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Changing perceptions about 'normal' families

In my family, you can always tell whose hair is in the bathroom sink. The brown-gray strands belong to my Caucasian mom and dad, the natural blonde locks come out of my older sister's head, the short, fuzzy black hair belongs to my African-American brother, and the straight, long black hair is mine. I'm Asian.

We do all the things that most middle-class American families do: eat dinner together, argue about who has to do the dishes, celebrate holidays with our extended family, bicker with and tease each other, and love each other unconditionally. We are boringly normal. But because we are so normal, I think our family has been able to change the world around us in small but important ways.

People are often startled when they see us together. Unfortunately, it is still unusual to see three kids of different races squeezed together in the back seat of a car. There are no TV shows or movies showing families like ours. Teachers look confused when my parents come to school conferences, obviously struggling to make the correct parent-student match. Strangers do a double-take when my mom calls my black brother "pumpkin." Ingrained assumptions are the first thing to tumble when people interact with our family.

Being a normal family has given acquaintances, teachers and friends the freedom to explore diversity naturally in a politically correct world. In preschool, I was allowed to bring my newly adopted black baby brother for Show-and-Tell so that the class could feel his fuzzy, nappy hair and look at the bottoms of his hands and feet, which are light pink.

My parents openly discussed the Mongolian spots on my back with my elementary school teachers, who initially thought they were bruises. My sister's friends casually inspect Jeremy's black hair products and my make-up for Asian skin as they munch Doritos and listen to music.

Seeing our family in everyday situations has enabled others to quietly change their perceptions about what is "normal." The pictures lined up on our mantle at Christmas time show my siblings and me sitting on Santa's lap in tacky mom-selected outfits, looking just like the Santa pictures on every mantle in our neighborhood. Our Santa just happens to often be black or Asian. Our family's Christmas tree has always had a mix of white, brown and black angels hanging on its branches. Gradually and without fanfare, the Christmas trees showcased in the homes around us have become integrated as well.

Even my extended family has been deeply changed by who we are. When my grandparents first heard that my parents had decided to adopt an African-American child, they were appalled. In their day, they would never have associated with people from another race. It simply did not occur to them why someone would want to adopt a black child when they could get a white one. My grandmother told my dad that she loved babies but added, "I just can't see myself ever loving him as a grandson."

However, when Jeremy arrived, the racial barriers that my grandparents had grown up with were melted away by the chubby brown baby's warm, toothless smile. Now my grandparents are my brother's staunchest defenders. And yes, I think they like me, too.

Our family has helped others view the blending of different ethnicities as normal. We haven't made any big political statements or lectured anyone on diversity. We don't need to. We just live it. That may be the biggest lesson of all.

Jaime Owen, a 2005 graduate of Bothell High School, will be attending Whitman College in the fall.

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