The following contribution comes from Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt, authors of JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews (Nebraska, 2016).
JewAsians celebrate Father’s Day, too
We have recently completed a multi-year study of couples in which one partner is racially Asian of any religious background and the other partner is Jewish of any racial background, as well as on adult millennial children born to these kinds of marriages. With this weekend’s celebration of fathers, three areas of our discovery are especially important to note to support an argument about how what we learned from our research applies more broadly:
- Our JewAsian families are both predictable and unpredictable in how parents influence their children’s sense of their identities. On one hand, they reinforce existing research which demonstrates that Jewish mothers are more likely than Jewish fathers to raise Jewish children (we definitely found this). On the other hand, we also found that for many couples in which the Jewish spouse is White and male and the non-Jewish spouse is Asian and female, fathers are more active in raising their children with some elements of Judaism and Jewish identity, which is quite a bit more surprising.
- Some of the parents of JewAsian children, typically fathers, and typically fathers who are Asian or Asian-American, want their children to have options about how they view themselves, especially about the Asian elements of their heritage. Yet those same fathers are uneasy about how to accomplish that. They notice other components of their children’s identities being emphasized more and also coming through more in how their children describe themselves.
- We asked the grown kids of JewAsian households what they would like to tell parents of young people like them who have complex mixed identities. Their suggestions focus on how parents can support the development of all aspects of their children’s identity. In terms of carrying out this vision, these grown children encourage other parents to create numerous opportunities for their sons and daughters to be proud of who they are through extensive and broad cultural and religious experiences when they are young.
They remind us that in a nation where there are more and more young people growing up who have complex backgrounds and lineages like the ones we interviewed—and of course lots of other complex backgrounds—that the totality of their backgrounds must be be what they are exposed to and what we expose them to (even where they might seem to conflict). By extension, then, a nation in which we celebrate and embrace our multiplicity of heritages can be a powerful foundation for the mixed race generation coming up. The reverse is worrisome—the more we demean, squash, remove, denigrate the multiplicity of heritages, the more we challenge those young people’s senses of authenticity and belonging.
When we started this project about eight years ago, we thought that all of the different and seemingly contradictory parts of these young people’s backgrounds would confuse them and lead them to feel uneasy or compromised or unstable. Yet, to the contrary, we learned that they uniformly encouraged parents to provide as much and as wide variety of all of what came through in their lineage(s) as possible. Rather than wanting to “focus,” they asked for as much of their cultural DNA as possible and from all directions!
We believe this counter-intuitive finding is worth pointing out on the final Father’s Day of the administration of America’s first mixed-race father President, as the US becomes more diverse, with more mixed households of all types, and with more anxiety about how to raise kids with self-knowledge and confidence.
With so much gloomy news about mothering floating around, we are glad that our project allowed us to be able to offer research-based ideas for fathers on Father’s Day from young people who shared with us a hopeful set of suggestions based on their own experiences.