Reflections on Hyphenated Identities & My Hopes for My Children
As a second-generation (first in the US) Taiwanese-American, I am familiar with the “hyphenated” experience: speaking one language at home and another outside the home, sometimes identifying with both cultures and sometimes neither, struggling to reconcile how I self-identify with how others perceive me.
So when my wife, who is Caucasian, and I were in the process of adopting our first child, from China, I read with great interest stories of previous waves of Chinese girls adopted into white families who were now in their adolescence and heading out into the world. Many experienced great dissonance as people saw them as Asian, whereas they themselves had no connection to that identity, having not been treated as such within their own adoptive families. In some cases, these identity crises were heart-wrenching.
I am glad to have my own “hyphenated” experience to draw from in helping Jada — and, subsequently, Aaron, whom we adopted from Taiwan — navigate this sense of being from one country, and perceived accordingly, while growing up in a vastly different context. In a sense, they are having their own “hyphenated” experience: normal kids embracing their adoptive status, American in every way but from Asia.
It helps that we live in a diverse urban neighborhood, in the context of which they are learning about the intersections among race, wealth, power, and justice. I hope they will come to embrace the unique perspectives they have and the special roles they may be able to play in this world because of them.
This year, we completed our third adoption. Asher is our first domestic adoptee, first newborn, and first African American. I sometimes imagine him as a stand-up comedian, lamenting his confusing upbringing: “I’m black but have a Jewish first name, an Asian last name, a Caucasian mom, and an Asian dad and siblings!”
It will be interesting to see how he self-identifies. He will be seen as black but will not have grown up with black parents or siblings. As with our other two kids, the aim as parents is to help him connect to his heritage, so that even if he isn’t brought up within that heritage, just as my other two haven’t grown up in China and Taiwan, he respects that that is part of who he is and it becomes an important part of his identity.
Given how fraught it is to be a black man in America, Asher’s “hyphenated” experience will be an interesting one, for sure, one that will require special attention and instruction. It is my hope and prayer that all of our children will own the whole of their identities, proud of where they came from and what they look like while being able to navigate across cultures and perspectives. That would make me happy as a parent and richer as a person.