by Cindy Rivka Marshall

Story Summary

A transracial, non-traditional family (two white women with one biological child and one adopted child who was born in China) have dealt with many rude questions and often have not been perceived as a family.

Discussion Questions

  1. When have you felt “different” from others around you?
  2. When have people made false assumptions about you or the people you love?
  3. When have you realized you made false assumptions based on appearance?
  4. Describe a time when you experienced being in the minority in a group. How often does that occur in your life?
  5. Do you think there is a stigma attached to being adopted?
  6. What issues come up for transracial families? What might it be like for children being raised by parents from a different culture?
  7. What makes a family?
  8. Name some of the different kinds of families you know about.



  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript
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Hi, my name is Cindy Rivka Marshall. A few years ago, I was at the airport with my daughter and we were in line to go through security. She was only 17 and didn’t have a driver’s license yet. So, as I stepped up to show my I.D., she followed behind me and the security agent barked at her said, “Wait behind the line. One at a time.”

I said, “She’s with me. This is my daughter.”

“Oh,” he looked from me to her. “You’re together? Okay – come on.”

Being in a trans-racial family we’re used to these moments when our bond as a family is invisible. Strangers will treat my daughter differently than me just because of her appearance. And I get a window into the lives of people of color.

In our family we’ve talked often about how there are many different kinds of families and the most important thing is how we love each other. When my daughter was 5 years old, one day she just plopped down on the floor and she said, “Mommy pretend that I am lying inside a box.” And she directed me through this whole story. I took her directions and acted it out with her.

She said, “Pretend the box is on the front porch and – and I’m lying inside of it and you open it up and you think I’m a doll. Then kiss me on the cheek.”

So I did everything she said. And when I kissed her, her eyes opened up and she loved seeing my expression of delight. She came to life. She sat up and I hugged her I said I am so happy. Now, I knew that this little story probably was inspired by my having read her “Sleeping Beauty.”

But I also thought that she was working through her own story for she had arrived from a place far away; China. From the time she was very young, my spouse and I told her the story of how Mama had gone on the airplane to China and brought her home to be our – in our family.

I said, “Mikayla, you know you didn’t arrive in a box – right?”

She nodded. But then she wanted to play the story again.

We also have a son Jeremy who’s 5 years older than Mikayla. Jeremy and my spouse, Kathy and I are all identified as white. Through his growing up years, Jeremy had to explain our family to many of his friends.

“Wait a minute. You have two moms? You can’t have two moms!”

“Wait she’s your sister? She doesn’t look like you.”

And he would just shrug matter of factly and say, “Yeah, this is my family. Yes, she’s my sister.”

Mikayla growing up in our town there were many Asian Americans who “looked” like her, but she never really had the chance to be in the majority until we traveled back to China when she was 10. And I remember walking down the streets – very, very crowded sea of faces in the city of Beijing and Mikayla, at 10 was very aware that people were staring at us the white faces in the crowd and that she blended in.

My son had an experience there in a smaller city where a man on the street looked at him with an expression of hostility. And it really upset him. We talked about how it’s vulnerable to be in a minority and how he probably stood out with his blond hair and gray eyes in this place. Perhaps this man had never seen a white person or maybe had stereotypes about Americans.

It was experiences like this that have helped us be sensitive to Mikayla’s experience as a person of color especially now that she is a young adult.

You know in our family in our home, we see all of our similarities and our differences and we embrace that.

But when we go out in the world, well often my spouse and I are not seen as a couple. We are not perceived as the parents of our children and our children are often not seen as siblings. And so it’s an effort to hold onto our own self-perception. But we know that bond of love in our family keeps us strong.