In light of the current U.S. presidential election season and results, and in tandem with our expat life, I’ve been wondering more about what it will be like for Sophia to develop her identity in America as a biracial woman, daughter to a Polish immigrant father and a second-generation Filipino mother.
I hope that at least some cultural customs will be passed down and not all will be lost as she grows up farther away from the origin of her ancestries and in what seems like will be a less accepting environment. In the times we live in now, it seems like cultivating this multi-faceted identity could be more of a challenge than how her parents managed in the past.
Flash back to almost a decade ago to a moment in my and Michal’s relationship that gives this identity a bit more context: When Michal and I were dating in undergrad, a campus tour guide was relating Johnny Appleseed to the botanical gardens at MSU. She took time to explain to me specifically, pointing out that I wouldn’t recognize this iconic American folklore because she assumed I didn’t grow up in America.
This really bothered us, especially me, as irony would have it that Michal, the white American male, is actually the one (not me!) who was born and grew up in another country, having immigrated to the Detroit area when he was 8 years old. This type of assumption of me as an unaware foreigner has taken shape in other forms in my lifetime.
For example, people will ask me where I’m from and I always reply with “metro Detroit,” and then they look at me incredulously and ask a second time, or they praise my communication skills thinking I learned English as a second language. (Again, as irony would have it, Michal did not know a word of English when he moved to the States. Whereas, my parents never even taught me their native country’s language because they feared I would get confused or speak with an accent.)
I’ve swept away these misunderstandings over time, maybe not even truly recognizing these interactions as racism or prejudice because these annoyances didn’t feel maliciously overt or didn’t seem to be life-changing experiences. And as Michal and I lived in more areas of the world, befriending a diverse group of open-minded and culturally aware people, we built a bubble around us that I didn’t quite realize existed until living as expats in Korea.
As an American here, I have inherently become something of a “representative” within the numerous conversations I’ve had with expats from around the world and locals from Korea about our home country’s politics. Common questions from everyone around me including fellow moms in a play group, my house keeper, taxi drivers and my doctor are: “What do you really think of President-Elect Donald Trump? How could your country elect someone like him? How does the result affect your future plans as an expat?”
With that said, I have also found commonalities in the corruption and failings of various governmental systems among my fellow expats (e.g. controversial Brexit, president-condoned vigilante killing in the Philippines, the Korean president’s secret advisers). So the big question: “Where do we go next?” is truly on many more minds than ours. Do we all continue to flee – continue living in this expat bubble?
A friend of mine I know through the Darden Partners Association at the University of Virginia eloquently encapsulated the one action I certainly wanted to pursue no matter where we are living, even in my current disillusioned and perplexed state of our home country. Cathryn’s Facebook status struck a chord with me as a mother to a newborn daughter. She describes the following reaction, referencing First Lady Michelle Obama:
I am sick at the thought of him as not only my president, but more importantly, my daughter’s president. There isn’t anything I can do to change the results, but there is one thing I can do:
I will raise my daughter to be a kind, compassionate and loving human being. I will raise her to respect everyone, no matter what they look like, where they come from, who they love, or what religion they choose to follow (or not follow). I will teach her that our differences are what make us beautiful. I will teach her about consent. I will teach her how to use her voice.
When they go low, we will go high. I will raise her to be the antithesis of Trump. I find solace in knowing that many of my like-minded friends will do the same.
In addition, Michal and I will raise our Sophia to understand what the “American Dream” made possible for her family. Her grandparents on both sides overcame much adversity and ultimately created new and better lives despite humble beginnings in their native countries. Her parents, both individually and as a couple, have disproved stereotypes and assumptions.
As I read social media updates from colleagues working in education, social justice and media in the United States, those who are working tirelessly in giving voice to the voiceless, I gather hope for my daughter’s and our country’s future.
In particular, this informative and inspiring blog post from my friend Kaitlyn who I met at St. John Student Parish at MSU is extremely helpful in describing how to take practical action with what to do next in reaction to the recent election results.
I envision that Sophia will also advocate for inclusiveness, with an understanding and appreciation for diversity. In turn, others will value her strength, compassion and intellect, rather than focus on her image, her gender or her race.
And on that note, here’s a quick update on Sophia’s current developmental milestones in her six month:
- She is exploring more of her voice: She has a new sound for protesting or complaining – a high-pitched, prolonged screech similar to a bird squawking.
- She is building her arm muscles: She can push herself up to sitting position and launches herself at objects that she wants that are not quite within her reach.
- She is more observant of what adults prefer and do: She reaches for my water bottle, grabs at Michal’s watch, wants to try food on our plate. (We give her bits and pieces that are easy to digest like mashed potato and squash.)
- She is generally more inquisitive and interactive with the world: We’ve put her in the front-facing position in her carrier and stroller as she has mastered head control and sits up easily. She loves watching action around her – whether sitting at a restaurant, or during walks through the city’s busy streets.