Life-altering revelations are a bit like electrical storms. They thunder in without much warning, striking the often unaware. Like the moment I knew I was with “the one.” The backdrop for this realization wasn’t what I expected. There was no Oscar-worthy score or cinematic sunset. Just dark clouds hanging over the horizon instead.
Love was in the air, but so was electricity. Not just the undercurrent sending chills up my arm with his every touch, but the 10-million-volt kind. We were stepping through a (literal and metaphorical) doorway on a date, and I was struck. This was the man I wanted to marry, and if he felt the same, our children would be . . . biracial. That exquisite moment I’d been dreaming about where love moves gently in to warm your entire being? It left me well-done, charred, and with smoke billowing from my ears.
I know what you’re thinking: Shame on you! You do deserve to be struck by lightning for THAT. You would be right. I viewed the world through a thick pair of white-privilege glasses and was blissfully ignorant of the pain experienced by people of color. (I’m still straining to better that prescription). But what I had tasted in life was the acute pain of being an “other” in other ways. I panicked: Where, when, and how might my future children belong? Yet verbalizing these reservations felt racist and wrong. I was ashamed. My heart hurt, but I stayed silent as I stepped through the threshold of love with the man beside me.
I never did let go of his hand, nor the discomfort of addressing race as a biracial unit. Nearly 20 years and two kids later, it’s still difficult for me to engage in these conversations. They’re a bit like school lunch milk cartons: No matter how you open them, they spill out awkwardly.
It’s not that I’ve lacked opportunity. There are the occasional encounters with curious and well-meaning grocery shoppers who eyeball my daughter hanging from the shopping cart and ask: “Where did she come from? Is she adopted?” (I’ve found that the gut response of “From ME!” here is not advisable.) Likewise, when my surname comes up in casual conversation, I’m no longer surprised by the bewildered looks preceding the predictable question: “Woo? Your last name is Woo? Where’s your husband from?” (The knee-jerk response of “Here!” is, again, not recommended.)
For the most part, I’ve done just fine choosing the path of minimal engagement. I chuckle, brush it off, and politely walk on. Avoidance has worked beautifully for me until it recently hit a new stormfront called adolescence.
“I don’t feel like I belong here,” my daughter sighed after an especially hard day in middle school. “I just don’t fit.” For years, I’d managed to keep the tempests at bay, convincing myself that being Eurasian in a predominantly white community was no big deal. Fortunately for me (and contrary to the old adage). revelations, like lightning, will strike the same “place” twice. It finally hit me:
I didn’t have to go to school and hear the sneering question, “Hey, you gonna order the ASIAN chicken?” at lunch.
Or sit between two Chinese students in math as they chuckle and purposefully spill secrets in Mandarin, knowing that mine isn’t good enough to completely understand them.
I’ve never tried to fit in at a church youth group where “every other girl has blonde hair.”
I will never have to answer the question, “Where are you from?” because I neither look fully Asian or Caucasian.
I’ll never know what it’s like to be the constant minority no matter where I go, or have to answer the deeper question of “Where do I belong?” because of it.
Sometimes I wonder what the Samaritan woman at the well was thinking the day she was “struck” with her own earth-shattering revelation. It’s clear the Man next to her did. He saw a life defined by the identity of “other,” “half,” “not quite”: Her race, ethnicity, womanhood and reputation were an open book—all chapters in a greater narrative to belong. He knew she drew from a well that would never fill this deep desire. So, he offered her what would: himself. (Matthew 4)
As I watch my children wade into the murky waters of their biracial identities, I realize now that I need to step in too. There are ominous thunderheads building on the horizon, though, and I feel uneasy. I’ll never completely understand their journey ahead, but I can settle in beside them anyway. I can dip my toes in, first, by acknowledging our mutual and desperate need to belong.
I can pull my daughter in close after an especially wrenching day and whisper her stories about the other girl who didn’t fit. I’ll share the shame I felt as the boys on my sixth-grade soccer team jeered at me because I was the only girl on the field. I’ll wipe her tears and tell of how I tried to hold back mine when they callously quipped about my chest and refused to pass me the ball. I can listen in return as she echoes back her own heart-breaking histories.
In the regular rhythms of daily life I can prayerfully scan our surroundings and seek out meaningful moments. I’ll remind her that she is fearfully and wonderfully woven with exquisite linens from distant shores; a union of cultures, strength, and beauty. I’ll speak of her worth as so much greater than the sum of her parts. I’ll tell her of the Weaver by the ancient well, who offers wholeness and life.
Just before our wedding, my husband and I tried a photo-merging booth on a whim. Its software instantly blended our facial features, spitting out a preview of our future daughter. It was a terrifying amalgamate of his eyes, my nose and Mr. Spock. My husband laughed whole-heartedly. I did too, but nervously. Sci-fi features or not, I saw thunderheads billowing in the distance. I wasn’t wrong about the forecast. But I’ve remembered now what I’d once forgotten: The Weaver at the well also walked the waves and calmed the storm.
Nicki, your writing continues to inspire me. You are brave and so honest. I adore you and grateful to call you friend.
Thankful for you, Theresa, for being a steadfast model of bravery and honesty – for me and so many others.
I really loved reading this.Iam Caribbean descent and have travelled extensively yet experienced similiar challenges. I teach students here who I do identify with who are experiencing isolation in the class room. I want to write an article/book to reflect the pain inflicted and received in silence. The world is so full of hate right now.
Such a vulnerable, empowering story told so beautifully. Thanks for sharing.
Honored for your listening ear, Stephanie.
Pervell – I’m thankful that we don’t walk alone! Hoping and praying for blessings over you as you persevere in this important work. Keep on with the hope that love conquers all, including hate.
Nikkie, you wrote your story and struggles so poetically that my comment may seem so blunt and very secular.
For one thing I didn’t gain understanding of why believing God mattered to humans and why Jesus Christ mattered to a person like me until I was way into my 40’s and 50’s. I was a Japanese woman who happened to marry a white man from Iowa who grew up under the influence of strong Roman Catholic parents. Since our marriage, I had to find a way to “fit-in” white and conservative culture everywhere I went. I guess I wanted to prove to “them” I was good enough. While I was raising my kids, I hardly spent time processing what was going on deep inside my unconsciousness. By the grace of God, my biracial children found a way into American society in their adulthood. They met friends who looked at their heart and not their skin color or racial profile.
I am grateful to those who have been kind to me, especially at church, but I didn’t escape the prejudice, racial slurs, teasing, or lower wages for my work. I didn’t know how to deal with those other than to ignore and move on. I didn’t know how to prepare my children for their future struggle with their identity. I was very ignorant about invisible racial walls and fences that existed here. Therefore even in church I often feel alone and different, not because people are racist, but because I just look different, have different set of values and perspectives due to being the first generation immigrant to America, and being a minority in a predominately white culture here in Fort Collins. I am not alone. I meet with many Japanese moms who are in the same shoes as I was some years ago. They have trouble finding the place to belong. It’s a great challenge of being the first generation immigrants. But my voice and their voices are rarely heard over the other voices. I thought that was part of price I had to pay to live in a foreign country.
Immigration issues are huge and loudly argued political problems today. In that context, your children may encounter unpleasant experience no matter how much you try to protect them. But when they become voting ages with their experience under their skin, they may become the stones that are cast over the field to become the pillars of new and better America in the future. Who is doing this? Who do you think cast stones all over the world where immigrants’ struggles and prayers are finally redeemed and answered by someone who has seen everything since the first immigration of human race.
Thank you for your honesty in sharing a part of your story here. I am thankful for the God Who Sees, even when we feel unseen. Thank you for your reminder that He was here from the beginning. With love, Nichole
Beautiful essay, Nichole. Thank you for sharing vulnerably.
Thank you for spending time here, Tresta. Blessings, sister.
Thank you for this. My daughter is half Korean and half me (a Mexican of Celtic and Comanche dissent disguised as a white woman). She’s 4 now and I’ve been bracing myself for Jr high silently hoping K-pop stays popular so she’ll remain accepted on some fronts. It’s comforting to read your experience so close to mine (there only girl in the high school drum corps).
Solidarity, Jennifer. What a strong and beautiful heritage your daughter has! I know that you’ll walk beside her gently and ardently. God will lead you forward in loving her well. You are not alone on this journey of her becoming. (And mad props for representing in the drum corps! I’m sure that wasn’t easy!)