Where is she from?


May 16, 2007 by multiracialsky

We have a new babysitter–actually just a babysitter, I should say. I am hard to please, especially when it come to my children’s care. Our babysitter stays with our two youngest daughters for an hour while I take our two older children to swimming lessons. We arrived home yesterday and I hurried Jaja and Rico into a bath, like I do every week, to wash off all that chlorine. The two little girls crowded next to me, throwing toys into the tub while I wiped it out and began to run the bath water. The babysitter hovered in the doorway and questioned the children about their swim classes. “Who is in your class?” she asked them.

“In my class, it’s me and Matt and Bindusar,” Rico replied.

Bindusar?” the babysitter said. “Is he from another country?”

I was leaning over the tub, my back to the children and the sitter. “No,” I replied. “Bindusar and his parents are Indian, and he is a third generation American.”

“Well, it’s good that at least there’s some diversity in the class,” the sitter said. (She says I have made her suddenly aware of and looking for diversity– this from a conversation about the dearth of models of color in the clothing catalog she brought with her a couple weeks ago. )

“Our friend Jonathan is in Jaja’s class, and he is Korean.” I said.

“Is he adopted?” she asked.

I sighed audibly. “Yes,” I replied. (My husband says he heard this part of the conversation as he came downstairs from changing out of his biking clothes. He says I sounded annoyed. Not annoyed enough, apparently, because the babysitter went on.)

“Does Jonathan have any brothers or sisters?”

“Yes,” I said. “One younger sister.”

“Is she Korean, too?” the sitter asked.

“No,” I replied. I didn’t add that she is a biological child of her and Jonathan’s parents.

These are the kinds of questions our family encounters nearly every time we leave the house. Where is she from? What is their background? Are they yours? Are they all yours? And the all-time winner–How is it that your baby is so much darker than you? (More on that one later.)

I get tired of the constant questioning. I don’t understand why an unusual name, a person of color, or a family that doesn’t appear to “match” requires comment, or an inquiry into where the people of color come from. Some of my Irish and German relatives have not been in the United States that long, but no one ever asks me where I’m from (as in, where outside of the United States are you from?)

Mrs. J, over at Our Kind of Parenting, has a post about trying to find a nanny of color to help out when her twins were born. They ended up with a White nanny–and conflicting perspectives when Hurricane Katrina hit. My ideal (imaginary) babysitter would be from a multiracial family, perhaps multiracial themself, someone who also has personal experience with adoption.

Answering questions about our friends’ countries of origin, adoptive status, and unique names while trapped in my (very small) bathroom with all four of my children present is almost more than I am willing to take. These particular questions were not directed at my family, but they are about sensitive issues that relate to our family. Some days, I stay home to avoid the questions. I know my children have a lifetime of questions ahead of them (some from good-hearted people, like our babysitter).

I am not trying to shelter my children from the conspicuous reality of multiracial family life–but our home is our one safe place. It is the place where we invite friends and family members who get our family, who don’t ask personal and invasive questions, or who at least save their questions until the children are in bed.

What made me grit my teeth was the way the sitter took this beautiful Indian name and made it–and the child and his family–other. What does this say to my children (and me) about how our sitter views my children and our family?

We hired this babysitter because we like her. She is kind and open to new ideas. She can handle all four of our children, for an hour or so. The noisy chaos of our four-children-in-four-years is familiar to her, and for now that will suffice.


6 thoughts on “Where is she from?

  1. My neighbor and I were talking the other day. She is a 5th grade teacher here in Texas, and a very loving woman. She was telling me about the standardized testing that the children go through. Part of that process is a question about ones race. Black White Asian Hispanic or Other. She had a boy in class who is bi-racial and didn’t know which one to choose. Her response was ” it doesn’t matter, just check other.” She confided in me that it wasn’t the best option. She would have like to have given the boy a better answer, but was unsure what that answer was. It made me sad to think that this little child was reduced to an other… a write in.

  2. Oh, yes. The ever-annoying this is not what I’m used to, so I must make comments conversation.

    We experience a different flavor of it since we live in a country with a prodominately black population, but my Cambodian-born kids draw attention. I’ve now taken to responding to repeated calls of ‘ni-hou, ni hou’ (Mandarin for hello) with “Jambo”. This almost always gets an “I’m not African!” response, to which I answer, “And they’re not Chinese.”

    (For some reason, the Seychellois do not consider themselves African even though the country is part of Africa politically, geographically, etc.)

    Immediately after a conversation on the evils of racism with my assistant, a lovely Black girl of 19, she launched into a long diatribe about ‘how dirty Chinese people are’. When I pointed out that she was guilty of what we’d just been condemning, she answered, “But it’s not racist … it’s just true.”

    Sigh …

  3. oh my

    The part that really got me was that you were trapped in your small bathroom with all four kids. How frustrating!!

    Thanks for sharing our post with the round-up. I love finding all these new blogs.



  4. chughes says:

    Thank you for writing this blog.


  5. Sabrina says:

    @ Sandra Hanks Benoiton: That sounds terrible. Why would someone stereotype someone else, if they hate predujice against people that look like themselves. SMH. Hypocrites.

  6. Nisreen says:

    Thank you for your blog. Im mixed race (white/ arab), pass as white, with an arabic name. I am SICK of the invasive/ explanation demanding questions almost EVERY time I meet someone new. I feel like Im just starting to get my head round race/ my experiences, and blogs like yours help so much!

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