I’ll never forget the first time I was asked “The Question”. We were stopped at a gas station filling up when this woman approached me and simply asked, “Your son is beautiful! Where did you get him?” It took me a few moments to process the question, I didn’t quite understand what she meant at first. I replied very politely to her, “Oh, he’s mine!” But as if that wasn’t enough of an answer she asked yet again, “Oh I know he’s yours but where did you adopt him from?”
And that was my first encounter with the question.
I want to be clear, adoption is a really wonderful thing. Something I fully believe in and support, something I hope that my husband and I will be able to do one day ourselves. But Aden and Canaan are not adopted. They simply inherited their Chinese-Cambodian father’s looks: his almond shaped eyes, his golden complexion, his nose, his body-type. I, on the other hand, am pasty white and about all they got from me was my fine hair and some unruly cow-licks.
People do see me more often, out and about with my kids, more so than they see my husband. I guess it could be construed as a “natural question”. My children do look different than me, wouldn’t I wonder the same thing? Would I? If so, why does this question leave me feeling rubbed the wrong way?
What I have come to call The Question has been asked since, not just with Aden but with Canaan as well. Sometimes people are very direct, “Was he adopted from China?” Sometimes people try to be subtle “Is your husband a different ethnicity? Is he Asian?” Sometimes people joke with me and say “Oh he looks more Asian but that one looks more white.” Sometimes I can see people trying to put 2 and 2 together right in front of my eyes. It’s like they think Aden, Canaan and I are puzzle pieces that just don’t fit. I get anxious in anticipation of what will surely be asked.
I often wonder, if I find our racial differences difficult to explain, how will my kids understand it? I’m sure they will hear it throughout their lives, some variation on the same theme “where did you come from?” “what are you?” “were you adopted?”. If I can’t respond to these questions, how will they respond?
I don’t think much of it now but how will they identify themselves? Asian? Caucasian? Thank goodness you can mark more than one box for ethnicity on most questionnaires now. But this opens up a whole other conversation about culture and identity that I think is worth exploring on another day.
So how do I answer The Question? I needed to come up with something witty but not profane. Something true but not soft. This is what I’ve decided, go ahead ask, here is what I will tell you.
“Where did you get your sons?”
“From my uterus.” Simple, true, and able to stop the conversation before it starts. As my friend you have permission to ask me personal questions but not as a curious stranger. Ask me again.
“Where in Asia are your kids from?”
“They are from my uterus, you know right next to Cambodia.”
Does BVTMB have any multi-cultural families out there? Have you ever been asked The Question? Let’s open up this discussion, I’d love to hear from you.
Shannon, I get asked that and so much more about my biracial kids, who are now 3 & 7. I’m always to polite to say “my uterus” but I would like too! Over on my blog I have a couple of “what not to say to parents of biracial children” posts. Until people stop trying to put our children in neat little racial boxes, we’ll hear these questions. Now that my kids are older, it’s important for me to model how respond to these comments. Because they’ll get similar comments too.
Your answers to “the questions” made me laugh out loud. My friend, Kim, at “I’m Not the Nanny” is of Asian descent and her husband is African-American. She has written about this same story a lot on her blog. She’s even written a post that teaches people what NOT to say to the parent of a bi-racial child: http://www.imnotthenanny.com/2012/02/what-not-to-say-to-parent-of-biracial.html and http://www.imnotthenanny.com/2013/01/more-what-not-to-say-to-parents-of.html
I must admit, I’ve been guilty of saying some really stupid stuff — not hateful, just dumb — because I never had someone I could learn from. As an adult, I’ve learned what’s appropriate from reading Kim’s stories and meeting new people outside of my normal circle. Great post — thanks for sharing your story!!
Wow, there is absolutely no place in this world for such hate and I’m so sorry you had to experience that. Thank you for sharing your story with me. Let’s do everything we can, as parents to these unique children, to make sure they don’t grow up in an intolerant world.
Ahh an issue I am near and dear to! Growing up with a Persian dad and a white mom before this was more common led to my mom constantly being asked (in front of me) where I came from. Now I am married to a very white/German man and have 3 beautiful kids. The boy came out with red hair (which is from my mom’s side), and the two girls are blonde with blue eyes. Now I’m the one getting questions. For the most part folks are pleasant and lead with…. “Oh they must look like their dad.” but in some cases I still find folks have issue with it.
We were in a cafe in Essex when my middle one was a week old. It was our first outing with her and not only did we get nonexistent service but two waitstaff were gossiping about us when my husband walked by and where talking about “towelheads” and how they need to stop having more terrorist babies. It broke my heart to have my beautiful baby girl talked about like that. I hope that we are getting more tolerant as a society and that my kids won’t grow up with the same memories that I carry.
Thank you for posting this! I am white as white can be, my husband is from Africa… We have two beautiful daughters who will never have to worry about being pastey white or getting tan before they wear that summer dress. I continually get asked where my children came from. A short story, 2 of my besgriends and i were having lunch with my then 9 month old daughter. There was along table full of “older” couples. I knew it was a matter of time before i got asked. I could see some looking at my daughter saying how cute she was etc. A few even watched me nurse her. A women comes over and says ” your daughter is so cute, is she from Ethiopia?” My reply is No. She then says oh because we are waiting on one from there, well not us but my son and they are having such a difficult time, so where is she from? Me: shes mine (in total shock that just happened!!) and the women didnt stop, she did go on to apologize but also said, oh in my day and age we sisnt havethese bi racial couples we have now adays… Ok lady… Just stop and walk away. My two friends who jaws were now on the table couldnt believe it!
I laughed as i feel like we are “educating” people!
Thanks again for posting!
I’m just not sure what to even write about that story. She went WAY too far after her initial question, sometimes you just need to know when to apologize and walk away. Hopefully you can look back on this and have a laugh. When I do get “that look” from someone else I’ve taken to assuming that they are just absolutely enthralled with the beauty of my boys. Kind of like that table was of your little girl. Here’s to learning how to let these insensitive comments roll off our backs. Thanks for your story and sharing this boat with me.
I’m tempted to “leave this alone” as I do with lots of racial issues, but I just can’t not say anything! I’m of Chinese ethnicity. My husband is of Jewish (white!) ethnicity. We have two girls, who look a lot like me. No one has ever asked me where they come from, and I know that if the situation were flipped, people would probably be more inquisitive. But here’s the thing… No one ever asks my husband either. And he probably doesn’t notice if people give them all the once-over when they’re out and about. And here’s another thing. We live in a REALLY WHITE state. Second whitest in the nation, to be exact. People are curious. Let them be. Don’t be rude to them. You’re only propogating racial tension that way. Let them know cheerfully that they are yours, and then follow up (with no prompting) that your husband is Asian. You can say something positive regarding it, like how glad you are that the boys can have a little of both of you in them. Let them ask questions. If they are rude, continue to be kind back to them. I know it’s hard. I’m Asian. I grew up in a very white, very small town. I have two half asian kids. I get looks and comments not only from white folks, but from Asians as well – “where are they from? what does their dad look like?”. It can be frustrating, it can be mind bogglingly ignorant, from all sides, but the more good and kind you can be regarding the situation the more good and kind will spread. Consider yourself an ethnic educator. Or ethnic ambassador. In any case, in any situation, approach with a smile and you can at least walk away knowing you were a better person for it.
Ooops, I just said in the same breath that we have both not been commented on and also been commented on 🙂 What I MEANT to say is that I have never been *rudely* commented on about the girls!
Thanks for your thoughts on and contribution to the conversation. So glad you’ve never experienced “the question”. You are right, we do live in a white state and people are curious. But to me that doesn’t mean they have license to ask rude questions just because they are curious. I agree, when I’m asked I do respond as nicely as possible, they certainly don’t deserve snarky comments. I do like how you put it though, I am now an official ethnic ambassador.
I am bi racial, black and white. I remember being asked all the time about being adopted. It hurt my feelings. Now, my husband is white. One of my children looks like me with light brown skin. The other looks like my husband, is very pale and has dark blond hair. I have experienced Some of the most awful things. One man yelled across as restaurant, oh my God, that baby had red hair!! The only reason this could have been anything noteworthy enough to tell across restaurant us because his “black” mom was holding him. I get asked if he’s mine allall the time. Makes me sad.
Meredith, I’m so sorry for all those hurtful comments. Families are coming in all different colors nowadays, whether children are adopted or biracial. I have a feeling that in another 25 years or so it will be even more common to see multi-cultural families. Hang in there and like another one of my responders said, we are now racial educators. We have the distinct privilege of teaching the world around us about our incredibly unique kids. Thanks for your comment and letting me know there are others out there in the boat with me.