The year was 2019 and a group of elementary school students going to school was staring at my very American husband. Why were they so interested in a blue-eyed, blond-haired man? During our five weeks in rural India, we didn’t see another person with lighter skin. When we adopted our daughter from India, we got our first taste of standing out and got very used to people staring at us. Honestly, we leaned into our adoption story and tried to meet and have as many conversations with people as possible. Our time in India was a once-in-a-lifetime experience; so, we embraced the discomfort—which turned out to help us when we came home.
Our daughter is 5 now and is our beautiful Indian princess. She has long, thick, gorgeously curly hair. Her eyes are dark as night and her skin and hair are lovely shades of brown. My husband and have much lighter complexions and it is apparent that we are not the same race as our daughter. We often have people look at us and try to figure us out. I just smile and let them know she is from India. It is no big deal to us.
While I am not nearly as dark as my daughter, I do have a darker complexion and hair as well as brown eyes. My family is from the Philipines so I also look Asian and sometimes people even think I am Hispanic. Filipinos sometimes look ethnically ambiguous, so I am often explaining my ethnicity. This is such a phenomenon in the Filipino community that there are funny songs and videos about it. This is not something that bothers me in the least as I love talking about my ethnicity and my culture. It is a great conversation starter and an excuse to talk about my family.
Every member of our little family has a very distinct look and it is easy to see that we are not biologically related. We were warned that some people would not understand our mixed-race family and some would be outwardly rude. The beautiful thing about where we live is that we have never, not even once, had someone be outwardly racist towards us or our child. It may surprise some people that Idaho is a very open and accepting place despite some unfair stereotypes. We have found that people are just curious. They ask questions and while some would consider it rude, we find it is an opportunity to educate people about culture or adoption.
I know every parent says their child is beautiful, but for me—it is more than true. Her beauty is hard to miss and strangers often do a double take before complimenting her on her sweet smile or adorable eyes. Of course, when you get to know her, she is beautiful on the inside as well and that shines out of her lovely features. But her appearance is often why people will stare at us or stop and ask questions. She looks nothing like her parents, but it is clear we are a happy little family. People want to know the story behind it.
So, our family just looks different. I love my husband’s deep blue eyes. Ever since I watched the Princess Bride, I wanted my man to have blues like Buttercup’s farmboy. My daughter has the features of a Bollywood star or a model. And I have a mix of Filipino and European which makes my features even more ethnically ambiguous than my full Filipino cousins. So, we are a happy little family, and most days we do not think about how we may not look like other families. This is our normal and we like it.
I have five sisters who all look very similar to me. We are all very close in age and we all look exactly alike. Most extended family and friends struggled to get our names right. We were the Ladines girls and you get a sticker if you can put the correct face to the correct name. Even as adults, people think we are twins, but none of us are. We were each a mix of our parents but we mostly took after our dad. The one sister who had lighter hair and skin lamented that she was different. She just took after our mom’s side of the family.
The point is our resemblance to one another was uncanny and often a point of pride for our parents. They were proud of their lovely, outgoing, and often musical daughters. Many of us were alike in personality as well as looks. I however wanted to be different. I wanted to stand out of the crowd. Now that I am grown, I see how silly that is. I long to be in the same room as all my sisters as we all live in different parts of the country. To be a Ladines girl again would be a dream. But many of us are married with new names and our own families.
I now realize I loved my identity and the fact that I look like my family. Looking the same is wonderful in its own way and being different is great for other reasons. Children who were adopted often struggle with these identity issues as they grow. For mixed-race families, the identity crisis is real. What is a family if the members do not share DNA?
For us, that is the beauty of it. We are a family by choice. My husband and I chose each other. We didn’t fall in love, we chose to love, and 10 years of marriage later, we still chose love each day. When we adopted our daughter, we chose her—and it had nothing to do with DNA. She is our daughter. We will raise her, encouraging her that what makes her different, her background, her adoption, and her family are also what makes her incredibly strong and unique and beautiful.
When people compliment her smile, I give credit to her birth mom. Though, I take credit for the tickles that made her laugh and show off her beautiful smile. When she can wear a bright color that would not look good with my skin tone, I mention her Indian heritage and how women in India often wear amazingly bright and stunning colors. I encourage her that standing out and looking different is not always bad.
Now, I have mostly talked about our looks but we are different in other ways as well. We do life differently because our daughter is recovering from trauma in her early life. We do not do loud concerts or overstimulating birthday parties. We celebrate holidays in a much more subdued way. Our traditions connect back to birth families and adoption. We eat samosas at our Thanksgiving dinner. No one has complained yet. We do not have every day in December planned and packed with activity after activity. We pick a few special traditions and if we do not make it to the others we do not stress or fret. We only open a few presents on Christmas Day. Too many presents overwhelm our daughter and she can’t enjoy herself. We do not rush anything. We live in that moment and love it all.
Finally, we are different because we chose adoption as a plan A for growing our family. We never suffered with fertility or had trouble in that way. Before we were even married, we knew that there were kids who needed parents and that we were parents that needed a kid. Many of our friends and family didn’t understand our decision, but that is fine with us. Most of the influential people of culture and history were remarkably different and often misunderstood.
We are a family through international adoption. Our adoption story has painful parts and beautiful parts. Being different, however, is not something we are bothered by. Honestly, we do not even notice anymore unless others bring it up. We like that we do not look like other families. We look and act differently because our journey had to be different to bring us our perfect, little Indian princess.