My husband is a beautiful brown man, and our children have been graced with many of his features: height, breadth, tanned skin and brown eyes are but the physical ones.

I see him in their personalities and mannerisms too. The way my eldest’s shoulders are held hunched a little while he runs at soccer, and in the calm way my baby observes the actions around him and cheekily side smiles. 

Even when my husband is gone for long days, and the kids don’t get a lot of face-to-face time, he’s no ghost. His presence is strong in our home because they carry him with them; in them. 

My man doesn’t say much–it’s just not his way–but he uses hundreds more words now that we live in the city. When we moved away from Tofino, a sleepy little village at the edge of the country, he started to talk more.

I think with his family there, he needed to represent himself less. He was situated in in the epicentre of who he was and where he was from, so the details didn’t need any volume. Never mind that people just knew. People knew who he was, and what kind, and he made sense to them.

I wasn’t concerned then about what it meant for me and him to partner. Even though the lines are drawn pretty clearly across Canada’s ugly colonial history, his family is a direct result of a lovely Aboriginal woman marrying a local, but non-Native, man. His family, blended and situated amongst both sides, made sense of their identity without much report of challenge. They are a gorgeous harmony; a wonderful brood full of love for which I am so blessed to have been welcomed.

We also made sense. We came naturally to one another and there wasn’t much need for identity politics when our life was congruent and reflective of the most intimate parts of how we self define. Regardless that these definitions of self differed greatly from one another, they had inherent commonalities that bridged us. They still do.

Here, where we are now, people openly wonder. They can’t place him, they can’t place my kids. The public just knows that they aren’t quite like me in appearance.

In my profession I attend training specific to working with, working for, and working alongside Aboriginal populations: “Aboriginal ways of being and culturally sensitive practice;” “Aboriginal Social Work Practice;” “Anti-oppressive Social Work theory and practice;” “Indigenous Cultural Competence for Health Care providers.” I continue to learn.

When it comes to my children, it’s different. It’s not about politics. It’s not about history. It’s not about pre-colonial times. It’s not about contact. It’s not about oppression, or about silencing culture, or the removal of land rights. It’s not about the nightmare of Residential Schools. It’s not about government sanctioned child abuse. It’s not about nutritional experiments or unmarked graves. It’s not about the systematic destruction of families. It’s not about the role Social Workers played in this government agenda.  It’s not about crimes against First people.  It’s not about genocide. It’s also not about ceremony or regalia. It’s not about cedar or the ocean or the wind. It’s not about cultural expressions. It’s not about the oral tradition or stories told via carvings. It’s not about canned fish or fish stew or long nights in the community gym. It’s not about rez dogs and VHF communication. It’s not about anger or sadness or social issues. It’s not even about resistance or resilience. It is so very much about all of these things, and more.

It’s about the way my children dip at the knees at the first sound of Native drumming and singing. It’s about their Father’s grace. It’s about their family who they adore. It’s about the future; their future.

My husband affectionately calls me his “pale skinned Indian.” It’s true that I’m pale. I’m so pale that I am almost transparent in winter. Transparent like now, when I admit to you and maybe to anyone for the first time, that I’m terrified about being so prominently white whilst playing such a dominant role in my babies lives. I’m scared I don’t have it in me. I don’t have their blood lines, the pulse of their history or the complexity of their culture running through me. I don’t have the skin to match.

I don’t know how I, as a white woman, as a privileged person, can to do right by them with regards to their ever growing, shifting and forming identity. I am their mother but I don’t know how I will raise them with a thick link to their people. How will I hold them close to the things that make them uniquely the people that they are?

My man confirmed my worst fear last week: I probably can’t teach them.

After he made a particularly bad joke, both of us giggling at it’s absurdity, I asked him:

“Do you think our boys will ever understand your sense of humour?”

“No,” he said, “You gotta be there, it just doesn’t make sense otherwise.”

Regardless of efforts to expose, immerse, and provide access to this one aspect of their heritage, only experience can truly teach them. “You have to live it” he explained. 

 His humour takes us back to there, back to them, and in that way the context moves with us. But where does that leave them? What can we do to nurture in them parts of themselves that they deserve to know?

We are here, removed, and they are raised by the subtleties of their father, the unspoken nuances, culture via osmosis and by me, I was a guest then and I’m lost now.

Author

Heather was born a mom in 2009 but is still working out the kinks. She loves the CBC, aspartame beverages that are toxic and delicious, her profession, the 3 guys she shares a home with, and (sometimes) being a parent. A believer that moms are born too, she writes about her business because words make her happy and happy is good.

23 Comments

  1. So evocative. Thanks so much for sharing with us. My home is a multi-cultural one as well, as are more and more every day. They are beautiful and impossible to fully describe. You did the best I’ve seen though. Kudos.

      • I did call you the best. You deserve it.

        My attempt at describing my half Spanish, half American house would have been: “WHY DO THEY TALK SO LOUDLY? Also, paella is delicious.”

  2. Being a fellow pasty white Mom married to a man with a rich culture, I often feel like, “well kid, I have this really good ambrosia recipe and Grease to show you. White people!” Seriously though, just because our struggles and stories are way way less intense, we still have lots to teach. Don’t underestimate that. The first thing you can teach your children: how Mommy writes so beautifully it makes other writers gnaw the side of their keyboards in envy.

    • Dear Brooke,

      Thank you. I forgot about Grease and I am so comforted by your reminder. YESSSSS. This said, I am quite concerned that you may have PICA. Have you sought help?

      Best, H.

  3. Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing. We have a few friends who have mixed cultural backgrounds, but my hubby and I are both white. I think the cultural heritage that your family has is wonderful and rich. Your kids will learn it and cherish it. 🙂

  4. This is such a beautiful post. I devoured every line.

    I understand and share your concerns. Though my husband’s features make him look rather European, he is in every other way deeply Mexican. Our relationship started out as pen pals and he spent a lot of time trying to share the roots of his culture. We are so very far from Mexico and he works such long hours the girls don’t get nearly enough time with him and exposure to their roots. I worry that despite them being half-Mexican, they are being imprinted with so much French & New York permanent ink and I want to make sure there’s enough space left for Mexico.

    Thank you for writing this post.

    • Thank you for your generous feedback Cordelia. Let me know when you figure it all out okay (so I can beg you for tips)? I don’t know that I ever will.

  5. You are an incredibly gifted writer. While both my hubby and I are white, we share a different struggle. He is Dutch but doesn’t care much about his heritage (although he is getting better!) whereas I was studying everything Netherlands the moment I found out I was preggo.

    • Thanks Heather. Family does make us think about our roots and identity(-ies) in new ways, doesn`t it?

  6. Okay! I love this post so much Heather, and the love in it is so so obvious. I really enjoy the complexity that comes with creating a family, joining up different experiences to make your own unique family culture.

    • You are right, Andrea. Each family does have it’s own culture and ours is definitely full of love!!

    • For the record, I’m going to tell my husband and friends that someone thought I had perspective. Ha!

  7. Your post speaks to me and also gave me a wonderful reminder. Being married to an soft spoken but ever present Egyptian man with a long rich culture I find that I lend much thought to whether my children will ever know enough about it. After reading your post though it reminded me that I have my own “pasty white” life, background and complexities to share. My children look so very much like my husband but I also see some of my mannerisms and I’m grateful for the opportunity for them to carry both with them, in them and that it will impact you they become.

    • “My children look so very much like my husband but I also see some of my mannerisms and I’m grateful for the opportunity for them to carry both with them, in them and that it will impact you they become.:

      Love!

  8. I was one of two brown children with a so-white-she’s-allergic-to-the-sun mama. My father wasn’t part of our lives other than in stories – as was the case with our entire culture and heritage. My mother made valiant efforts to give us a sense of connection, belonging and pride. I have great appreciation and love for those efforts! I still have a longing for a deeper connection, but I have great pride. In adulthood I moved further away, so now how a son I struggle to engage in that heritage of mine that even I didn’t experience first-hand. I want so much for him to have the same respect & pride of cultural heritage. I now marvel at how much my own mother accomplished in the same efforts. She, at least, had the benefit of living the traditional life for a few years, so had some first-hand experiences to talk about. I do not. But, I feel your own children will garner so much from the memories of where they began (I was a toddler when I left), and have their father, who will communicate so much more than any of you will be consciously aware. And it will be beautiful 🙂 I hope, too, that you will be able to return on some kind of regular basis to visit, to keep the connection current. But if not, the very fact that you are concerned will result in unexpected forms of education and growth. I wish you luck; it is a great and important challenge I know you will meet with both grace and love.
    (And, btw, your boys are so very lucky to have you!)

    • Hi Nina, thanks for your thoughtful comment and sharing some of your experience. I can`t begin to tell you how encouraged I am by these two sentences:
      1. {they} ” have their father, who will communicate so much more than any of you will be consciously aware” and,
      2. “the very fact that you are concerned will result in unexpected forms of education and growth”.

      With many thanks,

      Heather.

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