Heading home to Canada, my daughter Echo and I were waiting in the customs line-up when an elderly Chinese gentleman pointed to her and said, “She’s a lucky girl.” Confused, I asked, “To travel overseas?” And then I realized what he meant.
Later, on the flight, I was chatting with a young Chinese man. He shyly gestured toward my daughter and asked, “Where in China did she come from?” “We’re both from Beijing.” I replied before I realized what he was really asking.
I then recalled browsing a market in Beijing; two female storeowners began speaking about me as though I couldn’t understand them. One said, “That woman is holding a Chinese baby!” They began openly wondering what I was doing with her.
These situations happen almost every day. People assume Echo is adopted or that I am temporarily caring for someone else’s child. Almost no one thinks she looks like me.
It’s true that my daughter’s complexion is darker than mine (half-way between her daddy’s skin tone and mine, to be precise) and that she has inherited the gorgeous slant of her daddy’s Chinese eyes. But, she has her mommy’s fine hair, round head shape, and not to mention, nose, lips and mouth. She’s only 16 months old, though, so no one can tell that now. To them, she just looks like an Asian baby in the arms of a white woman.
I’ve started to gather my old baby pictures. The resemblance between us is remarkable. I’ve stored some on my phone as proof. The crazy mother in me has even pulled them out a few times and made strangers look at them, much to their discomfort.
I’ve even considered trying to recreate some of those images with Echo. I admit that I tried it once, but Echo, refusing to stay in position, pointed out that her Mommy was being ridiculous.
How could I have prepared myself for the possessive rage that bubbles up in me when someone questions my genetic relationship to my child? Part of her is me; she is an extension of my blood and bones. I know people make quick race-based assumptions before they look more carefully, and their intentions aren’t malicious, but I have nonetheless had to develop a few important methods to simultaneously quell that rage and assert my maternity.
To the man in the airport who said she was lucky, I replied, “Oh, you think she’s adopted! Oh no, but she is lucky, because she has a Canadian mommy and a Chinese daddy. Her Chinese features are just a little more prominent right now. Who knows what she’ll look like when she gets older.” He smiled apologetically. I smiled proudly.
To the women in the market, I politely interrupted their wondering and said, “Excuse me, I am her mother and she is my child – she’s bi-racial. Take a closer look! By the way, you really shouldn’t assume that foreigners can’t speak Chinese.” As I turned to leave, they had forgotten about my daughter’s heritage and were openly exclaiming about my Chinese language skills. Not once did they speak to me, only about me. Oh well.
And finally, to the young man on the airplane, I laughed and said, “Oh, you think she’s adopted. Oh, no, she didn’t come from elsewhere; she came from MY BELLY!” Then he laughed too. Echo joined us with her gorgeous chuckle, which made us all laugh harder.
illustration by sunzheng
This article originally appeared on p47 of the beijingkids June 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com