My Mixed Life: Fariba Soetan, Blogger at MixedRaceFamily.com
Talking Louis: Who are you?
Fariba Soetan: My name is Fariba, I'm a working Mama of three mixed race daughters, aged 9, 7 and 5 years old, married to a Nigerian man and living in London, UK. I am of mixed heritage myself, Iranian and English and grew up in Canada. I currently write a blog for parents of mixed race children at https://mixedracefamily.com.
TL: What does your mixed experience look like?
FS: So my mixed experience has been the inspiration behind me wanting to encourage more parents to talk, write about, discuss and tell their stories about being mixed. My parents were immigrants to Canada and didn't have the time or perhaps the space to talk about what it meant to be mixed heritage and the rich diversity of cultures that made up our family.
In some ways, that was just how it was. Mealtimes were always Iranian rice and stew and the house was always overflowing with Iranian relatives and friends speaking Farsi. I didn't grow up appreciating what that meant in terms of who I was and what I was forced to confront at different times in my life. So I knew I wanted to be more intentional about teaching my children about their mixed heritage and racial identities.
TL: You are Iranian and British and grew up in Edmonton, Canada. Your curiosity to explore your mixed race identity blossomed when you went to University. What sparked this curiosity? How did you feel once you learned more about your identity?
FS: Like many others, I guess University and moving away from your parents is often a time when young people step into who they are, embrace different parts of themselves they had perhaps been stifling and experiment with different identities.
For me, I had spent my entire childhood slightly resentful of being 'different' and because I was largely white-passing, I had been able to get away with it. When I went away to University in Montreal, I was able to meet so many different people of so many different backgrounds and that encouraged me to embrace my mixed heritage and to explore it further.
TL: You and your husband are raising three Nigerian/Iranian/English multiracial children in London, England. How are you helping your daughters navigate being mixed race and cultivate positive identities?
FS: We are both really committed, proud parents who love to talk about where we came from and how we grew up. Inevitably, that leads to all sorts of stories about Nigeria and Canada and Iran and the children learn a lot through these conversations.
We're also very purposeful in our attempts to ensure they are surrounded by positive role models and positive images of people who look like them. This manifests in the where we chose to live (London is incredibly diverse), where we send them to school, living nearby family (as much as possible) and the books and media that we consume.
TL: What expectations did you have for your interracial and multicultural marriage? How have your expectations been met or not met?
FS: I didn't appreciate how much one’s own personal upbringing and tradition can become so much more important when you have children. Before my husband and I had children, our cultural differences weren't conflictual, we hardly had to talk about them.
When we had children however, both of us realized how much our own ideas of how to raise children were influenced by our parents and their ways of doing things. This probably happens in all marriages but it is particularly poignant in a mixed marriage where the two perspectives can diverge so strongly.
TL: How did your intercultural and interracial marriage influence the way you and your husband decide to raise your children?
FS: Our different identities are both incredibly important to both of us and so we both knew that teaching our children about where they came from, their history, their relatives - effectively their stories - would be an important aspect to raising our children.
That means ensuring that traditions, festivals, and holidays are often richer because we both come with a different perspective. We try, though, to ensure we compliment each other in our teaching as much as possible.
TL: What insights can you share about your experiences raising mixed race children? What have been the biggest lessons?
FS: The biggest lessons for me have been how nuanced identity can be. That just because we as a society thinks we've moved on from seeing race, colour and diversity, it doesn't mean that is so. I think it's even more important now to start talking about difference, about race, acknowledging that our children, our friends and our colleagues who are people of colour may have a different experience to us and that they deserve to be heard.
I hope that by the time my children grow up, speaking and learning about being mixed heritage, and about embracing true diversity will be part of the curriculum and that people will be comfortable discussing these things out in the open.
TL: How are you laying the groundwork to help your children understand the various cultures they are a part of? How do you go about incorporating these cultures into your everyday life, and during the holidays?
FS: We talk about race and culture - a LOT. My children are 100% comfortable in knowing who they are and where their parents and grandparents are from. We knew that emphasizing those positive aspects is important for them to feel pride in themselves and to want to know more for themselves.
We read books about mixed race families about Nigeria and about African families. Their grandparents have started teaching them Yoruba at different times and we do try to take them to different festivals where we can. We live nearby my husband's family in London and so the Nigerian side is emphasized a lot and I try to take the kids to Canada to see my family as much as we can.
TL: You and your family have spent time living in Nigeria. How did your family’s experiences and interactions living in England differ from living in Nigeria?
FS: Living in Nigeria for two years was probably the best experience our mixed family could have asked for. Mostly because it gave me so much insight into my husband's upbringing and how he thinks.
It was also so refreshing for my daughters to experience a society where skin colour was not an issue - at least not for them. London offers us more of that diversity but I would love to go back to Nigeria for regular visits so the girls can experience it first-hand and be comfortable navigating around Lagos.
TL: Because we’re a small press, we have to ask: What’s the one book you always recommend to people?
FS: My favourite adult book has got to be Half of a Yellow Sun or Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and a favourite children's book is either The Name Jar by Jangsook Choi (a book about a girl who moves to America from Korea and learns to embrace and be proud of her name) or we really like any of the curly hair books such as Kechi's Hair Goes Every Which Way by Tola Okugwu.
Thanks, Fariba, for sharing your mixed experience with us!