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Raising “Flippish” Children with Leslie V. Ryan

August 11, 2013
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We recently had the pleasure of making friends with the inspiring, multicultural mom and author, Leslie V. Ryan and interview her for our readers. In this deep and personal interview, Leslie shares with us her purpose for writing and publishing her first book, “I Am Flippish”, a book in which she talks about what it’s like to raise Filipino-Irish or “Flippish” children, the challenges that she has come across, and her insightful and humorous approach to dealing with them. 

1. You have a book out called “I Am Flippish”. What was your purpose and inspiration for writing this children’s book?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2006 and by March of 2007 I had gone through a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, reconstruction, and two rounds of chemotherapy.  I was bald as an eagle, ultra-sensitive, emotional, and vulnerable.  The hot flashes and being pumped up with all kinds of medication didn’t help my demeanor either.  My son Sean was 5 and my daughter Linley was 2 then.  Sean was excited to wear a hat that said “Kiss me I’m Irish!” to the school’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration but a mom spoiled that moment when she told him to take the hat off because he didn’t look Irish and can’t be Irish.  The woman said it in a joking manner (backhanded racism) yet I was hurt and insulted by her comment.  She was a friend who knew my husband is Irish.  I didn’t show my son how upset I was.  However, Sean asked me if he is Irish and I said yes, he is fifty-fifty — he is half Filipino and half Irish.  Then I had an “aha” moment and explained that he is Flippish and he got the best parts from me and my husband that is why he looks that way.  Sean got it.  The name stuck.  Sadly, that was the first and last time he wore that hat.

After the incident, I decided to augment my son’s education about his dual heritage.  I began looking for children’s picture books about multicultural families at major bookstores. I found a couple of books that used animals that morphed together as a roundabout way to explain to kids about being mixed.  It wasn’t good enough for me.  I wanted a book that talked about race and ancestry not a dog getting together with a horse and becoming a dorse.  How can my son relate to animals?  I wanted to face the issue head on and not use animals to explain to my son about his dual heritage.  I wanted to talk about real people dealing with real issues.  Frustrated, angry, and still feeling sensitive and hurt, I decided to toss the drama and channel my anger by doing something to fill this vacant niche.  I initially wrote the story for my children with no intention to publish it.   However, when I shared my story with a few friends who have biracial children, they loved the way the story explained to their kids about their diverse heritage and told me that it will be a shame to keep the story to myself and that there is a need for stories like “I am Flippish!” to help multiracial families all over the world.  I never aspired to be a writer but now, I have lots to say and it is hard to stop.

 

2. Why do you think it is important for parents to raise global children?

A global child is a child who is not only accepting of other people’s appearances, culture, and religion, but also has the desire to learn about the world outside their home.  A global child is rarely a bully because the child is raised to love the uniqueness of each of his or her friends.  Can you imagine what kind of world we will have if we raised global children?  Skin color, differences in culture, or religion won’t be an issue.  The world might be a peaceful place if it is filled with globally aware people.  There will be less bullying, racism, and discrimination.

A global child grows up to be compassionate. My children were fortunate to travel to Asia and Europe.  They saw wealth and extreme poverty.  When we were in the Philippines they met a little boy who looked the same age as my four year old daughter.  He had a tattered tank top and no pants or underwear.  He looked at my daughter who was holding a bag of cookies and asked her for some.  I saw the look of shock on her face and watched to see what she would do.  She gave him the whole bag and he ran away with it.  She told me afterwards that he needed it more that she did.  My son handed his bag of cookies to the other kids who were watching us nearby.  Since then, whenever I gather up books and toys that they rarely played with to give to charity, they never protested because they know that there are others who need it more than they do.

 

3. You are Filipino and your husband is Irish. Can you give us some insight on what your family dynamic is like in raising bicultural children?

My husband and I believe in incorporating both Irish and Filipino cultures into our family’s lives.  We take what we like from each culture and incorporate them to our daily lives.

For example, my Irish husband isn’t into celebrating St. Patrick’s Day even though his name is Patrick.   However, I love celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  The night before, I scatter treats all over the house, put green food coloring in the toilet, mess up the house with up turned furniture, scatter half eaten candies and spill green milk on the floor — all for my kids to find when they wake up the next morning.  Then we would go around the house to inspect the disaster, and blame the naughty leprechaun for creating the chaos.

As for the Filipino side, we teach our children to pay respects to their elders by making mano.  Mano or bless is a sign of respect towards their elder relatives.  The child takes the elder’s hand and touch the back of their hand onto their forehead.  We were in Rome last year to attend a family event and there were over thirty older relatives.  Every time my children sees them they automatically would do the mano. The old people loved it.

My husband and I believe in embracing each other’s cultures.  We always tell our children that they are very lucky to be able to celebrate two cultures and if they like certain things from other cultures besides theirs, they should embrace those cultures as well.

Sometimes families that have two or more different cultures can face challenges as well.  When one parent is not willing to embrace certain aspects of the other parent’s culture then it can cause conflict within the family especially when it comes to raising kids.  The most important thing multicultural parents should remember is to respect each other’s culture.  When cultures clash, anger and resentment ensues, which sometimes results in divorce.  When this happens, couples should stop and remember why they got together in the first place.  I think before mixed couples get married and have children, they should first discuss how they are going to raise their children and what cultural traits they will embrace or discard.  That way they are on the same page and prevent the demise of marriages caused by cultural differences.

As much as my husband and I are on the same page about culture, our political beliefs are polar opposites.  I am a democrat and my husband is a republican.  People have asked us how we could stay married for thirteen years without arguing about politics.  We both tell them one word: RESPECT.  We both respect each other’s political beliefs.  We both agreed to keep it out of our bedroom.  We both decided to give our children the right to choose which political party they want to vote for and not resent them for it.  We both agreed that it is stupid to argue about politics and have it come between our marriage.  Lastly, we agreed that the leaders of our political parties won’t run to our sides to hold our hands and comfort us, or pay our bills if politics was the cause of the demise of our marriage.  My husband and I feel the same way with our different cultures.  Mutual respect is the key to not only mixed marriages but to all marriages.

 

4. What challenges may arise in raising bicultural children? Do you have any tips for other parents raising bicultural children of their own?

There are many challenges in raising bicultural or multicultural children.  It is how we teach them to rise above the adversities they come across and overcome them. Here are a few examples:

Challenge #1: Having to check one box for their ethnicity.

This is a challenge that really angers me.  The census is now slowly evolving in including multiracials as part of a category.  However, certain companies still haven’t evolved with the times.  My children were contacted by a survey company called Nielsen and asked them about the type of shows they liked watch.  The interview went well until they were asked their ethnicity.  Both my children answered Flippish and I explained to the interviewer that they are fifty percent Irish and fifty percent Filipino.  The interviewer told my children that they had to choose one ethnicity.  After going back and forth with the interviewer about having to choose one ethnicity, I finally asked my children to choose.  They chose Filipino and that satisfied the interviewer.  After we hung up, my son said that the next they call he will say he is Caucasian just to mess them up.  We laughed about it even though I was very irritated by the situation.  Even though these kinds of situations are serious, my family use humor and talk about the absurdity of these kinds of situations.  It is important to openly discuss these issues with our children so that they understand it and not be confused about them.

Challenge #2: Dumb questions from people such as how come you don’t look like one of your parents?

We get asked dumb questions like that all the time.  There will be times when mixed children will be asked that kind of question and it is up to us to teach them to answer it in a way that will shut them up.  We cannot prevent dumb questions like that coming out of other people’s mouths but we can control what our answers will be.  It took me five years to find a way to explain to my children on why they don’t look like their fair skinned dad.  I told them that they are made from the best parts of their parents.  That is why they look like they do.  I listed traits each of them got from me and my husband and told them that those are the best parts of us.  So when the question “How come you don’t look like one of your parents?” arises, the children can reply “We got the best parts of our parents that is why we look the way we do.”  How can anyone argue with that?  It diffuses the awkward situation in a positive way and shuts the questioner up.

Challenge #3: Multiracial children grow up with issues of racial identity if we do not address it.

I have spoken to several multiracial adults and most of them grew up with issues of not being accepted by each of their racial group.  For example, my illustrator Adolph is Native American Indian and Mexican and he felt that he wasn’t accepted in either community.  He felt that he was neither Native American nor Mexican.  So when we first met to talk about illustrating my book, I told him that he is not one or the other, he is both – he is Indixican for Native American Indian and Mexican!  Since then, that is what he calls himself and felt better ever since.

I refuse for my children to have issues of not belonging to one ethnic group.  So my husband and I make sure to teach them to embrace their dual heritage and they have the best of both worlds.  As parents, we have to start teaching our children at a young age to embrace who they are.  If we educate them about their heritage, they will grow up proud and confident of their diverse ancestry.

 

5. Our main audience is teachers with international students. Do you have any tips for these teachers on incorporating culture and diversity into their classrooms?

There are several ways to incorporate diversity and culture in the classrooms.

Create a map project: When I visit classrooms to talk about ancestry, I bring with me a map of the world.  I ask the teachers ahead of time to have their students find out what countries their ancestors came from and unless they are Native Americans, they cannot say the USA.  The US was built by immigrants so they have to find out where in the world their ancestors came from.  Then I ask each child to tell me what country their ancestors came from and I mark the map with a red pen.  When we are done, the children sees the red marks all over the map and are amazed at the diversity of their class.

Celebrate Diversity Day or Ancestry Day:

Have a day to celebrate different cultures around the world.  Have students bring a food from their country of ancestry to share with their class.

Have the international students showcase their country of ancestry to their class.  They could bring something special that represents their country and talk about it to their classmates.

Have a school wide International Fair with booths from different countries created by each grade.  Each booth will have pictures and displays of the countries they are assigned to.  They could also incorporate music, dance, food, etc.  Each student receives a passport and gets a stamp after visiting each booth.

Incorporate global awareness in the curriculum: 

Once a month, teachers should incorporate an in-depth study of a country in their curriculum.  If all the teachers at a school coordinate with each other and are assigned different countries, by the time the students graduate, they will be global children. They will know something about several countries around the world.  With the help of the internet they could access culture, music, books, and pictures of the country they are studying, or even make new friends from different schools around the world by way of Skype.

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