Every so often someone says something offensive to me regarding my race. When I was younger, and the remarks dealt with Mexican stereotypes, I would try to laugh it off and feel sorry for their ignorance. I admit, I would get very upset sometimes but I would internalize it and simply give them ugly looks and the silent treatment. Very mature, I know. Since I had kids, however, these comments seem to sting a little deeper. Not sure why I can’t let it slide as easily, but I’m trying to. Maybe it’s because my own existence as a mom is being questioned by those words.
When I had my first born, M, people would ask me if I was the nanny at parks and public places. I assumed it was because most moms work these days. I was (and am) so lucky to be able to stay home with my little one that I would try not to think of any other reason for the question. Even when I was pregnant again and ready to burst, I was asked if M was mine. Really? How many parents do you know that would force a nanny to work until they gave birth? Shame on them if they do! Besides that, I would be so worried if my kid was being cared for by someone when she went into labor! Talk about traumatizing a kid! But I digress, once T was born and we moved into a new community, the comments came with more frequency. These are a couple of the things I still hear:
Are you the nanny?
Are they yours? (yep, both)
Is he yours? (about my blonde boy)
Are they related? (both again)
The rational side of me wants me to refrain from jumping into the negative connotation every time I hear these lovely questions. I like to pretend that the only reason someone would ask such a question is because I look so young and fabulous that they don’t think it’s possible for me to have kids yet. Wait… let me stop laughing for a second…ok. Since I know that is not the case, it has made me start looking for other explanations. One of my sisters thinks people question my role because I am so involved in their lives and activities. She thinks in today’s society, it is unusual to see the mom or dad by their side playing in the park, the gym, during playdates, etc. Other moms may use the time when the kids are distracted to work, use the phone or sit and have adult conversations. I never really think about that and maybe it’s because I have not been so good at being an adult. I enjoy playing with them; what better excuse will I ever have at my age to act like a kid? Besides that, who knows how much longer they will let me play with them? I have to enjoy it while it lasts, so if spending time with them is the reason for the comments, then so be it. I can happily live with that.
What if it is exactly as it sounds? Have we not gotten past the stereotypes that assume because I am Mexican and my boys are not dark skinned (i.e. one is blonde and blue eyed) that I must be the help? What kind of example are we teaching our kids when they see us making these comments? It’s just as “they” say, kids learn by example. Whatever you do, they will emulate until they are old enough to decide whether they agree or not on their own.
I’m sure most people that ask these silly questions do not mean any harm. In fact, one man that asked me if T was mine, later realized how rude that may have sounded and came back to apologize for the remark. I believe he was being sincere. I mean, my jaw dropping to the floor probably hinted that he said something wrong and, after thinking about it for a bit, did apologize. Thank you, sir, for that.
In teaching my own children about respect, I will let them know to think about the words they use before they ask questions. I will never tell them not to ask questions, because that is how they learn. I will, however, teach them how powerful words are in any language. The way you ask a question is more telling about you than the actual question. I know that it is hard not to offend someone at some point, but how sad is a world where we don’t even try? I want my boys to show respect and be respected. Hopefully more parents feel the same way and we try to think about our own words as well. Change starts with us. Let’s show our kids we do not (or are making the effort not to) judge so they grow up open to learning with and from each other. My bilingualeyes are open: are yours?
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