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.

I kissed my student. Then I married him.

Here’s a short video clip from my reading at the Tokyo launch party for The Good Shufu at Four Stories Tokyo.

It narrates what happened just before my first kiss with the shogun.

PS. Apologies for the background noise. We like the Four Stories events to be festive so we encourage eating and drinking even during the readings. The upside is the funny, tipsy questions we get at the end. The downside is the occasional background noise!

The Hardcover Hits Tokyo!

ShufuHardcoverJune2015The book exists in hardcover! Here it is on my windowsill at our house in the Tokyo suburbs. I may like my makeup sparkly & my patent leather shiny, but I’m loving the special matte paper Putnam Books has chosen. Thanks so much, Putnam!

PS. It’s not in bookstores in the US (or any other countries) yet until June 30, but it is being offered for pre-order at all of these sellers–and at a discount at many of them, until the book is actually released to the public!

B&N Officially Announces: Good Shufu is a Summer ’15 Discover Great New Writers Selection

Discover_Barnes_Noble_logo_050515So incredibly touched and honored by Barnes & Noble and their official announcement, through the publishing industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, of The Good Shufu as a Summer 2015 Discover Great New Writers Selection. They write,

The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World by Tracy Slater (Putnam, June 30). “Falling in love can be dizzying, dazzling, and disorienting all at once, but Tracy Slater took things one step farther when she fell in love with a Japanese businessman–whose English was on par with her Japanese–and upended her life as an academic in Boston to become a housewife in Osaka, Japan. Our readers are in love with this delightful, deft memoir about new beginnings and making one’s home.”

I’m also honored to share this distinction with the 11 other books and authors chosen, all listed here!

Tokyo Families Magazine Profiles The Good Shufu

11-300x336Big, big thanks to Tokyo Families Magazine for their profile of the The Good Shufu and for their interview with me about being in a cross-cultural, multilingual, and bi-continental marriage.

They write,

Even with a great divide among religions and races across the world, love works in wonderful ways. American freelance writer Tracy Slater, found love in Japan with a Japanese husband.

But their story is statistically rare.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, interracial marriages make up about 1 in 30 marriages. Of marriages involving Japanese men, only a paltry 1% is with an American wife.

In an interview with Tracy about The Good Shufu (The Good Wife), a book she penned for release next month, she shares some of her personal experiences and views about being in a kokusai kekkon (international marriage).

How did you and your husband cross paths?  What would you say the attraction was?

He did an executive MBA at the university in Boston where I taught writing, so that’s why we met. And the attraction, at least for me, was pretty immediate. On his end, he did try to avoid me a little at first, but he now claims that’s because he was scared I was going to make him speak English. So guess how that turned out. I write much more about all of this in the first few chapters of the book, so in the interest of not making my editor mad, I won’t divulge the whole story here! (laughter)

Read the full interview here.

Enter to win a free, signed Advanced Reading Copy of The Good Shufu!

4.9-TheGoodShufu-cover photo-final_Banner

“A heartfelt and moving tale coupling insights into two remarkably different cultures”Kirkus Reviews

So very excited that  The Good Shufu‘s bound galleys, or Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) as they are known in lit-world parlance, have arrived at our house on the outskirts of Tokyo!

GalleysEven more excited that Putnam has given me permission to do a series of drawings to give some away free, which I’ll sign with whatever personalized messages winners want and send them from Tokyo to anywhere in the world the Japan Postal Service reaches.

Enter by accessing the signup form here anytime between now and May 1, when I’ll do a blind drawing of two winners. Then I’ll contact the winners by email to get a postal mailing address and send along your very own signed, personalized copy.