Friday, November 16, 2012

Life with Aria: Identity and Uncertainty

Wait. What?  Yes, I know I've changed the name of my every other Friday post.  I've been feeling a wee bit limited by the title. It sounded like a great idea since Aria LOVES doing art, but to be honest...often Aria wants to do the same art projects over and over.  I can't exactly write a blog post on the same art project over and over, but who am I to interfere with her creativity?

So with that, today's post is not art related at all.  It's about my own journey coming to terms with being a multiracial mother. Its been a while since I took time to reflect on that journey and what better way than through a blog post. For one, I've been so busy lately that I never seem to make time for reflection.  This blog is the only place that I seem to write anything that is not school related.  And two, even if you're not a multiracial mother, I'm sure all parents can identify with coping with uncertainty when raising their children.  We're not given parenting manuals.  So much of what we do is shaped by uncertainty.  We hope we're doing the best for our children but we don't know for sure and I'd argue that we need to remind ourselves that the only thing we can know for sure is that we parent from a place of love.  

“To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.”
― Lao Tzu

Some of my earliest memories from childhood revolve around race. My father is a White American from Michigan; my mother a Korean American.  They met during the Vietnam War, when my father was stationed in Korea.  I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if my parents had stayed together, but they got divorced when I was only 4 and my father with help from his parents raised both my older sister and me.  
Mum and Me when I was still a wee one.
Growing up I was constantly reminded that I wasn't really White by both children and adults. It wasn't always malicious but regardless of intent, I grew up feeling like I never quite belonged.  I turned to my mother's heritage because my father's never seemed to fully accept me, but instead of peace I found more questions.  Could I call myself Korean even though I wasn't raised culturally Korean?  Could I be comfortable identifying as White when all it took was a pair of perceptive eyes to betray me?  Did I want to identify as White or Korean? What did it even mean to identify as Mixed?

When I found out I was pregnant, I was consumed with new concerns and questions.  Would Aria identify with her Korean heritage at all?  Would she understand and be able to relate to why racial identity is such a big deal to me?  Would she care to know anything about it at all?  Was I wrong to want her to at least acknowledge her Korean heritage?  

Sept 2010.  One of my favorite photos of Halmoni and Aria.
Aria's middle name is Jae, its a Korean name meaning respect.  And it was my first homage to the Korean heritage I feel simultaneously tied to and estranged from.  The second homage was Aria's first birthday.  I was determined that she have a traditional Korean first birthday. 

The Chut Dol or first birthday is a pretty big deal. In ancient times, infant mortality rates were pretty high so if a child reached her Chut Dol, her chances of survival greatly increased and it was a reason to celebrate.
I bought Aria a traditional Korean Hanbok to wear to her  Dol.  These pictures were actually taken roughly a week before her birthday.  I wanted to be sure to get some great shots of her in her Hanbok. Photography courtesy of my good friends Tina and Nicole Burdsall.  

Funny story actually about the location.  March in Portland is known for rain so I randomly sent an email to a store (Cargo, Inc) in downtown Portland that specializes in imported furniture from around the world. I didn't really expect them to agree to my proposed scenario since it involved letting a toddler loose in their store of highly expensive furniture and home goods. To my surprise, though, I got back a lovely email letting me know that we were welcome to have an impromptu photo shoot in their shop. 
A rare photo of me.  I swear I only pop up sporadically in the "family" photos.  Comes from being the person often wielding the camera.  At least this one was actually taken by someone other than myself.  I have far too many "Facebook" style mirror shots of Aria and I together.
My favorite shot of the day.

Perhaps it seems silly to get so wrapped up in a single birthday, but it mattered to me.  A single day held the weight of all my worries.  It was as if I was making a pact with myself to do my best to ensure that our Korean heritage wasn't lost entirely.  I can't say I've come to terms with it all, but I will say that I would love for Aria to know that her Korean heritage is beautiful and important. I make sure that we have books about Korea around the house.  I talk about the fact that Halmoni is from Korea.  I cook a few Korean dishes occasionally even though I don't like to cook. 

And here's the thing, one of the few things that I have come to understand about myself is that at the end of the day while I want her to take pride in her Korean heritage, more than anything I want her to celebrate the beauty of the world around us. We get so hung up on the bad.  To be fair, there's plenty to get hung up on, but I want Aria to be able to see the good too.  I want her to be a part of cultivating, sharing, and spreading more of the good.  I think one of the most important things we can do for kids is to make sure that their books and toys reflect the diversity of the world.  One of the things that really got to me when I was growing up was that none of my dolls looked like me at all.  Not a single one. Okay...maybe Hawaiian Barbie came the closest but for the most part I didn't see myself on TV, in the books I read, or the toys I played with. I felt both incredibly exposed and invisible at the same time.  One of the most exciting things about making dolls is having the ability to not only appreciate but honor and value diversity. 

 "You know when ubuntu is there, and it is obvious when it is absent. It has to do with what it means to be truly human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life."
  - Desmond Tutu

Aria and I...we already talk about the importance of diversity and compassion and the courage needed to realize a better world.  Sometimes I think she gets what I'm saying and other days I am not so sure.  But that's okay because sometimes I'm not so sure I know what I'm trying to say myself.  But I try.  And I think that counts for something. I'll continue to try.  I'll speak to her from a place of love and respect for not only her but for the world around us and the people in it.   And I'll hope for the best, even though I'm not sure what the best will actually look like.  But I think that is one thing that all parents no matter their backgrounds and experiences share in common.  We hope for the best even in the face of uncertainty.



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