On Raising Bi-Racial Children

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Minerva Holmes, Bilingual Parent Educator
By Minerva Holmes, Bilingual Parent Educator Dec 18, 2017

I like to call my family the United Nations – we are a diverse mix of races. I am Hispanic, my husband Charles is White, and together we have four children.   Apart from being a bi-racial family we are also a blended family - my husband adopted my two Hispanic daughters giving them the last name of Holmes. The other two are our mutual children so they are half White and half Hispanic. My oldest daughter married David who is white and was born in Lubbock but raised in Costa Rica/Nicaragua from ages 4-15.  My second daughter has children who are half-Black and half-Hispanic. My son is engaged to a woman who is Hispanic and Colombian but she has some Asian characteristics as well.  We are a blend of colors and races.

On one hand, our mixed race isn’t something I think about every day. When I look at my children, I see Jessica, Andrea, Charles and Victoria. I don’t see shades of brown. But on the other hand, we’ve all formed complex thoughts and feelings about our race. I know this because I asked them to weigh in.

My oldest daughter Jessica is 35 and fully Hispanic, but grew up with the last name Holmes.  She said:

Many times, I get the feeling like I’m stuck in the middle.  Not Hispanic enough for the Hispanic culture and not White enough for the White culture. 

My daughter Andrea is 30 and Hispanic but, like her sister, has her adoptive father’s last name, Holmes. She said:

To this day I enjoy being a Holmes. Walking into interviews and functions after speaking to so many people through the phone…seeing their faces when they realize, “Wow, she’s a Hispanic woman.”

Growing up in a biracial family then and raising my own can be challenging because my kids will never be Black enough or Mexican enough.  They are two very strong cultures and my daughter does feel some angst. She has her own set of challenges.

My son Charles is 25 who is bi-racial Hispanic/White said: 

If people think you are Latino then they think you are poor, if they think you are White then you are rich. 

Latino people say, “You aren’t Latino” and White people say, “You aren’t White.”  Early on in life when asked to identify race, there wasn’t always a biracial box. People ask me, “Do you identify more as White or Latino?” I answer “American”.

Some people think you can’t be a Latino if you don’t speak Spanish. People constantly ask me to explain my skin tone. I have White features but my skin is brown.  Some people say that I only identify with my Latino side for affirmative action benefits or any perceived benefits.  People get my name wrong or ask me to explain why I am brown with a White person’s name. 

Lastly, my daughter Victoria who is 20 and bi-racial Hispanic/White said:

When I was younger I of course noticed differences in skin color and physical attributes, but that didn’t affect the way I treated a person because I saw the person and didn’t focus solely on the physical aspect.  Someone being Black or Chinese was the same thing to me as them being able to sing or play basketball or be tall. It was a characteristic, not a definition of who they are. But there was always the feeling of being left out because I was not White nor Mexican. What Charles said was spot on.  White friends consider you brown, brown friends consider you White. 


After having this conversation with each of my four children, I learned a lot. It turns out that each of them used a different term to identify themselves. Jessica called herself Hispanic, Andrea Mexican, and Charles Latino. Even growing up in the same environment, they’ve all chosen different terms to identify their own race. I understand this because it was part of their identity development to make sense of their own cultural background and how they see themselves in the world.

I also noticed that they all shared stories of not feeling “enough” one way or another. Not Hispanic enough, not White enough. This one was not a surprise to me. We had conversations about this throughout their childhood. They would come to me and say things like, “So-and-so told me I’m not White.” I would always respond with, “What do you think you are?” I wanted them to reflect about how they identified. I know that many bi-racial people feel torn between two or more cultures. There isn’t one easy way to talk with a child who feels conflicted about her identity. The way I handled it was to try to build a strong sense of self and then let them work through their own feelings about who they were and how they belonged in the world.

My Hispanic culture is very important to me. When I married someone who was not Hispanic, I knew that passing on the traditions of my family as well as his would be a priority. I feel that it is the parent’s responsibility to help children learn about their culture.  We often participated in my children’s school multicultural programs, which represented the beauty of each country/heritage in their school.  I meet parents all the time who say things like, “Now that we live in this country, my kids don’t want to do our cultural traditions anymore.” I understand the pull to fit into a new culture. However, I also think that my gift to my children will be the traditions that I pass down from my heritage.   

It is Christmastime now so we continue to try to incorporate our holiday traditions.  Each one of my children know that a “posada” is a Spanish tradition of the re-enacted journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay.  They are all familiar with the foods that are made during the season because they all were able to help “Ama” make tamales, buñuelos and other Mexican goodies.  We also go to the big park downtown and participate in the Christmas tree lighting ceremony. In doing both of these, we honor the cultures of my family and that of my husband’s.  Giving my kids a strong sense of their Hispanic culture has been my responsibility and my gift to my children.

When my kids came to me to wrestle with their identity, I also asked them questions like, “What makes Vicky Vicky?” and “What is the most important thing about you?” Their race is definitely important, and I wanted them to have a healthy sense of cultural identity, but it also wasn’t the only thing about them.

In our family, we rarely talked about race.  If I ever asked the kids about friends I would ask by using their names, like, “What’s up with Drexter?”  If it were someone who is to be respected, I would say, “How is Ms. Alaniz?”  So often people don’t notice the side labels that they give people. If we know someone’s name, we use their name to address them instead of black, brown, white, bi-racial or any other trait that people use on a regular basis.   

In doing this, I noticed that my kids were really aware of how race impacted other kids at their school. They would tell me stories about kids who were called racial slurs, and they were deeply hurt and protective of these kids. I think they understood how that would feel and also that each person is more than their racial label.

And of course we aren’t afraid to joke about race, too. We are a silly family and we have fun, so we make jokes like, “Oh for this application, I’m definitely Hispanic” or “I want to get invited to that party, so I’m White.”

One time someone was looking at us, trying to figure us out. Maybe they were just noticing that we were a big family or maybe they were confused about who belonged with who. They asked my husband if all four were his children.  My husband looked at all four of them and said, “Yes.”  We often laugh about how coincidentally the younger they are the lighter they are.  So I always say, “I simply ran out of color!” We are able to laugh about these things because we’ve worked hard to make sure that the kids all have a strong sense of their own identity and self.

Raising bi-racial children has definitely had its challenges, but more than anything, it has been a beautiful experience. My son Charles said, “As an adult, I can relate to more people and situations.” I feel that we’ve given them a wonderful gift by raising them in a family made up of different races. As my daughter Andrea said, “At the end of the day, we are all of the human race.”

©2018 Momentous Institute
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