Mija: Growing Up in a Multicultural Blended Family
Mija: Growing up in a Multicultural Blended Family
[Image] A family seated at a restaurant table. Around the family is a frame as if to depict the family in a photo. The family consists of eight people. On the left side of the table are three boys with darker complexions. A label indicates these are 3 half brothers. At the head of the table is a short-haired woman with light skin. The label indicates “half-sister.” On the right side of the table are two adults, with two children between them. The first adult is a Caucasian male, bald with a mustache. The label indicates “my dad”. The first child is a Caucasian boy with short hair, labeled “my brother.” The second child is a Caucasian girl with long hair, labeled as “me”. She is looking at the adult woman seated next to her. The adult woman has long hair, is darker-complexioned, and labeled as “my stepmom.” She wears a sad expression, and is looking outside the photo frame to a female restaurant server who is addressing her.
[Caption] I have a multicultural family. Family photos are hilariously incongruous. Sometimes…
Server: Are you the nanny?
[Image] On the left side of the panel is a series of three photographs. The first photo is an image of a baby, sleeping and swaddled. The second photo is of the father from the previous panel holding a baby. The third is a picture of the stepmother kneeling down to put her hand on the Caucasian girl’s head.
On the right side of the panel are three Caucasian men, looking suspicious and looking at the photos.
[Caption] Even back then, I knew there was some underlying prejudice. I could be adopted. I could just look like Dad. Or she could be my stepmom (because she is).
Man 1: Did she come here as a nanny, and then marry the dad when the mom died? You know, for citizenship?
Man 2: Why is she in charge of that white girl?
Man 3: This child must have been rejected by her real mom.
[Image] The Stepmom and the daughter turned in their chairs to face the restaurant server. The Stepmom looks amused and a little embarrassed. The daughter looks angry.
[I know it hurt my Stepmom. It hurt me too. It reminded me my mom was dead. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.
Stepmom: Oh, I’m not her nanny. She’s an orphan and I married her daddy
Daughter: She’s the only mother I have, my real mother is DEAD.
[Image] The daughter, alone, curled up in the fetal position and looking sad.
[Caption] I became defensive, haughty and morose. I hated going out to restaurants. I would get so anxious that I would stay in the car. I felt like everything would be better without me.
[Image] The Stepmom bent down to talk to the Daughter. She is smiling. The daughter looks up at her Stepmom and has a sad expression on her face.
[Caption] I started asking my stepmom if she wanted me to call her “mom.”
Looking back, I can see she was being respectful of my late mother. But as a kid it hurt.
Stepmom: Only one person could be called “mom”, my dear. We can be great friends though.
[Caption] After a few years though, she started telling people I was her daughter. She started calling me “Mija.” (Mi + hija = Spanish term of endearment for “my daughter.”) I loved that. I felt claimed and like I belonged.
[Image] The daughter, grown up with longer, curlier hair, laughing. She is facing the Stepmom, also older, now with her hair in a bun. She is also laughing.
[Caption] I guess this is a story of belonging, and how others’ prejudices falsely teach us that we are somehow wrong. It’s about how questions and attitudes made me feel “orphanized.”
And it’s about my stepmother’s feelings when having a white daughter would cause people to question whether or not SHE belonged.
Nowadays, we speak Spanish together, travel to Mexico together (where, amusingly, Mexicans assume she is a “gringa” like her daughter and that she cannot speak Spanish!)
And although we have our differences, we introduce each other as mother and daughter.
I have a multicultural family. After my mother passed away, our father eventually met a Mexican divorcée from work. Our family grew instantly. Growing up, it seemed normal for me to have a family of an Irish-French dad, a Mexican mom, three brown-skinned older brothers, an older sister who spoke very little English, and two small freckled orphans.
As you can imagine, our family photos are…incongruous. Hilariously so.
Sometimes on trips, people who didn’t know us assumed our stepmother was our au pair nanny. It annoyed me, and looking back, must have been very difficult for my stepmother.
It reminded me that I wasn’t like other kids, which is the hardest thing to endure for children. I felt abnormal. For one thing, it reminded me over and over again in the most public of places that my mother was dead. It made me feel like I didn’t belong to anyone.
At first, my stepmother didn’t know how to react either. She would say, “oh no, she is an orphan, I married her daddy. I’m not her nanny.” I hated that response – people would remark on how sad it was. Sometimes it made me feel like she didn’t want me to be her daughter, or that people thought, “This miserable child must have been rejected by her real family.”
Even at that young age, I understood that to be asked “Are you the nanny?” not only hurt me and my stepmom, but also suggested some underlying prejudice. Who were they to assume that I wasn’t adopted? Or that she was my biological mom, and that perhaps I just looked like my father?
As I became older and we moved to a bigger town, I really started to see how frustrated my stepmother would get when people would assume she wasn’t a Canadian citizen, or that she didn’t speak English, or that a white Canadian husband and children couldn’t possibly be her real family. Her hair dye got blonder and blonder, I think in an attempt to normalize our family appearance.
I became quite mouthy with adults. I would purposefully make adults who asked me annoying and prying questions squirm! I would bluntly answer them with “She’s the only mother I have, my real mother is DEAD.” And then stare at them.
I became defensive, haughty and morose, and hated going out to restaurants on holiday. I felt like we stood out. I would sometimes get so anxious, I would stay in the car and read alone. I felt like my parents and brother would have a better, more “normal” time without me. I cultivated the idea that I belonged to nobody. I was definitely a challenging child/teen.
I started asking my stepmother if she wanted me to call her “mom.” She told me that only one woman could be called mom, and that she didn’t want to be my mother, just my friend. Looking back, I can see how respectful she was being of my late mother – but as a little kid, it again reminded me that I was different and something was wrong with me.
After a few years, though, when people asked if she was my nanny, or, “Is she your daughter?” My stepmom started replying, “Yes, this is my daughter.” And at home, she started calling me “Mija” (mi + hija = Spanish term of endearment for “my daughter”). I loved that. I felt claimed and like I belonged. Now, she brags that out of her three biological children and three stepchildren, I am the only one who understands her culture and speaks Spanish.
I guess this is a story of belonging, and how others’ unchallenged assumptions and prejudices falsely teach us that we are different and somehow wrong. For me, it made me feel “orphanized”, reminded over and over again ethat I had no mother. And it’s about my stepmother’s feelings when having a white daughter would cause people to question whether or not SHE belonged in this unusual equation. You could see their minds reeling, “Did she come here as a nanny and then marry the dad when the mom died, for citizenship?” “She’s not a Canadian. Why is she in charge of that Canadian child?” and other idiotic nonsense.
Nowadays, people never question our relationship. We speak Spanish together, travel to Mexico together (where, amusingly, Mexicans assume she is a “gringa” like her daughter and that she cannot speak Spanish!!) and although we have our differences, introduce each other as mother and daughter.