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?