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Identity Crisis: Fitting in with our differences

I’m in the Costco line getting groceries….

Random lady in line: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Me? I’m from Beaverton.”
Random lady: “No, like where are you from from?”
Me: “Um, I’m originally from Connecticut.”
Random lady: “I mean like where are you from?”
{I look at her… puzzled… hoping she’d realize that I’m just as much from the U.S. as she is. It’s not registering for her. I can see it in her eyes. I’m defeated so I give her the answer she seeks.}
Me: “Oh, like where are my parents from? My dad is from India and my mom is from Pakistan.”

Random lady is finally satisfied with my response.

Parenting and cultural ethnic diversityI am the daughter of immigrant parents. My husband was born and raised abroad and moved to the USA for college. We have different perspectives about our identity: I insist I am American (despite my dark skin) and he insists he is Pakistani. The Costco lady may not agree, but I’m damn sure I’m American. I speak broken Urdu (my parents’ native language) while my husband can read and speak fluently. I have been desperate to fit in pretty much since I was born. I always felt “different” because of my skin tone. My parents would embarrass me wearing their traditional clothes to parent-teacher conferences. All I wanted was to fit in.

In my years of struggling with my self-identity, I promised I wouldn’t subject my children to feeling left out or being different. Fortunately, America is a melting pot of diversity. Of course, diversity isn’t just about ethnicity; however, when your ethnicity is on your face… you can’t escape it.

Fast-forward to my adorable kids. They love everyone. They don’t really see differences…yet. My four-year-old talks to everyone; his primary language is English; however, he has been learning some Arabic at his school. His paternal grandparents are desperate to understand him; their primary language is Urdu. His maternal grandmother wants him to be religious. She insists on helping him with his Arabic. All I can think about is how important it is to me that he feel included in his social circles.

Like other moms, I make sure I am “in the know” about cool things my kids should be doing. My intentions, however, are different. I am frantic that my kids feel like they are part of the “cool kids.” It’s not just because I’m a mom. It’s because I fear the judgment, discrimination and mistreatment they could face for looking different. It’s just their skin tone, but I worry. I also know I’m projecting some of my childhood issues on them.

I secretly wonder what they will say if people ask them where they are from? Would they tell people their mom is American but their dad is from Pakistan? Does it even matter?

So, where are YOU from? Do you worry about your kids fitting in despite any differences?

 


Ethnic diversity and parentingAs the oldest child and first generation Asian-American, Nadia was the family mother. She baby sat the neighborhood kids, changed diapers at four years old while the babysitter watched television, held her baby sister when she learned their grandfather died and so much more. She was basically the epitome of a nurturing, kindhearted mom. For these reasons, she knew she would be an awesome mother. She would rock motherhood, own it and take names. Boy, was she wrong! Now, she endlessly banters about the $300 red car bed her son refuses to sleep in and the insanity that is motherhood.

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7 Responses to Identity Crisis: Fitting in with our differences

  1. Abby April 27, 2015 at 9:51 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this, Nadia. Your vulnerability is refreshing. The fact that you don’t tie it up with a nice little bow is honest too and I appreciate that. Portland, for all its purported liberalism, can be frustratingly ignorant sometimes. My wife who is Native and Mexican is often pulled over by police, stared at by strangers and asked questions that no white person is ever asked. We are tired of this and honest conversation is the best way to start combatting the prejudice.

  2. saadia April 28, 2015 at 8:19 am #

    This is the plight of every “abcd”. We just need to hold on to our islam because thats what we will have to answer for. Good luck!

  3. mazna April 28, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    Great article. I live in the Washington DC are where diversity is not an issues. We will be making a move to the Portland area in the fall, so this was great insight. I am also Pakistani, so I connected to this. Thanks!

  4. jenhm April 28, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    As the white mom of mixed race children – Dad is African American – I have been asked where my children are from and who they belong to. 🙂 As a white middle class girl from Indiana, I have always sought to stand out and not fit in, and yet completely understand why one would feel the opposite way. I have always enjoyed the confused and surprised looks on people’s faces when they find out my kids are mine. But as my kids get older, I too just want them to feel like they fit in and have a comfortable social place and identity among their peers! Thanks for your essay!

  5. Archana April 29, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    I understand but I personally would suggest making them proud of the unique individuals they are. If people don’t respond well to that and they go through some tough times, it is ok – it will make them stronger and help them in the long run find friends that are truly worth having. I completely understand projecting one’s childhood issues but I suggest turning it into helping them be prepared from the beginning by making them proud of who they are. By trying to help them fit in, I’d personally be more afraid that we might inadvertently be sending the wrong message i.e. they’re lacking somehow and so they need to be something or someone that they are not. Just my 2cents.

  6. Shraddha May 7, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    i live in U.S. Since 11 years now. Originally from India. I have 5 year old and. 2 year old. Even though I wear pants and have decent command over English and American accent it doesn’t make me American. Because that is just outer appearance. What is your inner side? What I wish to teach my kids and already practicing is to be proud of themselves and their roots. What unique combination of cultures I can give them they will not be able to give them to their kids. Knowing 2 totally different languages is not easy thing. If they at any point start looking at all these previllages down I will show them how it will be without having them.
    I know what you feel is what you feel but it’s high time to tell yourself to let it go. Enjoy truly unique you. You are a mom and you need to be sure of yourself in order to have confident children one who are really happy with themselves.

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