Monday, February 5, 2007

Best Places For Mixed Familes

I have had the pleasure of living in a number of different regions in this country. I was born in the South and grew up for the most part in Southeast Texas and Louisiana. But since college have had the chance to live for periods of time in Austin and Dallas, Texas, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., St. Louis and now Los Angeles. Additionally I have travelled to many other cities large and small, though only domestically at this time. Having lived in so many places I have been afforded the opportunity to witness personally how common and uncommon mixed ethnicity and bi-cultural relationships are in those areas. Luckily I have seen such pairings in every place I have been, but it has certainly been my experience that some places are definitely more accepting than others. And these comments are not based on real data but meant to reflect what we have experienced in terms of attitudes and acceptance.

Most people are going to assume that the South would be the worst in terms of acceptance of such alliances and that there would be far fewer mixed ethnic kids there than anywhere. And frankly, that does seem to fit with much of what I have seen. But strangely the city that seemed the worst of any place I have ever been or lived, in terms of the numbers of such couples and children and in the almost blatant disdain for it, was St. Louis. That may have a lot to do with the fact that St. Louis is a very black and white city, as opposed to having the large numbers of other cultures that exist in many other big cities, like East Coast and West Coast cities. But then again, that is also true of many Southern cities, so to be honest I am not sure why it is the case that St. Louis was the worst for us in that regard. But hands down, my wife and I experienced far more stares and comments there than anywhere we have been. Which does not mean we hated St. Louis or that it was a hostile place. I am just noting that on the mixed dating front, it was the worst.

New York City is obviously a close close second best for the acceptance of mixed couples and children. I remember when I moved there, how refreshing it was to see the particularly large and completely common sight of black Hispanics, whether they were Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Brazilian, or black American mixed with any of those. And of course the Asian mixtures and Anglo mixtures. Everything. And in New York, as the stereotype goes, everyone was too busy to seem to notice or care what anyone else was doing. It was a welcome site for this native Texan. Texas is getting better on this front, but for the most part, even in its most liberal city, Austin, we can't say that seeing mixed couples and children is a very common sight. And stepping out of that liberal oasis in Texas definitely still puts mixed families in a very lonely club.

But the top of the list for me, hands down has to be Los Angeles, though again, New York City is thisclose in second place. Indeed my wife and I actually picked Los Angeles because it was important for us to find a city where our kids could grow up and not feel like they were anomalies. And for the most part we knew that meant New York City or Los Angeles since we wanted to live in a big metropolitan area for our careers. I have certainly heard that Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle and Miami are also great cities for seeing this future world already in place. And that is not to say there aren't smaller communities in other cities. But for us Los Angeles has been exactly what we ordered. I have read where Los Angeles has more cultures and ethnic groups than any city in America, including New York. And we see it everyday. And of course that does not mean they always get along. But such is life in the big city. But they do get along for the most part because we are always amazed at how many mixed ethnic kids we see here daily. So much so that quite honestly we don't really even notice it that much. Our kids regularly play with kids who are Asian-Anglo, Black-White, Black-Mexican, Mexican-White, Asian-Black, and the list goes on. That's not counting all the people from all over the world they daily interact with. It is truly uplifting to watch them and think about what Martin Luther King, Jr. said about his dream of kids of all colors playing together. Well, these kids are not just playing together here and in other places too, but they ARE together, mixed into one. That is a step beyond the dream.


Carey said...

I’ve been reading your blogs and just can’t resist offering my 2 cents.

I am an American born with mostly Western and North Western European ancestry. My children's father was born, raised, and is genetically quite purely descended from Burundi, located in Eastern Africa. I remember my son drawing a picture of his family when he was still quite young and still able to categorize things in his own terms. He used a Black crayon for his father, a brown crayon for himself and a pink crayon for me. I held the crayon to my skin and realized that this might really have been the closest possible match in his box of 60something crayola colors.

We also moved to the LA area in search of a place where we could have and raise children where people would see them beyond the color of their skin.

We moved to the LA region from Cincinnati Ohio and I would not be surprised if Cincinnati could take your number one spot in least accepting of multi-ethnic/racially diverse families. Cincinnati might mimic the south in its racial divide of mostly black/white. At least it did when I was there in the 90's. And (in the 90's) I believe it may at some point have ranked as the 3rd most segregated city in the continental U.S. Their attitudes seemed quite mid-western, and the City has serious and dangerous problems with their race relations.

I feared that my children would be pressured to develop their primary identities with in race. Had we stayed in Cincinnati, I believe that they may have. I have seen people put in positions of choosing if they were black or white. This decision then limits them to who they are friends with, how they will talk, dress and as children ultimately, how they will self identify, as if this were the most important identifying characteristic.

I want my kids to have the option to develop their identities free from racial pressures or social stereotypes. I want them to look in the mirror and see themselves; human, charismatic, confident, unique, loving, loved … Sure they will develop racial identities as well, and those identities will be culturally and socially affected. We are after all social beings and this cannot (and perhaps should not) be helped. But how they identify with themselves with in our constructions of what race is, and how it affects then as individuals can be experienced by them individually as they accept and reject notions, embrace and disregard stereotypes. It is my hope that there is enough space and experience free of any dominating racial pressure that they can have more control over how they perceive themselves and how they then choose to have the world perceive them. Here, in the LA area, I believe this is possible. I have to believe and I commit myself to it for them.

I don’t feel like we are looked at or pondered over when I walk into a store with my kids. I don’t feel as if people are assessing our behavior and making some type of generalization about, God knows what, as a whole. But I do feel this in other places. I know I am out of area when (first I smell smoke everywhere I go) and then I feel the stares. I feel the judgments, the pondering, the questions. Then I hear it. “Oh, your children are so beautiful. Mixed kids are always so beautiful…” “My Aunts, nieces, step daughter-in-law looks just like her” Or, “Are they yours?” Once, and I have to admit that this was right here in Upland, CA (outside of LA) “how long have you had her?” and “Are they real?” The latter to which I promptly responded, “No, they are computer animated.”

Earnest said...

That last line is quite funny...'Are they real?" What in the world could that person be thinking? And yet strangely, I think people who say things like that are in some way trying to be above racism and stereotypes. Because I suppose they could say something worse, or at least think it, if they weren't. But I think the root of what you are saying is that there are people who just can't seem to see these kids as normal, and I guess in a way, unfortunately, they aren't the norm. Not yet.

I haven't been to Cincinnati but I have heard it is very polarized. Maybe that extreme black-white thing is a midwestern thing. But I think even here in Southern California we our children will eventually feel the pressure of racial labelling. But it is also our hope that growing up here will at least help them to realize that they can indeed resist the pressure that is sure to come as long as they are a part of this polarized world we live in.