I first met Christine when our daughters attended Coeur d'Alene Elementary in Venice, CA. Christine and Kourtney were leaders of the parent booster club at the school and were always giving tons of their time and energy to making sure the school was an incredible environment for the parents and kids. I really admired the dedication the two of them had. Christine has a very welcoming personality and as we got to know each other I was lucky enough to meet her whole family!
Stuart and Christine met in the movie business and have so many great stories, they also take wonderful adventures with their daughters that coincide with films Stuart is working on all over the globe. I know you'll love getting to meet this "Chine-ew-ish" family from Venice Beach!
MEET THE LEE-LEVY FAMILY:
Christine Lee, age 45
· 3rd generation Chinese but from two different cities. My Mother’s side of the family, The Yu/Wong side is from Shanghai, China. My Father’s side, the Lee family is from Guangzho (formerly Canton). Christine identifies with being a Chinese American.
Stuart Levy, age 52
· Generally from Russian-Jewish heritage. He’s in the process of researching. We learned recently that Stuart’s father’s name should actually be Saxon (Saxonovich) but upon arrival to the USA, the name was changed to Levy. Go figure! Stuart identifies with being a cultural Jew, not a religious one.
Sophie Levy, age 13
· Biracial, self identified "Chine-ew-ish"
Willa Levy, age 11
· Biracial, self identified "Chine-ew-ish"
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
We live in Venice Beach, CA.
HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET?
Stuart and I met while working for Oliver Stone on his epic football movie, Any Given Sunday. This was my third film working for Oliver as an assistant editor but my first time actually editing. Several editors had been fired and Stuart got hired to cut a big game sequence. He didn’t know, but Oliver had told us that if he didn’t do a good job on this game, he’d let him go. I was afraid to get to know him. Thankfully he did a great job and got to stay on. Lucky for me!
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
We did not have serious issues that related to our ethnic background nor did we have any issues at all, really. I think Stuart’s biggest concern was that he had been a vegetarian for over twenty years and didn’t want my family to think he was weird. He broke his vegetarian streak with his sister, Lauren, with an order of Chinese spareribs and has never looked back. Sometimes I think he’s more Asian than I am - he’ll eat anything!
WHAT TRADITIONS DO YOU CELEBRATE IN YOUR HOME?
We celebrate Christmas, as was my tradition in my family, and we celebrate Hanukkah, especially when Stuart’s parents are available. Both holidays are about family and food and not at all about religion. We enjoy a Passover Dinner when we are with either Stuart’s family or with other Jewish friends and we celebrate Chinese New Year Dinner with my family. Funny how food and gifts of cash can solidify a tradition.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CULTURAL FEATURE/TRADITION OF YOUR SPOUSE'S RACE?
My favorite cultural feature about Stuart’s family is their sense of family. It was also my families’ best feature, too, however it has splintered somewhat since the passing of my parents and my grandparents. Being a part of Stuart’s family has been comforting and reaffirms my belief that family is an important part of any cultural identity.
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN DIVERSE?
Our community in Venice Beach is very diverse. We have a lot of tourists in our neighborhood from all over the world in addition to many ethnic groups living in Venice Beach. I do not feel like a minority in our neighborhood. I was born in Pasadena and felt like I was the only ethnic kid for a very long time. Well, no longer!
DO YOU OR YOUR PARTNER SPEAK IN MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE IN YOUR HOME?
We speak only English, sadly, but I want our kids to speak another language, if not two! I took French all the way through College and have used it during my travels in so many countries. It’s helped me to get by in many European countries, even China. I do pick up languages easily and I think Sophie & Willa could too, if I don’t wait too long to get them classes. It’s a disservice to our young people that language is not offered in public school! Stuart only speaks English and says he’s terrible at learning languages. But he did used to write code (Java and others) - I’ve heard some schools think this is more important than learning languages. Hard to imagine!
ARE YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR MULTIETHNIC RELATIONSHIP?
Yes. I think there may have been a time when my grandparents were weary of the fact that I never seemed to like Chinese men. This was in the 80’s and no other family members had really married outside the race (and been successful). But I know they would have liked Stuart. He’s respectful, attentive, and loves the idea of family. In fact, my extended family (aunts, uncles, and cousins) seem to like him more than me! Stuart’s family has always been welcoming and cordial to me. I have never felt any discrimination from any of his family members.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR PARTNER'S ETHNIC-CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
I can’t say my husband’s family is ethnic and cultural, even though they do identify with being Jewish. One could generalize that Jews are liberal and I do appreciate that about them. My family is politically conservative, quite bluntly, they are mostly Republicans. I have always felt a fish out of water in that respect. I do identify very strongly with Stuart’s family and their sense of duty towards society. My in-laws are inspiring philanthropists who donate time and money to the San Jose Opera and several wildlife organizations. Stuart’s step-sister is married to the Treasurer of Iowa and was Obama’s campaign treasurer during the Iowa Caucus. That’s cool!
DID YOU FIND BIG DIFFERENCES IN THE WAY YOU GREW UP VS. YOUR SPOUSE DUE TO DIFFERENCES IN RACE?
The setting in which we grew up were very different - Stuart lived in New Jersey and New York and I in Pasadena. He grew up in a mostly culturally Jewish environment (in a single parent home) whereas I lived amongst WASP Rose Queens and “Little Old Ladies from Pasadena.” There is one major similarity, however, we both have very strong families. Our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were -and continue to be - a huge part of our lives.
WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING THING YOU'VE LEARNED ABOUT EACH OTHER'S CULTURE?
Stuart says that he never expected that the men in my family would be “a bunch of badasses.” I guess what he means is that my Dad and my Uncles and even my Grandfather are/were very atypical Asian men. Many of them are around 6’ tall and have a kind of swagger. Stuart gets such a kick out of my Uncles because they are are opinionated and can be a bit caustic, yet alluring. He also respects their business sense and their extreme socialness. Stuart says the Lee Family is as unpolitically correct as his family is politically correct. While that may make Stuart’s family sound a bit boring, to me, it’s very refreshing. My family has a lot of drama and I appreciate that Stuart’s family is very nice to one another. If they do not approve of things, they don’t say it.
My family, however, does not hold back. That can be very exhausting and we have suffered many severed relationships within the family. Since my entire immediate family has passed away- my Dad, my Mother, and my Brother - I feel like life is too short so I really try to be the neutral one in my family and just get along with everyone. And that suits Stuart’s family, too.
WHAT ACTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT EACH OF YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
There are a lot of interesting family stories -especially ones that involve how my grandparents came to the USA and their immigrant experiences. Food has also been the touchstone for my heritage. I am very happy when my children enjoy eating the foods that I grew up eating - Chinese dinners with family or dim sum. They look forward to seeing my family and eating Chinese food and being a 3rd generation Chinese who does not speak the language - this is as much culture as we are going to get, I am afraid. I do look forward to visiting China and exploring our family history someday. Last year we traveled to Berlin and the night before we were to take a tour, Stuart realized that he needed to explain the Holocaust to them. They didn’t really know very much about it and certainly did not know that their heritage was directly affected by it. It was important for Stuart that Sophie and Willa know what it means to be a Jew. In addition to learning a lot of history about WWII, we also visited a concentration camp outside of Berlin. They read Anne Frank’s Diary and we visited her annex in Amsterdam a week later. Heavy stuff for tweens but they accepted it and I am glad that they have been exposed to these hard historical truths.
It’s very important to me that they also learn how WWII affected my family in China. My Grandfather sent my Mother’s family to live in the United States and Cuba during some very harrowing war years evading the Japanese while he was working for the Bank of China. Teaching our children about their race means learning a bit about history, too.
HAVE YOUR CHILDREN ASKED ABOUT RACE?
I have not had to explain race. I think my children inherently understand it because Stuart and I are different skin tones. My family is so obviously Chinese and his, Caucasian. In addition, our elementary school is very diverse. My kids have never known anything different but diversity and I would be curious to see how they would react being in a homogenous community.
DO YOUR CHILDREN IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
This is kind of interesting. My eldest daughter passes as being Caucasian whereas my younger daughter has a much darker skin tone and looks more Chinese or maybe Hawaiian. Sophie is rather proud that people don’t know she’s Chinese and sometimes I wonder if she’s embarrassed when her friends meet me? Would she rather “pass” as being Caucasian? I’m not sure. It reminds me of that movie, “Imitation of Life.” My younger, daughter, Willa, seems rather proud to be “brown” or “tan.” I do think they do identify being of mixed race and, in general, are proud of both of their heritages.
HOW DO YOU RAISE YOUR CHILDREN TO HONOR DIVERSITY IN OTHERS?
We honor diversity by having ethnically diverse friends, staying connected to what is going on in the world, and being open to ideas.
WHAT UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS DO YOUR CHILDREN HAVE FROM YOU AND YOUR PARTNER?
Sophie has the “smiley” almond eyes of my Grandfather, Frank, and yet they are large and brown likes Stuart’s mother, Peggy. She has Stuart’s freckles, long eyelashes and but my long face. I am so glad neither of my children inherited my lousy eyebrows though I do see my Dad and Grandma when I look in the mirror! That’s okay :) Willa has Stuart’s curly hair and I think if she didn’t brush it, it would be very kinky with ringlets. She has my skin color and my almond shaped eyes. I think she gets her figure from my Dad’s Mother who was 5”7. I think that Sophie looks more like Stuart and WIlla looks more like me but I’ve had people tell me the opposite.
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOUR CHILDREN?
Sophie says it means that she and Willa get tan faster than some of their friends. Willa says she’s happy that she gets “presents for Hanukkah & Christmas” and she “gets to eat dim sum all the time.” Obviously they have not had to ponder the deeper meanings of being of mixed raced heritage and, for now, may take it for granted.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR CHILD'S FUTURE AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
My hope for my children’s future is that they can honor their own cultural heritages while being respectful and compassionate of others. I want them to identify with being American because it’s a gift to have so many heritages in one country. So many different kinds of people have come to the US with just a few dollars in their pockets and done so much - and it is my wish that they appreciate not only their experience but others’ as well - and know that anything is possible.