In 2016, we welcomed our first child, a Thai daughter, into our hearts and lives. Becoming a transracial, cross-cultural, adoptive family made my role as a (new) mother quite complex. My world became more beautiful, and my heart more burdened, all at the very same time.
I remember the day it dawned on me that we weren’t just becoming parents – we were joining two races and cultures together forever (and grafting Thai into our white, American family.) The gravity of this decision affected me deeply, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I knew it was an incredible honor, and at the same time, an incredible responsibility.
As mama to a darling little girl from Thailand, there are many ways I work to honor and embrace my daughter’s ethnicity. (I feel so thankful for our wonderful adoption agency, and many adult adoptees who have taught us the importance of this work!)
We loved our daughter’s birth country before we met her. Our eyes light up every time we talk about it – and we talk about it often! We’ve spent some time living in Thailand, and we miss it like a second home. We’ve worked to learn some language (and will continue learning more in the future). We have Thai clothes, art, and other décor in our home. Though I grew up cooking traditional Southern food – these days I am learning how to make traditional Thai dishes! (We also love visiting our favorite Thai restaurant and visiting with the wonderful family that owns it.)
We’ve made it a priority to read books by Asian authors, set in Thailand – but we throw our inclusion net wide and also purchase books and toys for our home that feature characters of many other races and ethnicities. (I encourage you to do the same when selecting books, toys, movies, and other media for your child!) We celebrate Songkran (Thai New Year) and share a presentation with our daughter’s class at school each year in traditional attire. This experience allows us to answer many questions for her classmates (so she doesn’t carry that burden alone). It is such a joy to watch her face beam with PRIDE as she walks in wearing her chut Thai!
We live in Birmingham largely because we crave the diversity it brings. We are grateful that our daughter is surrounded by people of different ethnicities, and that she gets to look up to other women of color as leaders and racial mirrors within our community! (She especially loves her Vietnamese dentist, Dr. Ying!) We are also thankful for the Civil Rights history our city holds, and the important conversations we’ve had with our daughter since our first family protest march in Kelly Ingram Park this summer.
As a “conspicuous family” – we often get questions from strangers in public. We work to acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate our differences as what make us special. (Our daughter’s favorite book, Lucy Ladybug, is a great way to teach your child to do the same!) We are teaching our daughter to be proud of her heritage (and honoring of others’ too). We know, though, there will be times those differences are exploited. I learned quickly from my female Asian friends that I will have to teach my daughter to be strong (and cautious). These lessons began at the tender age of five. As she gets older, I will have to prepare her for the racist stereotypes and slurs she will encounter. My heart fills with fear and fury when I consider this . . .
. . . and my heart breaks every time I must teach her more about racism toward other people of color in our country (and yes, racism and colorism in her home country too). But I continue to lean in, and I try my best to be brave and honest with her in age appropriate ways. We talk a lot about justice and “doing the right thing.” As I shared in my letter to her about racism (featured here), I know that she will have to learn to wield both a sword and a shield. There will be times she can fight to protect others (when people are racist toward other groups or individuals), and other times she will have to fight to protect herself. All the while — I will be fighting my own battles — working to educate others, and standing up for justice and equality.
There is so much work still to be done. I do not take the responsibility lightly. We may not have the same skin color, but I am honored and overjoyed to get to be my Thai darling’s mom. I hope to raise a strong, proud Thai-American woman with a heart for justice — and I am so thankful for all the strong, proud women of color who are encouraging and teaching me along the way!