Everyone tells us that our son Caius looks exactly like my husband. The resemblance is uncanny. At first, I admit, I was a bit sad that he bore so little obvious physical resemblance to me. But I comforted myself with the fact that, well, he came out of me so I know he's defintely got my genes in there somewhere. And besides, he's beautiful and perfect just as he is.
The other day, however, I was riding the elevator with Caius up to my mother's office in a high rise building in Koreatown. Most of the offices are occupied by Korean American attorneys and accountants that work in the Korean American community. On this particular day, there was a man talking in accented English on his cell phone in a loud and demanding voice: "What? They need to file that motion TODAY! What? That's just not acceptable!" Very familiar lawyer-speak. After he hung up the phone, we stood in awkward silence next to each other as most people do in elevators. But slowly he began to look back and forth between Caius in the stroller and myself. He looked confused.
And then he opened his mouth. "Are you his mother?", he asked skeptically. And I immediately knew what he was thinking. I was hurt. Mad even. But I replied calmly (even, I remember, with a smile because I'd rather make this jerk comfortable rather than reflect my own discomfort), "Yes", and then I answered the question I knew he was thinking, "I am half Korean and my husband is full Korean". "Oh!" he replied, "I was wondering! What is this white woman doing with a Korean baby?"
I've had to answer questions and stares like that a million times - when I'm with my mother or just by myself. What are you? You don't look Korean at all! You're not really Korean. This was the first time I had to answer the question in the context of my son. And it hurt. Maybe I am overreacting. I know my face is ambiguous. Why should I expect people to know what I am? But the way he so readily questioned my status as Caius's parent - it hurt. I wonder how many times people will ask Caius Is SHE your mother?
When I was young, I had more Asian features. Like many hapa children, however, my faced changed and I began to look more white as I grew into an adult. Internally, however, I identify strongly as being both Korean and hapa. I feel just as entitled to call myself Korean as any other "pure-blood" (oh, how I hate that phrase!) Korean American.
When I was pregnant, I wanted my son to look mixed physically so that he and others wouldn't be able to deny his status as a mixed race child. I want him to celebrate it and take pride in it, as I have learned to. I want him to gain that perspective that I have gained and ask the hard questions that I have been forced to ask. I want so much to be able to share that with him, but is that selfish? And regardless of how he looks, I know I will be sharing that with him when he interacts with my family, when he interacts with me, and when he answers the question Is she your mother?