Guest Post: My daughter said, “I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese.”

When you’re raising biracial and bicultural kids, you’re bound to have some interesting conversations with them about identity. That’s the case for Susan Chan, author of The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane, who recalls an incident with her daughter, after the little girl told another child about her background. Her daughter said, “Well, I told him, ‘I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese. But he kept saying you can’t be three things.”

Read on to find out what happened – and thanks so much to Susan for sharing!

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(Photo by Phalinn Ooi via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Phalinn Ooi via Flickr.com)

April is an iffy day in New York City-blustery one day and spring-like the next. The morning of April 29, 1989 dawned clear and bright for the Chan family. We were all dressed hours before we needed to be, each of us sporting a touch of red-a lucky Chinese color. Leah had gotten up early every morning for months to practice her speech and now she was prepared and eager to start.

Arriving early at the Temple for Leah’s Bat Mitzvah, we greeted each person as they arrived. It was a serious moment and as her mom, I held my breath, waiting for her to begin.  Seated next to her Chinese father, and her younger brother, I held back my tears of pride.  We watched her carry out her part in the religious ceremony and then it came time for her personal speech.

I watched my child, now blossoming into a young lady, speak seriously of becoming an adult, as she gave recognition to her cultural and religious background. The years melted away and I recalled an incident that had happened when Leah was a child, probably four or five. She was approached by a little boy in the playground. I had to hide my smile later when she told me their conversation.

She’d said in a very serious tone, “Mommy, he’s so stupid.”

“Leah, you know we don’t use that word.”

“Well, he was.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t know any better,” I said, wondering if I’d need to have a talk with his mother. What had he said to make my child angry?

“He asked me, ‘What are you?’”

“And what did you say?”

“I didn’t know what he meant.”

“Uh huh,” I answered in an encouraging tone.

“He asked me again, and he said, ‘I’m Italian-American and you can be two things.’”

“Oh, so he thinks people can only be two things because that’s what he is.” I realized he was referring to the idea popular then of a hyphenated American.

“Well, I told him, ‘I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese. But he kept saying you can’t be three things.”

I knew that Leah wouldn’t let him get away with that.

“Oh, yes, I can,” Leah told me she’d said to him. “I go to American school during the week, Chinese school on Saturday, and Hebrew school on Sunday. Mommy, then he ran away. If I can’t call him stupid, what can I call him?”

That little girl grew up to be a lawyer.

Susan Chan, a romance author and former guidance counselor, lives in San Diego, CA, and is co-author of the Lily Court Lane book series. You can follow Lily Court Lane books on Facebook.

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21 thoughts on “Guest Post: My daughter said, “I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese.”

  • February 27, 2015 at 10:58 am
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    Sweet story if I say so myself 🙂 if I should have children, I hope they will be like that as well.

    Reply
  • February 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm
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    I laughed over this post. I loved Leah’s confidence — that’s a Mom doing a great job!

    What word did Leah wind up using instead of “stupid?” Ignorant, maybe?

    Reply
  • February 27, 2015 at 8:26 pm
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    That’s a great story! I hope KL says things like that one day (not the ‘stupid’ part but he three things part). KL might have some issues when it comes to her Tibetan identity when it comes to whether or not she is ‘Chinese’. But that is year’s away (for her I think).

    Reply
    • February 28, 2015 at 11:21 pm
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      Sounds like you’ll have some interesting stories of your own to share as KL continues to grow up!

      Reply
  • February 28, 2015 at 1:41 am
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    “If I can’t call him stupid, what can I call him?”

    Well, she definitely inherits the Jewish personality. No conforming, no compromising, strongly disagreeble.

    Such personality is good for business, law, sale which are all verbally related fields.

    Reply
  • February 28, 2015 at 9:50 am
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    An excellent story to illustrate the point and very well told.

    My three mixed-race daughters are all adults now. Growing up, they seemed to have absolutely no problem with being half-Chinese. They may have had an easier time than some children since they studied at the Manila International School during elementary and middle school and at a Seattle school for high school. Both schools were very accepting of diversity. They’ve always been proud of their dual heritage and consider it a plus. My youngest daughter does, however, occasionally complain about sexism in her profession. She’s a structural engineer.

    Reply
    • February 28, 2015 at 11:23 pm
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      How cool that your daughters had the good fortune to attend schools that embraced diversity! It’s wonderful they’re proud of their dual heritage.

      Reply
  • February 28, 2015 at 11:52 am
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    Love it! As an American Jewish woman living in Japan, married to a Japanese man, and raising our Jewish-Japanese daughter, I love hearing these kind of mixed-culture stories. Thanks so much to both Susan and Jocelyn!

    Reply
  • February 28, 2015 at 7:32 pm
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    Haha, what a great storyーand what a smart girl! 🙂
    Leah was indeed right. You can be three things, or more! ^^

    I wonder what would happen if they met again as adults and remembered this story.

    Reply
    • February 28, 2015 at 11:24 pm
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      She is totally smart!

      Good question, would be interesting to know what would happen if they met as adults!

      Reply
  • March 1, 2015 at 3:56 am
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    Smart girl 🙂

    I am also mixed, German, Finnish and Russian and the kids back in my school never understood how you can be three “things”. Oh well, nowadays no one asks me anyways anymore but interesting to see how it might be for our son soon as he will be Chinese, German, Finnish and Russian 😀

    Reply
    • March 1, 2015 at 9:27 pm
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      Thanks for the comment Timo! That’s cool you have a mixed heritage yourself. It’ll be fascinating indeed to see how your son views his own identity down the road.

      Reply
  • March 2, 2015 at 12:39 pm
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    Haha! Love this! Love that you have raised her to be so strong and proud! It is my hope and prayer that I can raise my kids to be just as confident in who they are.

    Reply
  • March 3, 2015 at 12:01 am
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    @Nikci Chen..Despite some recent events, Seattle is very accepting. The Chinese usually think that biracial Asian-White kids are smarter than other children and going by stats they might be on to something. Finally, you may like to know that the share of women in engineering has increased sharply in recent years, but if you dig a little bit deeper, majority are Asian-American or mixed Asian-white women. For some reason in the majority white society in the US, it is ok for a woman to be a basketball player, but not an engineer. If you got to India or South East Asia, it is the reverse. Other than ping pong, they dont want women playing many sports in Singapore and it is a prestige and honor for a woman to be an engineer and good at math. In fact, girls have consistently outperformed men in math and science in Singapore in recent years. As far as the Indians are concerned, Indian girls outperform Indian boys at he High School level with one caveat…outside India.

    Reply
  • March 3, 2015 at 12:04 am
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    @Timo…in the US, they will just label you white and your kid a Hapa…Half Asian-half white.

    Reply

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