When I was offered the chance to start my own parenting column for PDX Parent, I was simultaneously excited and overcome with trepidation.
With two young children — a 7-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy — in tow, my wife and I love exploring and sharing our Oregon adventures.
But there’s vulnerability in sharing, too. As a mixed-race family living in divisive times, we’re intentional about ensuring that our kids are confident in their identity. We’re conscious about media stereotypes and know that our kids don’t fit into those precise ethnic boxes on forms.
And so, we’re deliberate about providing them multicultural experiences and teaching them about the common humanity that binds all of us. We do this to make them understand that despite cultural or ethnic differences, we all belong here.
It is not out of the ordinary for us to enjoy a beer festival in Hood River along with a Sri Lankan New Year celebration with other immigrants on the same weekend. Hence, this column’s name: Mixing It Up — it’s the adventures of a mixed family in Oregon.
About that mix: I was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in the Maldives, and was raised a Muslim. I’ve got a healthy obsession for Mexican cuisine, honed back in my days registering voters and working for progressive causes in East Tucson, Ariz. My wife, Jessica, is from Wisconsin, and we married over religious objections from both sides of the family, eventually landing on Oregon as the place we wanted to raise our family.
Today, we live in Southeast Portland and we make it a point to expose our kids to the area’s natural and cultural diversity. (Yes, I hear you loudly say, “But Oregon is not diverse!” You’re partly correct. With Oregon’s minority population at 22 percent, we may not currently as diverse as neighboring states. However, in just a few years, we’re poised to become more diverse than many states with sizable minority population, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.)
One hot day last July, we set off on a typical family outing, to the Slavic Festival in North Portland. Portland has one of the largest Russian-speaking communities in the country and the festival is a colorful celebration, chock-full of Russian sweets, kolbasa sausage food stands, vintage Belarus trucks, and Greco-Roman wrestling demonstrations. Somewhere between the face-painting and Uzbek dancers, the kids met new friends and decided that playing tag was more fun than hanging out with us.
“Go have fun,” I called out as they ran, oblivious to my words.
My wife and I looked at each other and smiled, enjoying the silence of a precious, kid-free moment together. We started to clink our beers together when we were suddenly interrupted by the 7-year old.
“Daddy, guess what?”
“Oh, I don’t know, what?”
“My friend likes Ever After High, too!”.
“Oh, that’s awesome, honey,” I paused, desperately struggling to recollect this particular show.
“What’s her favorite character?”
I never got a response. She ran off into the distance to play with her new friend, having unknowingly proved my point that when we mix it up, we discover all the things that unite us, be it food, music, sports, or really bad kid TV.