Dear Little Bear,
Your mother is currently 38 weeks pregnant with you, sitting in class while her students watch a movie. You’re rolling around, as usual, which is both exciting though, frankly, also pretty uncomfortable at this point. You have very strong little limbs and you really love kicking my right side with them. Your dad thinks you might be a gymnast some day. He’s also texting me names we might call you— the name we were going with we recently realized is too popular and now we have to figure something out. We’re waiting to see your sweet little face before we make a final choice, though. We’re also currently nervous, since you’re acting like you might join us any day now, a few weeks before your due date! While we are very eager to meet you, I’m hoping to finish the school year. Either way, though, we’ll be so happy to finally meet you! We got your room set up this week and we can’t wait!
I’ve been thinking a lot about your impending homecoming, since it’s rapidly approaching, perhaps even more quickly than I thought. A confession: while creating and raising you has long been a dream of mine, and now I honestly can’t wait to meet you, I’m a bit terrified. There are, of course, all the normal fears someone might have while pregnant— Will you be happy? Will I be a good mom? Are you healthy and safe? Am I ready for this?— and I’ve been trying my best to manage those concerns.
Those aren’t the worries that sit heaviest on my heart, though.
Like you know, your mama grew up a mixed-race kid. Lola and Abuelo did a great job of trying to help Uncle Paco and I navigate both cultures in a place where we were still in the minority. I am incredibly proud of our heritage and love being part of two amazing cultures. But I won’t pretend it didn’t and doesn’t have it’s difficulties. The world is forever trying to put people in a box, define what you are in easily digestible terms. They want a simple story that is easily understood.
Some will tell you that you are “practically white,” erasing your papa’s complex heritage and immigrant story or his family’s long and weaving lineage spanning multiple continents like Fafa’s life in Kenya. It will erase the stories Papa will tell you about having to navigate a new culture and way of speaking when he moved to the U.S., the ones that helped him better understand the world and the work he does, pushes him to help others.
Of course, that response erases my story too. It erases my experiences as a Mexipina woman, Lola’s story of immigrating from the Philippines, and Abuelo’s history as a Chicano man studying and working in the U.S. and Mexico to make a better life for his family. It ignores the stories of trying to straddle two cultures in a world that never properly celebrated either and pushed me to try and give up both to try and find “success,” and the success I finally found in trying to rethink what that success actually meant to me.
Even those who claim to see my story in you may be unwilling to see your whole complexity. They will tell you that you are not enough— not “ethnic” enough or not doing enough or don’t speak well enough or don’t act the right way— to fully represent the cultures that run through your veins. They will try and tell you that you’re not really whatever beautiful amalgamation of these cultures you may find within yourself. Or, they will try to tell you that your identity is set and static, that you’ll have to make a choice of what “side” you are on and stick with that choice for the rest of your life, not knowing that your relationship to your mixed cultures will shift by the year, the week, the hour even, as you navigate different parts of the world that speak to all the multifaceted parts of yourself.
Of course, these are struggles at are a small part of a much larger issue that has an even bigger effect on some people. Your papa and I know that we have a lot of work to do to ensure you understand the complicated, often difficult, but also beautiful history of the place we are choosing to raise you. We know we need to raise you to be unafraid to talk about complicated issues, to do your part to ensure justice and equity for those who have been historically marginalized, and to love and celebrate everyone’s wonderful and different identities.
And, I worry.
I worry because while I know the struggles I faced weren’t insurmountable or can’t compare, they were hard. I don’t want you to ever feel like you can’t think it’s hard or be hurt or frustrated just because some people have it harder. I want to validate that it is really frustrating and painful to have people question your identity, tell you you’re not enough, shame your tongue for not knowing enough languages. It might make you feel small and unworthy. It might make you feel angry. It might even convince you that you should warp and twist yourself into an easily digestible, palatable story so that the world might be kinder to you.
As your mother, the last thing I ever want is for you to feel any pain. A part of me wishes I could protect you from everything, make the world a soft, joyful place for you always, ensuring perpetual happiness. I also know, though, that that’s not only unrealistic, but not necessarily a life well-lived. We grow in the struggles and are made stronger by them. We realize how formidable we are when we stare down those obstacles and show everyone and ourselves we can take them head on. All I can do is try and prepare you to meet those struggles with grace, with strength, with the knowledge that you are bigger than any of those challenges.
So, I don’t have much advice for you yet, but I can tell you this: you are not made for simple palates.
That’s the lesson I have been trying to learn myself for decades. There are a million letters I wrote to you in my heart before you were ever close to existence, all the promises I made of how I would make the world a better place for you, one that did not make you feel like your sense of self was split in ways you did not ask for, one that did not make you feel like you did not really belong in this world and have to create a hidden one in the fringes of it to be seen.
Yours is a story not meant to be hidden.
Trying to define yourself with a simple and static description is a far too narrow way to live in a world where you encompass so much more than that. You come from a story that is, yes, sometimes a complicated and confusing one, but is written by two very overwhelmingly rich and powerful sets of bloodlines that come together in you. You are the meeting of long plane rides over roaring oceans, tongues that learned to curl around new words and confusing phrases, and hands that worked hard to make a life in an unfamiliar culture while trying to hold on to their own. In your little body is a story that began long before you and will continue with you and hopefully through you long after.
How could anyone ever think that could be a simple, easily digestible story?
Your papa and I will do our best to help and encourage you honor all the multifaceted parts you deserve to celebrate, even when they tell you you are not worthy. But I hope you read these words someday and know that the complexity of your identity, of being a mixed, is a not a vice and instead a beautiful gift. These weaving stories will be the iron that strengthens your back when the world tries to bring you down. They will be the fire the drives you to try new things and commit to hard work. They will be the rope that you can use to scale obstacles that try to keep you down. They will be the light that makes joyful moments sweeter and your bring you comfort when the world is hard.
So, even when it feels impossible, be grateful. Thank the stars for these stories. The stories of my parents and family, of this mixed and complex identity, were what guided me through difficult times, through growing up, to Hawai‘i, and to your father. I hope the stories we give you guide you to be as happy as I am now, waiting for you to join us.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by the fantastic Annie Tan (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).