MIXED KIDS, MAJORITY PARENTS, & THE GLOBALLY BLENDED FAMILY

I recently learned that the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog has ceased offering new content or publishing their existing content for free. I wrote a piece for them last year about raising mixed kids in global families, with the intention that it would remain accessible and free, so here it is in its entirety (with the title they gave it):

‘Blind Spots’ and Other Problems in Globally Blended Families

When the parents are in the majority and the kids are in the minority

By Tracy Slater

Perhaps your child, like mine and many others in globally blended families, belongs to the world’s growing mixed-ethnicity population. The World Factbook finds a countable percentage of mixed-ethnicity people in almost a quarter of its 236 countries and territories. Among western nations, England’s and the U.S.’s mixed-race populations are increasing faster than any other minority group.

Mixed-ethnic children often face very different experiences than their parents, a point stressed by many studies tracking this population’s growth. But within multinational families, there is a unique generation gap. My daughter may be mixed, but she has two biological parents without much clue about what it feels like to be a minority as a kid. I’m a Jewish American, raised with all the cultural privileges afforded to whites in the U.S., her father is native Japanese, and we live in Japan. She is only two, but as she grows she will likely experience the joys and struggles shared among many children in global families—yet absent from recent conversations about mixed-race kids.

There is a growing body of English-language research about minority kids with parents who grew up in the majority, although much of it focuses on transracial adoption of monoracial children. Sharon H. Chang, author of the book “Raising Mixed Race,” cautions against applying this research to families like mine. The experiences of monoracial minorities and mixed-race people, she explained by email, are like “apples and oranges. Monoracial people have not lived the experience of mixedness, no matter their minority or majority status.

Moreover, globe-trotting, multicultural couples who grew up in the majority and give birth to mixed-race children may show a particularly complex set of tendencies, combining an openness to cultural differences and an understanding of how it feels as an adult to stand apart from the norm, with a blindness to the way race can play out within families and the broader community, particularly for children. They are frequently aware of racism as a concept, but many still lack a deeper understanding of its felt truth during a child’s formative years.

American Eliaichi Sadikiel Kimaro, director of the award-winning documentary on mixed identity A lot Like You, said “race just wasn’t a factor” for her mother growing up in Seoul or her father in Tanzania before they moved to the U.S. as adults. “My parents infused me with the belief that I had to work harder, over-achieve and out-perform my white counterparts in order to be seen as equal,” she explained by email. But they also had “blind-spots when it came to race” that limited her own “understanding of the reality, the truth” of how racism would impact and shape her life.

Samuel Ahovi, raised in France by his white mother and Togolese father, said by email that the hardest part of growing up mixed was not fitting easily within the ethnic identity of either parent. But he admitted that the majority-minority generation gap also mattered. Both Ahovi and Hilary Duff, whose mother grew up in China and white father in Canada, said that parents in global families should be careful not to ignore ethnic differences. “My parents didn’t focus at all on my cultural identity. I suspect this was because they wanted my brother and I to think we would be treated like any other kid,” Ms. Duff said by email. But “we didn’t look like any other kids, and this affected us whether they wanted it or not.”

For Mr. Ahovi, the biggest regret involves his inability to speak Ewe, the Togolese language. “I think parents should work hard on transmitting their own culture to their children,” he said. “Maybe if I was able to speak Ewe, if I were at ease with Togolese culture, I could be assimilated as an African, and finally feel 100% part of something.” Ms. Duff urged globally blended parents to “embrace the duality of their child,” and teach them about their background. “Even if kids don’t entirely understand, they’ll appreciate it later.”

Not everyone agrees that the majority-minority generation gap matters in multinational families, although race plays an important factor here, too. According to mixed-race American Nilina Mason-Campbell, in her father’s native Jamaica, black people are both in the majority and “secondary in their own country” to white and light-skinned people. “I haven’t personally seen a connection between whether a parent was raised as a minority or not making a difference,” she said in an email.

Despite these differences, most stress the benefits growing up multinational, mixed-race, and first-generation minority. For British blogger Philip Shigeo Brown, even as a child, “it was always somehow especially nice to meet other half-English, half-Japanese kids that you could relate to on so many levels, often without anything being said,” he wrote in an email. For instance, someone might ask, “’Shoes on or off? ‘Definitely off!’ everyone always agreed!”

According to Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, a Stanford University psychologist and author of the book When Half is Whole, his mixed heritage—from his Japanese mother and Irish-American father—has provided lasting positive impact despite the “sense of isolation” he said in an email he experienced occasionally when young. As he wrote in an article for Psychology Today, “I tolerate inconsistency and dissonance rather than trying to resolve differences and needing to decide which way is right and which is wrong. I embrace complexity and ambiguity, balancing these diverse and even seemingly conflicting culturally learned perspectives.”

Overall, mixed-race children of multinational couples said they expected an even brighter future for kids from families like theirs. Many pointed to the internet as vital part of that. As Mr. Brown put it, “The world is getting smaller and more connected, facilitated hugely by social networking.” This helps kids combat isolation and forge “communities to talk to, share and learn from.”

Tracy Slater is an American writer living in Japan. She was recently interviewed about her bookThe Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World.

Many thanks again to all who offered quotes and helped me write this piece!

When parents are in the majority, kids in the minority

Grateful to the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog for publishing this piece focusing on some of the issues I’m trying to work out about race, privilege, and identity as a white parent married to a native Japanese man and raising a mixed-race child in Japan.

From ‘Blind Spots’ and Other Problems in Globally Blended Families:

As a woman in a multicultural, multinational, and multiracial couple, I’ve sensed how some people assume I must be uniquely open to cultural differences, and thus uniquely equipped to raise a mixed child. But this assumption betrays a flawed logic. Globe-trotting parents in mixed marriages who grew up in the majority may be aware of racism and may even have faced it themselves, but most still lack a deeper understanding of racism during a child’s formative years.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal online.

The Unsung Benefits of Marrying a Man Who Isn’t Fluent in your Language

Fun at the Four Stories event at the Tokyo International Literary Festival 2016, where I answered questions about about multicultural, multilingual marriage; finding love in another world; and, of course, The Good Shufu!

Here, I’m sitting next to my Four Stories co-reader, Jake Adelstein, author of the knockout book Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.

8 Months Old, Still #1 on Amazon Japan for Foreign Women’s Bios

Two fun pieces of Shufu news this week: As the book turns 8 months, I’m hugely grateful that it’s still making it to the very top of Amazon Japan’s list of women’s bios in foreign books. And I know it’s childish of me, but I have to admit to a little internal fist-bump with myself when I see it edging out Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, on this list at least.

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The second piece of news is that the lineup has been announced for the only English-only official event at the Tokyo International Literary Festival 2016, and I’m really excited to be reading alongside Jake Adelstein of Tokyo Vice fame, Roland Kelts, author of the much-known Japanamerica, and Marc Kaufman, also known as the smarty-pants, stellar short-story writer and assistant prof at Sophia University. Here’s the info on TILF’s Japanese site (http://tokyolitfest.com/program_detail.php?id=105), but, you know, it’s in Japanese…. So here’s the info in English on my author site too: http://www.tracyslater.com/events/

The Good Shufu Does the Tokyo International Literary Festival

Thrilled to be a featured author at:

The 2016 Tokyo International Literary Festival | March 4 | Sophia University | Tokyo, Japan

As part of the event Four Stories at the 2016 Tokyo International Literary Festival, I’ll be reading from The Good Shufu along with three other acclaimed expat authors (TBA), for an evening of stories, discussion, and mingling.

Friday, March 4, 2016
6-8pm, with mingling and drinks with the authors to follow
Sophia University, Yotsuya Campus
Building 12
Room 502
7-1 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 102-8554

More info coming soon!

The Trailing Spouse’s Guide to Surviving Expat Re-entry

Fun having this piece on trailing spouses, accidental expats, and re-entry blues in the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog today, co-authored with a new friend who is a military spouse based in Tokyo, the blogger Susan Dalzell. In it, we give a series of tips for surviving the dreaded “re-entry” phase back into your expat country after even a short trip home.

We start,

For those of us who are trailing spouses or “accidental expats”—drawn abroad not necessarily for our own careers or sense of wanderlust but for a partner’s job, family or nationality—global life presents unique challenges and sacrifices. Western culture in particular glamorizes expatriate existence, suggesting a life of global travel, international panache, and a social circle of like-minded explorers: a slightly more multicultural, perhaps sober, version of Hemingway and his brood.

Reality can hew a little rougher, though…

My favorite tip we include is this one, drawn in part from the struggles I explore and the lessons I learn in The Good Shufu:

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t always (or even ever) love your expat “home.” As a trailing spouse–especially if you’re married to someone from the country where you live–you may have asked yourself when you’re going to fall in love with your overseas home just as you once fell in love with the partner who brought you there. If you’ve recently been back to your native country, you may have heard friends and family comment on how exciting your expat life must be and how lucky you are to live abroad. But don’t let this guilt you into thinking you always–or frankly ever–have to love the land you’re in….As long as you’re fascinated by it, or even continually learning from it, you’ll have an expat life worth its weight in yen or euros or…

See our handful of other tips for surviving the re-entry blues in the full article at the Wall Street Journal online–and add some coping strategies of your own, if you have any new ones!

 

Wall Street Journal Profiles The Good Shufu

BN-LH212_japanb_G_20151116155444This weekend, one of the most thoughtful explorations  yet of The Good Shufu appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Expat Blog by writer Debra Bruno. What I love most about Bruno’s interview is how it captured so many of the nuances and complications of both expat life and multicultural, multilingual love + marriage.

WSJ writes,

Author Tracy Slater, an American writer and academic who fell in love with a Japanese man, married him, and now lives with him and their daughter in Japan, describes her journey in a new book, “The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Life and Home on the Far Side of the World.” (Shufu means “housewife” in Japanese.)

The book is a warts-and-all account of how Ms. Slater, 48, who had barely traveled outside the U.S. when she first visited Japan to teach business English, fell in love with an Osaka salaryman, adjusted to a new culture, made the tough decision to give up her life in Boston, and spent years helping to care for an ailing father-in-law and trying to have a child in her 40s.

Ms. Slater chatted with WSJ Expat about the complications of being a western woman married to an Asian man, why she never really became fluent in Japanese, and how she struggled to keep her sense of self in Japan. An edited conversation follows.

See the full interview here. And thanks, WSJ!

My Father-in-Law Made Me the Mother I Am

BC-Logo_SquareSo happy & honored to have this piece up on Brain, Child Magazine‘s homepage. It’s about how caring for my beloved father-in-law as he died made me both a sadder and a bigger person, about how he “convinced me I could care for a child, that I’d grown big enough in the shadow of his decline to be a mother.”

It begins:

My Father-in-Law Made Me the Mother I Am

By the time I married my husband, I’d already fallen in love with my father-in-law too. Not in any weird way, but alongside all the passion and love for my husband was a deep affection for the man he lived with, the man he called Otousan.

My husband, Toru, is Japanese, and in Japan, it’s not uncommon for people to live with their parents until they marry. Toru was chonan, the oldest son, the one who should care for his parents as they age. When Toru’s mother died in a car accident, he left his company-backed MBA program at the university in Boston where I taught writing, and he moved back to Osaka. Soon after, I went too.

We moved into an apartment a few blocks from Otousan’s. Most nights, I’d cook dinner either at our place or Otousan’s, and we’d all eat together. My father-in-law spoke little English, and like many older Japanese men, he wasn’t what you’d call a loquacious fellow. But in between his silent welcoming of me as family in a country where marriage to foreigners can spell shame; his kind laugh at my dismal attempts to learn his language; and his grateful head-dips towards the tea I poured him after every meal, I grew to love him.

I may have loved my father-in-law, but I was terrified of having his grandchildren—or any child, for that matter. Not because of who or how Otousan was, but simply because having children is terrifying if you go into it with eyes-wide-open. At age 40, the year Toru and I wed, my eyes were pretty wide open.

I knew it was a myth that every mother bonds easily with her baby. I knew people who’d never bonded with their child, and one who said that, if she had to do it all again, she might choose not to procreate at all. I could imagine becoming one of these mothers.

Read the full piece at Brain, Child Magazine online,

Japan’s AERA magazine profiles The Good Shufu, saying…OK, I have no idea.

Japan’s AERA Magazine says….well, actually, I have no idea what they say. But I’m thankful for their profile of The Good Shufu (I think). Bonus points for anyone who can translate enough to summarize the article and let us know what it says!

The shogun was particularly unhelpful with this one. His insight was that it says “something about love and your book.” Oy.

AERA article

See the article online @ http://dot.asahi.com/aera/2015110400088.html