Guest Post: What It’s Like to Raise Multicultural Children in Beijing

I’m thrilled to run this guest post from Jackie, a Beijing-based blogger who writes about raising multicultural kids at Bringing Up The Parks.

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I grew up in a country that wasn’t reflected on my passport and was raised in a culture that had nothing to do with the actual local customs. And yet despite everything you’ve just read, I grew up mostly monocultural.

Multiculturalism, contrary to the popular assumption, doesn’t always happen naturally. Take it from me—I’m from one. My multicultural family is headed by a Chinese-Filipino and a Chinese-Malaysian. Today, multiculturalism is when parents share their heritage with their children to help strengthen or solidify their identity. But back then, people didn’t really think much of the term. The extent of my understanding of Malaysia was limited to the stories my mom shared and the annual traveling that we did.

Not just that: growing up Filipino-Chinese (or Chinoy as some might call it) in the Philippines means knowing what the local culture is like, but not necessarily knowing it on a more personal level. And so I mainly grew up in the company of fellow Chinoys, only meeting full-blooded Filipino friends for the first time when I got to college.

College was when I realized I had issues with identity. But I didn’t even really understand the depth of my inner conflict until I recently reread some stories I wrote from those days. A number of it involved racial differences and even discrimination, and this is why I love raising my children in Beijing.

In Beijing, I Can Teach Culture on a more Balanced Scale

“Good morning Mommy,” greets my older daughter with a peck on the cheek. Envious, the younger will usually also approach, giving me a few more than her sister did. The older one will see it as a challenge, and next thing you know I’m drowning in kisses. I love it, because it’s fun and kissing elders on the cheek is quite normal back home. In my husband’s country, however, Korean children are expected to bow instead.

My children know that, and I love that they know that. My goal is to give them the tools to have the ability to jump, wait no, to effortlessly walk from one culture into the other as if there was no boundary distinguishing the two. It is sweet to receive a kiss on the cheek, but not every culture is open to that. And in our home, there are four cultures I’d like to expose my children to so that they have an idea of their roots.

When I was much younger, no one really asked me where I was from because my mother did all the answering. It was when I started traveling on my own that the question really bothered me. Malaysia is my passport country, but my inability to speak the local language and my accent screams foreigner. The Philippines is my home country, because that’s literally where my original home is but I need a “Balikbayan” stamp (foreign Filipino returnee) for a one-year stay. China is the country my family were originally from, whose culture we still practice in the Philippines and in Malaysia up until today, but China’s not going to recognize us. And Korea… oh most importantly Korea. Korea is now my home, because it is my husband’s. Though I’m not certain I really belong anywhere, I’d still like my children to understand them on a deeper level.

Because, truth is, identity (or the lack of it) can be crippling, or a thorn you can’t seem to get rid of. This is why so many multicultural families nowadays are intentionally raising their children to know their parents’ backgrounds.

Likewise, if we were still living in Korea, my children would be expected to be Korean, and only Korean. The reason is simple: outsiders get bullied, especially if they don’t look like Koreans. South Korea has been a monocultural society for so long that it’s still struggling to teach its younger generations to be more accepting of multicultural families.

In Beijing, however, as a foreign mom I can raise my children my way. Also helpers are more affordable here, and ours is a Korean-Chinese lady who only speaks to the children in Korean. My older daughter is learning about Chinese culture from her school, and I’m teaching my girls Filipino and Malaysian culture through small things like books and stories.

In Beijing, My Children Can be Naturally Multilingual

My husband and I really wanted our children to learn Mandarin, but it wasn’t easy to do so while we were in Korea considering how expensive it is. Fortunately we were expatriated to China, a dream come true, and now my older daughter is in a bilingual school where her peers are from all over the world. At the moment, my older daughter can speak three languages while my younger daughter can speak two and a bit of Chinese. This excites us, especially my mother whose native language is Mandarin. Finally someone in her family who can speak Mandarin as well!

In Beijing, My Children Can Meet People from All Over the World

In school, my firstborn’s classmates are from all over the world. Some of her closest friends (who are children of my own friends) are from different parts of Asia. Having friends from everywhere means that we always have an excuse to eat our native food or even learn about the different cultures from those countries. But most importantly, my children have more opportunity to become more accepting and more open-minded and more aware of different cultures.

My friend, for example, quickly corrected her half-German daughter when she was calling me by my name. When my daughter asked what happened, I explained that in Europe, it’s acceptable to call adults by their first names. My daughter accepted the explanation and just kept on playing. I almost doubted that she understood what I told her until she later on repeated the story to me!

Another importance is that my children will be less inclined to be racists. Some Chinoys I know from back in the Philippines see Filipinos in a negative light. The reason is simple: they don’t know enough people. I’ve met Filipinos who I look up to, whom I admire for their own personal qualities. Truth is, the more people my children know from different places, the less inclined they will be to think negatively of those places.

In Beijing, We Can Make our Own Identity

When people ask my daughter where she’s from, she simply answers Korea. I’m okay with that, because it’s simpler. But when it’s just us talking about where we’re from, we do it by discussing where all our family is from. My children know that they have family in South Korea, Philippines and even in Malaysia, and that our home is in China. My older daughter doesn’t like calling herself a Korean-Filipino-Malaysian-Chinese just because it’s too long. But rest assured, we’re thinking of a shorter name for all the cultures we hold.

What’s important is that we recognize and embrace our multiculturalism. And for my family, Beijing is the best place to do it.

Jackie is a Chinese-Malaysian-Filipina who blogs about raising multicultural kids at Bringinguptheparks.com.
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