“Read the other word,” protests Hallie as I read books in Vietnamese to her at night.
“Are you Black? Are you White?” asked Hallie out of the blue before she turned three.
“I’m your daughter. I’m your friend.” Hallie declared during one of our road trips.
“Mẹ, Mommy, Mom, Mother!” Hallie's terms of address evolve as our relationship evolves.
Hallie is my four-year-old daughter in our transracial, adoptive family. It is not a secret that we have different physical features and racial identities. I’m Vietnamese, small, and have straight hair. My husband is Caucasian, tall, and big. Hallie has beautiful curly hair and is racially mixed between Black and White. To the world outside, the makeup of my family may appear strange, but familiar is how we feel together. In our time as a family thus far, I have been pondering the dialectics of being different and similar as well as the external perception of strangeness and our internal feeling of familiarity.
As we grow together as a family, just like the air that we breathe in every day, nothing but familiar is how we feel. Being Hallie’s mom involves cooking an eclectic variety of dishes for her with the majority being rice and noodle dishes, taking her out to be with other Vietnamese families that I know, and adoring her at every stage of development. Being Hallie’s mom also pushes me to learn unfamiliar customs that I did not experience growing up in Vietnam, but not without blunders on my part. On the first Valentine’s Day celebration with her daycare friends, instead of sending gifts in the form of cute stickers and candy, I used my design talent to create a Valentine’s card to give to all of her friends, a gesture that, in retrospect, might have appeared strange. Taking care of Hallie’s curly and delicate hair is a learning process. More importantly, I am yet to grasp the kind of experience that Hallie will go through being seen as Black in America and how I can prepare her for that experience. Being Hallie’s mom, thus, also involves learning about differences and embracing them.
So far, we learn by reading books together – some favorites including We are Different, We are the Same; Skin Like Mine; Hair Love, and Antiracist Baby. We meet diverse people by going to libraries and playgrounds and attending events featuring diverse communities, languages, and cultures in our city. To introduce our family to the world, I talk openly about our differences and have recently published a children’s book called Tug of Words: Trò chơi kéo co ngôn ngữ, which teaches kids opposite concepts and the differences and similarities in our family and in all of us. These are a few opposites in the opening stanzas of the book.
Beautiful braids Bím tóc đẹp
Small Nhỏ bé
Big To lớn
Just a little bit Một tí xíu thôi
Caramel Nâu caramel
Vanilla Sáng vanilla
I love all colors Con yêu mọi màu da
Being Hallie’s mom, I realize it's a privilege to be "just" a mom and “just” a daughter to my own mother – no modifiers, no conditions, and no end dates. It’s a privilege that I sometimes feel like Hallie takes me for granted because I’m always there for her with one day blurring into another. One day, Hallie will want to know more about the other mom that she has never met. One day, she’ll have to distinguish between me, the adoptive mom, and her, the birth mom. One day, she’ll use a modifier before my mom's title. However, I will always have my precious memories with her, and so labels, titles, and what may come do not matter as much. The time she made the declaration that she’s my daughter and friend, now encoded in Tug of Words, will always be my cherished memory. In this book and other writings I wrote for Hallie, kids like her, and kids everywhere, I foreground the universal familial love over the background of the specificities of our differences.
I'm your daughter
I'm your friend
We are together
Until the end
Con là con gái mẹ
Lại là bạn thân thương
Mình có duyên có phúc
Mãi mãi chung chặng đường
My bio: Linh Phung is an English as a Second Language teacher and bilingual writer. She teaches at a university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA and runs a private language academy called Eduling International (www.eduling.org). She's passionate about creating engaging materials, including apps and printed texts, to facilitate language development.