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MF3: The Willingham Family

In this Multicultural Friday Family Feature, meet the Willinghams who reflect on their school experiences as minorities and what they hope for their boys' educations.

Meet the Willinghams:

Jonny (dad): Mexican, Caucasian, speaks Russian

Jennae (mom): Japanese, Caucasian

Kids: W (age 4), J (age 1)

Were you raised in your cultures?

Jennae: We were raised pretty White, so growing up I didn't consider myself Asian, but everyone else did.

Jonny: I'm Texan more than anything! My grandfather who was Hispanic wasn't really in the picture, so we didn't grow up celebrating the culture. I'm White. I just happen to be brown.

How did being a minority affect you growing up?

Jennae: Any time me being Japanese came up it wasn't a positive thing. It was mostly people making fun of me for being Asian. In middle school I had a kid tell me to "go back to where I came from." I didn't know how to respond. I'm from America. Go back where?

Jonny: I think, for me growing up, it was similar to Jennae where I always downplayed the fact that I was Mexican because I didn't want to be seen as different. I just wanted to fit in with everyone else.

Did things change when you went to college?

Jennae: People were more accepting in college and more open and not as judgemental or racist. Before being accepted to school, I went to a week-long program hosted by the University that was especially for minorities. It was awesome getting to be around people who were in the same boat as I was. I also danced at the University's annual Luau. College was a good place to find people that shared my background.

Jonny: In college, I took a multicultural education class. It opened up my eyes to whether I accepted my different race or not when I was in high school. If I had been all White, my experience in high school would have been very different. Going through this college class made you want to be different and helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin.

Do you have any recent experience with ethnicities in schools?

Jennae: I taught students with learning disabilities in public schools for about seven years. Every year as an introduction, I would share that I'm Japanese and my husband is Hispanic, and every year all the Hispanic kids in the class would get super excited that my husband is Mexican. A lot of teachers in my school districts were White females, so they felt that connection with me for being a minority.

Kids are being taught from a younger age that just because you're different it's not bad. Some differences need to be celebrated. Growing up in this era, kids learn to be accepting as much as they want to be accepted by people, and that includes different ethnicities and learning abilities.

What do you hope your boys' school experiences will be like?

Jennae: Our boys aren't in school yet, but we hope that there are good demographics for them to have those positive connections with their teachers and classmates. I think now people are a lot more accepting of differences.

Jonny: There are more and more mixed-race kids, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, White, Black. There is a lot more mixture of cultures too. In general, I want my kids to feel comfortable in their skins and know that religion, interests, race, or whatever they like, they're not lesser than anyone.

How do your school experiences impact how you're raising your kids?

Jennae: We're making sure that the boys have a positive relationship with their identity. Talking about racism and race, in general, will be something we discuss with them when they're a little older. Right now, we're focusing on the fact that being Asian and Hispanic is a good thing. If they ever come across a situation where they're made fun of because of that, we want them to feel comfortable coming to us so we can help them process what they're feeling and how to handle it.

Jonny: Since we were both raised White, we'll focus more on informing them about who they are. It's okay to tell them that I don't know the answer and say, "Let's explore it together. Let's talk through it and figure it out together." Rather than being the end-all, know-all, there are some things we will look at and figure out together.

About Multicultural Friday Family Feature:

One Friday each month, Multicultural Parenting highlights a family that is working to celebrate, educate, and participate with their children in their cultural heritage. Every family has a different cultural background and every family has a different way of sharing that background with their children. The MF3 series allows us to learn and celebrate the successes of multicultural parenting together as well as provide support when things get frustrating or discouraging.

If you would like your family to be considered for a future MF3, please apply here.


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