Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where are my kids from?

This was meant to be part 2: Playing with Taiwan Kids, but I kind of went off in another direction.

Sometimes I feel like my children are nomads. Imagine a foreign family living in America legally for 13 years that have three children born and raised in America. The children speak fluent English and go to local schools, but no matter what they do they can never be American. More than that, imagine if everyone who saw them for the first time said something to the effect of, "Look mom, a foreigner!"

That is the situation we find ourselves in in Taiwan. I believe it is as good an illustration as any of how cultures can be fundamentally different, but assigning right and wrong values to either is, well, wrong. It is what it is.

All of my children were born here in Taipei at a local hospital. They rested in tiny cribs in the nursery next to all the other cute little infants who had just been born. The "otherness" started from the very first day. They were obviously different -- not just the color of their skin, but the fact they had their grandfather's hair -- none! Nurses and other infant's relatives would stop by our room to see the kids and speak with us.

Within the first two weeks of their lives, all of our kids were introduced to their baby sitter -- the Great Yi Mama. She has been their Chinese/Taiwanese mother and the boys owe their language to her. She has taught them Chinese and Taiwanese from the very beginning.

But they are not Taiwanese. No matter how you slice and dice it they just aren't. Should they be? I don't know. It saddens my wife sometimes, because in school the kids will matter-of-factly say the boys are foreigners and they will insist they are Taiwanese. I am fine with it, but if the same thing happened in America I would be mortified.

So where are my children from? I don't really know. They have spent more time in England than America, but they follow the Seahawks and Mariners. They have British passports, but that was just what was more convenient at the time. I will get them their American passports this year. They can recognize Barack Obama from a mile away, but that's because I followed the election so closely.

We are trying to strike a balance between instilling pride in America and England so they can be OK with not being Taiwanese without getting jingoistic about it. I would like them to find an attachment to something, but I don't think we can force it.

When they play here in Taiwan with local kids, they are different. Play times with new acquaintances usually start with a few shouts of, "Look a foreigner!" Then children will sometimes start to play with them after about 10 minutes -- usually with the boys chasing them. The boys are shy about speaking at first sometimes, but after about 20 minutes they are playing like nobody's business. In our neighborhood, the kids are pretty well-known so they don't need to go through this as much anymore. Everyone knows they speak Chinese so they play pretty naturally together.

While I sometimes contemplate these issues, and Michaela and I go back and forth, a funny thing has occurred to me -- our kids don't care.

They play with everybody, go to anybody and fear nobody. While I am sad they may never feel as patriotic as my wife or I about their home country (whichever it is) they have a chance at something few have. No matter how open-minded or liberal one is in his views about the world, few can really look at everyone, no matter where they are from, and not have some preconceived notions based on their own heritage lurking somewhere in the background. My hope is that a side-effect of this "national homelessness" will be this ability.

I've attached some photos to illustrate the point. These were taken in Malaysia this year when my wife took the three kids to visit her dad who works there.

NOTE: I should have included facts and things and maybe useful links to this post. I will try harder in the future to be more informative.


  1. Great post, Mike! It's interesting how someone looks determines where they're from.

    Mind writing my blog now, you're much better at it than I am?

  2. Well done Mikey! You are definitely missing your calling... Your blog is amazing, so well written!!

  3. Mike. Nice one! Check out my blog and look at the 'what I'm reading' section on the right!


    Oops! Is that what they call spam?

  4. Hey Mike,

    It's sure been a long time. Congratulations on the great looking family!

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    Is that double spam now?