My bicultural life: 2014

Our much smaller family on AM's first birthday in 1995.

Our much smaller family on AM’s first birthday in 1995.

This year marked 20 years of being the mother of a mixed race child. Twenty years of learning, negotiating difference, celebrating diversity, experimenting, arguing, making mistakes, sometimes getting it right.

So what has living in my extended bicultural family meant this year?

In no particular order, and probably missing a few things:

  • Fatherly approval of AM’s change in hairstyle from dreads to afro (not that he did it for approval).
  • Fears about ebola, especially with DadaK taking a trip back to Ghana around the time the epidemic was starting to attract international concern. Almost visceral understanding/imagining of how the disease can devastate resource-poor communities, based on my own experiences in DadaK’s village.
  • More family meals at our place because AM is often a bit too lazy to travel to their place. Which meant not quite as much yam eating as I would like.
  • AM’s step-mum Obaapa is now learning how to cook that all-Australian dish bestowed on us by a previous generation of migrants: spaghetti bolognese.
  • Reconnecting with non-African relatives and family friends on trips to the US and Victoria.
  • AM and his brothers sharing anecdotes about the racialised expectations that white people hold about their interests and behaviour, e.g.:
    • all Black people like hip hop and basketball;
    • if Black people can use the ‘N’ word, some white people assume they can too … Yo bro, just being cool & friendly … (cos it’s cool to be friends with a Black guy)
  • More adventures in cooking West African food and sharing the love with non-African friends.
  • Finding out that I have high cholesterol, which is going to seriously interfere with my love of palm oil based dishes.
  • Taking AM’s brothers and sisters to the beach and on bushwalks, with the not-so-hidden agenda of brainwashing them into the great Australian passions for beach and bush. Seems to be working. Except it can be tricky negotiating DadaK and Obaapaa’s fears about the great unknown, especially when it involves water.
  • Treasure finally learning to ride her bike without training wheels.
  • Robust, sometimes hilarious debates about religion. AM doesn’t pull any punches. Only yesterday he got very heated with 50 Cedis and Abrantie ‘Do you believe in magic? … No? Well why do you believe in God?
  • DadaK’s gift to me from Ghana: a rayon frock made in Indonesia, because his niece, who bought it for him at the market, said: ‘That’s what all the white ladies wear’. Hmm, not this one. I looove African fabric and styles. But it’s the thought that counts.
  • AM delighted by the African shirts DadaK brought back from Ghana for him. They’re perfect for how he dresses like a hippie these days (for comfort, not because he is one). So I gave him some African shirts that belonged to my brother Mark. He was very pleased to have them, and that made me happy. I’m glad they’re getting a second life.
  • AM’s brothers however, tell me they hate wearing African clothes.
  • While on the subject of gifts, yet again, I gave DadaK and Obaapa the wrong international phone card for Christmas. So it cuts both ways.
  • Treasure braiding my hair; Obaapa cutting it.
  • Continuing to learn about African culture, music and history, both through researching my regular Monday Music posts, following relevant blogs such as Media Diversified, and attempting the African Reading Challenge (which I failed, with only 2 out of 5 books, but will try again in 2015). I also sometimes used Monday Music to reflect on my bicultural family experiences.
  • Continuing to grapple with the meaning and impact of racism, and how it can be addressed. Blogs like mabelkwong.com, and SBS TV’s series Living with the Enemy and First Contact have given me plenty of food for thought.

Here are some of the visuals, again, in no particular order (in fact I’ve randomised the display. Click on any one of them for a slideshow & captions).

A friend said to me recently that she thought I was a model for how to successfully parent in a bicultural family. Well that’s flattering but it certainly hasn’t always felt like ‘success’. However, as I look back over the past twenty years, I can see that things have definitely got easier over time.

I have a smart, gorgeous son who can be thoughtful, analytical and also humorous about being ‘mixed’. Yesterday I took him and the two older boys to the movies and their clowning about and friendly arguments in the car showed me that the bonds I’ve worked to support really do exist.

If my year in review looks good to you, it’s no accident. It’s the result of many years of thought, compromise, commitment and love, not just on my part, but also from the other parents in the picture: DadaK and Obaapa. I couldn’t do it without them. I’m so grateful to have them in my life. We truly are a family.

Do you live in a bicultural family? How was your year?

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7 thoughts on “My bicultural life: 2014

  1. I very much admire the commitment it takes to be a successful biracial family. Good friends’ daughter has a mixed race son and they are a terrific model but constantly face challenges i can only imagine. We can all hope for a day when it’s not something anyone even notices. And it is much easier today than it was 20 years ago MaameJ-so good for you for helping to blaze a trail that is still a work in process. All the best to you and yours in the new year.

  2. AM doesn’t like wearing African clothes? I am not a huge fan of wearing the Chinese cheongsam, too hard to move around… We all certainly have our own tastes in clothing and appearance, but each cultural costume has its significance and is beautiful in their own way.

    That looks like one great passionfruit cake. I want a slice 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on being a part of a bicultural family, Maamej. Not all of us know what that is like and it’s beneficial to learn more about such relations in a very diverse world. Thank you for the shoutout, very nice of you. I feel that my blog has gone on a bit of a tangent this year – more on the life side of culture and racism…still, I do think it’s interesting to look at these moments.

    I don’t know if you have heard but there’s a new American TV comedy series called Fresh Off the Boat that will be out this year, about an Asian family moving states and dealing with cultural clashes. It’s coming to local TV soon too. Interesting to see how the characters are portrayed when it airs.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresh_Off_the_Boat

    • Hi Mabel, thanks for the visit & your encouraging comments. Also thanks for the link to fresh off the Boat – will be very interesting to see what it’s like.

      As fro AM and African clothing, he likes it now because it’s loose and comfortable and colourful, but for a long time he resisted it, as do his brothers, I think because they felt it was an obligation that they didn’t want, as well as being too different to what other Australian boys wear. Their sister likes wearing African styles though.

      • That is good to hear AM doesn’t mind wearing African clothing as much today. These days there are more “dress ups” at schools so I suppose if students wore cultural costumes they wouldn’t be laughed at (I hope). It’s something schools should be encouraging anyway – for us to be proud of our culture in this diverse world.

      • Yes indeed, & AM’s primary school was quite good in that way. I guess it depends where you are. However AM didn’t like about sticking out from the crowd when he was younger – ironically, because he always did, not so much because of his colour but because he was so acrobatic and daring, always climbing to the highest branch of a tree – so he didn’t like wearing African clothes because they made him look different. It’s that old ‘fitting in’ dilemma again, which you’ve written about so eloquently yourself.

      • Sounds like AM is very comfortable with who he is, he really is his own person. It’s funny, isn’t it: we want to not stand out, yet in order to get ahead in many contexts in life, we are forced to stand out. I hope to explore this “fitting in” dilemma more in my first book. Thanks for supporting, Maamej.

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