Finding My Identity as a WOC in a White Family

When we think about families, it can be easy to forget that not every child looks like their parents or vice versa.

When you are raised in a family that downplays your culture or even completely ignores it, it can be very difficult figuring out where you fit it. I am a multiracial Latina who grew up in a white family after being adopted at a few months old from Colombia. During family gatherings, I was expected to celebrate my parents’ traditions and language, while little effort was put into incorporating my birth culture. 

 

When we think about families, it can be easy to forget that not every child looks like their parents or vice versa.

 

And yet, I had grown up with so much Italian food I didn’t even know the first thing about Latinx staples at dinner. So, on one hand, I was too Latinx to fit in with most of the white kids at school, and yet not Latinx enough to fit in with people like me. I didn’t experience the same foods, traditions, and language that other Latinx children were immersed in throughout their childhood. All I knew about my culture was from stereotypical television shows or the media.

Being in a multicultural household undoubtedly had some great benefits like being exposed to various different foods and traditions. I also loved that the people in my family would speak Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese at family dinners while speaking English was often an afterthought. Despite these, there are also some struggles when you are the only Woman of Color in a white family.

 

1. Growing up with colorblindness

My parents always leaned towards a colorblind mentality that made life a bit difficult as I grew up and people didn’t see me for who my family was but the color of my skin.

“Racial colorblindness” is the ideology that suggests that the best way to eliminate discrimination is to treat everyone as equally as possible, without regard to race, ethnicity, or culture. My dislike for colorblindness is that it made it difficult for my family to understand my struggles as a Woman of Color. And if they believed that colorblindness was best, they didn’t truly see me or my experiences. For example, since they were unlikely to experience discrimination by others while working in our family restaurant, they would often invalidate my very real and painful experiences with racism.

 

 

2. Growing up without racial mirrors

Being raised in a majority white family, in a majority white suburb, left me aching for racial mirrors (which are typically mentors whose race “mirrors” the race of the child whose race differs from their parents).

Growing up surrounded by women who looked different than me, who had a different body type than me, always made me self-conscious about my more curvaceous figure with bigger breasts, a slim waist, and larger behind. I felt like there was something wrong with my body for curving out where the women around me were able to fit in size 00 jeans. Especially when my aunts remarked about my chest size and told me to cover up at a young age.

For most of my childhood, I did not have any mentors or even friends that were of the same race as me, except for people who worked in the restaurant kitchens my family owned or who came over to do jobs in our yard. This left me feeling concerned as I grew up because I did not know anyone like me who had a more “successful” career. It reinforced the stereotypes I saw on television rather than helped me find racial mirrors to help me connect with my birth culture, develop a positive identity, and appreciation for my background.

 

3. Dismissing my real, lived experiences

Growing up, I would talk to my parents about how people would speak to me in Spanish and act like I was uneducated but would change their tune when they found out who my parents were. This was particularly stressful growing up because my parents tried to teach me color didn’t matter… but the world clearly did think it mattered when they saw me.

Some particularly common comments and questions were:

Where are you really from?

You’re lucky your parents adopted you!

Of course, your birth parents gave you up.

These always hurt the most because it reminded me that I wasn’t like my family and made me feel even more isolated. People assumed being raised in a white family was ultimately better, without any problems or losses, and wondered how could I be upset when I was fed, clothed, and educated.

 

 

How I found myself

When you constantly feel different and are treated differently than the rest of your family, it can take a big toll on your mental health.

I dealt with debilitating depression when I left home, went to college, and no longer had the safety net of my family around. When I tried to connect with other Latinx, it was hard for them to relate to my experience growing up in a white family, and when I tried to connect with white peers, they found it difficult to relate to my experience as well. It made me feel lost, confused, and sad to be caught somewhere between my Latinx birth culture and my white family. It took time and therapy to realize the problems I was having as a Women of Color raised in a white family were real.

 

When you constantly feel different and are treated differently than the rest of your family, it can take a big toll on your mental health.

 

I realized connecting to my birth culture had to start with me. I found solace in listening to Raegetton music from artists like Maluma, Shakira, and Bad Bunny. My husband and I started incorporating traditional Colombian staples like rice and beans, platanos, and empanadas. And most importantly, I made space for my culture at larger family gatherings by incorporating traditions in holidays like eating 12 grapes on Christmas Eve, among others.

It took a long time for me to figure out who I was and who I fit in with, but once I started embracing my differences, I was able to embrace my identity for what it was. Being a Woman of Color in a primarily white family did come with many challenges, but it also opened my eyes to how different cultures can embrace one another.

 

 

What can white parents do to help make their Child of Color more comfortable in a white majority family?

I wouldn’t change my family for any other, but there were many things I still wish could have been discussed to help me figure out and celebrate my identity as a child. Here are a few ways white parents can help:

  • Embrace your child’s culture and incorporate food, music, and traditions into your daily life.
  • Move to a more racially diverse area and open up your circle to include racial mirrors.
  • Protect your child from family members who commonly use microaggressions, discrimination, and/or racist jokes.
  • Call out racism and address the issue. Do not minimize the event or brush it under the rug.
  • Give your child a safe place to express their feelings and feel validated.

 

Read More: 10 Adoptee Accounts on Instagram Adoptive Parents Should Follow

 

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