There are many reasons why I'm thrilled Barack Obama was elected the next president of the United States. One of them that's low on the list in terms of the country's priorities ranks rather high when it comes to my own personal life: Obama comes from a multicultural background.
This is especially relevant to me right now, as it seems that Nico, my multicultural six-year-old son, is undergoing a cultural identity crisis. There are some days when he isn't sure what he is, and other days when he wishes he were something else. Recently, he told me, "I hate my skin color. I don't want to be tan. I want to be black." Other days, he says he wants to be white, like his brother. Actually, Nolan is not white - he's more like Baby Pink. More disturbing to me is when Nico says, "Nolan looks like a Chinese boy!" Well, that's because he is Chinese (Taiwanese, to be specific), I tell Nico. And so are you, I remind him. The boys are half Taiwanese, a quarter Italian, and the rest a mix of English and American Indian.
For a while, Nico was irritated by all of this. Whenever Vic and I tried to explain his cultural roots to him, he'd dismiss us: "I just want to be an American flag guy." You can, we told him, but you should still understand all the cultures that shape you. This past summer, between kindergarten and first grade, Nico was teased by someone at day camp. He was ridiculed for being Chinese. So I decided it was time to send Nico to Chinese School.
In a few weeks, I'll be giving a social studies presentation to Nico's first grade class about Taiwan. I was happy when his teacher called to ask me if I'd be willing to consider the idea. Nico said he'd like to help me. I hope this will help him feel more connected to his Asian heritage. I do understand his desire to fit in - it reminds me of my own longing to assimilate when I was his age - but understanding it doesn't make it sting any less.
When I was Nico's age, I used to be terribly embarrassed when my mother would speak Taiwanese to me in public places or when she would take off her shoes at people's homes. My parents were immigrants, so we learned about Canadian and American culture together. Halloween, for instance, was something that took us a little while to figure out. My mom took me, dressed as a princess, trick or treating for the first time when I was in preschool. That year, my dad prepared elaborate little paper bags filled with goodies for trick-or-treaters. Even though we lived in a high-rise apartment building, he wanted to make sure we were ready. To this day, he considers Halloween an important social occasion. I do too.
For Nico and Nolan, I admit I feel a bit unprepared for the cultural identity issues they will encounter growing up. Since they are half Asian, I don't know if they will be confronted with a different set of issues than I faced.
It's going to be a journey for all of us.