she truly cared for and about my children and I could see that in the gentle way in which she treated them every day. Maybe in the circle in which she moves she hears these types of comments often with no one to dispel their ignorance. Maybe after interacting with our family she may become an agent of education in her world.
How would you have answered this comment? Have you encountered a situation where a question or comment about adoption left you speechless?
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