MEET THE SOETAN FAMILY:
Half Persian, half white English, born in Iran and grew up in Canada
Asha, age 5
Half Persian/English, half Nigerian- born in UK
Elahni, age 3
Same as Asha
Miya, age 1
Half Persian/English, half Nigerian- born in Canada
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET?
We were both studying in Cardiff and met randomly on a corner while I was out with friends and he was just passing by.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
Yeah, of course. Which interracial relationships don’t have any?? In fact, you can read more about our intercultural differences here. But really, we couldn’t come from more different backgrounds. We faced the issue about where to live (still do), when, how often and if to see family on holidays, our wedding was an interesting one bringing together three different traditions and people from all over the world. But the obstacles were most pronounced when we had children because we both had such different experiences growing up ourselves. I talk about this a lot in my blog.
WHAT TRADITIONS DO YOU CELEBRATE IN YOUR HOME?
Because I grew up in Canada and have English and Persian parents, our family traditions originate from all over the world. We do the whole Santa Claus thing but my Mum passed on little English traditions such as Christmas pudding with coins in it, custard, trifle (you can see a lot centres around Christmas and food=) Music and dance is big in our house- something I know definitely didn’t come from my side. We celebrate Nowruz (Persian New Year) and naming ceremonies (when all three babies were born) and the traditional first bath were important Nigerian traditions of having children.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CULTURAL FEATURE/TRADITION OF YOUR SPOUSE'S RACE?
The naming ceremony. After each of our children were born, we gave thanks to God for the child and each one was given a name (with a meaning) as a sort of blessing from all of our friends and family. It’s a Nigerian Yoruba tradition held 8 days after the birth of the baby.
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN DIVERSE?
It is now. Before we lived in a much smaller town that was not so diverse. It was actually quite segregated. You could go within a mile and you’d have an area that was almost 80% black or Asian and then another area less than a mile away which was 90% white. Now, we live in London where you can hear and see people of all different cultural backgrounds and races. It’s still not perfect but it’s probably as diverse as you can get in the Western world.
DO YOU OR YOUR PARTNER SPEAK IN MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE IN YOUR HOME?
No, unfortunately. I’d love it if we did but we’re both a bit rubbish at speaking our cultural languages. We’re still considering which language(s) we’d like our children to speak and how we will teach them- whether it’s through classes or an immersion summer through sending the kids abroad or private tutoring.
ARE YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR MULTIETHNIC RELATIONSHIP?
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR PARTNER'S ETHNIC-CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
I love the richness of all of it. Everything Nigerian (or specifically Yoruba) is colourful, loud and heartfelt. Whether it’s a political debate, a church service, a wedding or someone’s quiet 70th birthday, it’s always loud and lively. I’m not a huge fan of the food admittedly but the traditional outfits are amazing.
DID YOU FIND BIG DIFFERENCES IN THE WAY YOU GREW UP VS. YOUR SPOUSE DUE TO DIFFERENCES IN RACE?
More due to cultural differences rather than race I would say. In Canada, we grew up spending a lot of time outside playing sports, biking around the neighbourhood, exploring nature. In Nigeria, nature is something that you wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend time in given the heat, dangerous animals and mosquitoes so, as a city guy he isn’t the most comfortable ‘in nature’. Lagos, where my husband grew up is a very busy, crowded city so compared to small town Alberta where I grew up it couldn’t be more different. Both of us were well-travelled though when we met so it wasn’t as big a deal as it might sound.
WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING/UNEXPECTED THING YOU'VE LEARNED ABOUT EACH OTHER'S CULTURE?
For me, the level of respect given to elders perhaps wasn’t as expected as it is in reality. I mean, it’s the complexity of it and the outright symbols of respect and pride that features in Nigerian culture that has been a learning curve for me. For my husband, I’m not sure. He couldn’t really answer that one.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
Definitely, “are those all yours?”. Or “Oh mixed kids are the cutest!” I mean, I do think my kids are cute but not just because they’re mixed! And finally comments on my kids skin colour with regards the shades of brown. Positive or not, there’s still so much packed into those types of comments, it makes me really uncomfortable and I would hate for my girls to one day pick up on it.
WHAT ACTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT EACH OF YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
Living in Nigeria for 1.5 years for one! Then living in Canada for six months. The last four years has been a roller coaster for us around the world immersing them in each other's different cultures. It doesn’t get much better than that. But also ensuring they have a close relationship with both sets of grandparents and our extended families is important as well.
HAVE YOUR CHILDREN ASKED ABOUT RACE? AT WHAT AGE?
My oldest notices skin colour and has asked why she doesn’t have blonde hair or white skin.
DO YOUR CHILDREN IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
We have emphasised that they are a mixture of all their different cultures. But if they ask if they are British, we will say yes, if they are Nigerian, we will say yes. So that they know they are one and they are all at the same time.
HOW DO YOU RAISE YOUR CHILDREN TO HONOR DIVERSITY IN OTHERS?
We often point out other mixed families so they can see that it’s normal. I think my kids have a very healthy sense of diversity because of their experiences. Having people in their family with all different skin colours and from so many parts of the world, they know beauty is not skin deep and that they should respect everyone, regardless of how they look.
WHAT UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS DO YOUR CHILDREN HAVE FROM YOU AND YOUR PARTNER?
A love for being creative, music, sports, empathy and a curiosity about the world.
HOW DO YOU PLAN ON TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN TO BE PROUD OF BEING MIXED?
By emphasising every part of their backgrounds and cultures, we hope that they grown up being proud that they are from many different cultures. We don’t shy away from such conversations and being mixed myself, I know what it’s like and feel like I’m ready to talk about it at any moment if they have questions. Something I didn’t really get to do growing up.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR CHILD'S FUTURE IN REGARDS TO RACE?
My dream is that my girls grow up proud of who they are, able to embrace each and every part of themselves, able to slip in and out of their different identities at will and able to use the gifts that being mixed can bring such as an open mind, diplomacy, empathy and globally aware.
I write a mama blog for parents of mixed race kids to explore, inspire and be inspired by others in the community on all things parenting. It has been an amazing journey to be able to write about my own experiences and share it but also to meet so many others who are mixed as well. Visit my blog at www.mixedracefamily.com