However, my father, relatives, and the family’s minister all worked at convincing my mother that north-suburban Chicago was not ready for a biracial family, and that it would be an emotional hardship on my brothers, and on Rebecca as well, to be raised in such a hostile environment. After much agonizing and a split with her church, my mother conceded, and Rebecca was sent back to the adoption agency.
My parents never learned where Rebecca was eventually placed, perhaps with a black family that didn’t see a problem with raising a half-white child. I suppose I should be thankful things played out the way they did because a year and a half later my parents adopted me (though half Italian), and I lived the privileged childhood that should have been Rebecca’s. I suspect it was with some measure of repentance that my mother went on to become a prominent civil rights activist in our corner of the world, making news when she organized protests of a segregated housing development, and marching among legions of activists led by Martin Luther King Jr. between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.
Surely Rebecca’s fate would have been different had our family’s saga played out today.
I remember the first time I saw an Asian person, I hid behind my mother’s skirt. Fast forward to a recent happy hour I attended with my circuit training classmates where 13 of the 14 guests were either first – or second – generation Americans. It was like a mini United Nations with representatives of Mexico, India, China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Congo, Sweden, and the Philippines around the table. Listening to everyone’s story had me both humbled by our differences, and heartened by our commonalities-we each seek to meet the same basic needs: food, shelter, purpose and connection.
A viral post on Facebook after the Gabby Gifford’s assassination attempt said it best: “This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20 year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African-American President.”
Not to mess with anyone’s world view, but the world Rebecca would have lived in today is a whole lot smaller than even Walt Disney could have imagined. America continues to experience a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage, and many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity; call them “Generation All of the Above.” If you don’t know anyone from this generation yet, you will. As with the lesbian and gay rights’ movement, the closer to home our nation’s diversity gets, the harder it will be to condemn those who are different.
Had Rebecca stayed put in 1960, my family would not have fit into the neat category of “white family.” Today as the races blend and we inch closer to transcending race and age-old divisions, Rebecca would have certainly been a most welcome addition to our family, and my mother’s heart would still be intact.