​​​​​​This story was originally published on The Mash-Up Americans.

Kids are back in school, and that means the season of awkward questions is upon our Mash-Up families.

We may be accustomed to snotty questions like “Where are you from?” and “What are you?” but as parents, how do we best prepare our kids for the same?


How do we have the awkward conversation about race and ethnicity? What do we tell our kid when they say to us that so-and-so said they were only half?

Well, we call in the experts. Sonia Smith-Kang, a black-Mexican-American Mash-Up Mom, multiracial advocate, and co-founder of Mixed Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, shares her tips for helping Mash-Up kids navigate the weirdness of school.

Pro tip: You never need to pick just one.

I am the proud Mash-Up of military parents: a Mexican mama and black dad. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Hawaii, then eventually moved to California.

During the height of the Valley Girl '80s, in a school of blue eyes, feathered blond hair a la Farrah Fawcett, OP shorts, Vans, and Ooh La La Sasson, I was the curly (read frizzy) haired, brown-eyed, Jordache knock-off Mash-Up tween who didn’t fit in among other teenagers who had no idea what to make of me. Let’s just say “Blaxican” was not a popular term back then.

My own family has gotten even mashier. I married a Korean man, and my black-Mexican-Korean-American kids are now in high school and middle school.

The Smith-Kang family/Sonia Smith-Kang.

I’ve never wanted my kids to feel like I did, so we have what I call The Mash-Up Talk. It’s when we talk about all the awkward questions that other kids (and grown-ups!) ask us about who and what we are.

As a mixed-race family, we know these questions will come up. It’s just a matter of when. For us, this talk falls into the birds and the bees and the heavy "driving while brown" category. It’s part and parcel of our life.

My biggest piece of advice: Kids may not always come to you when uncomfortable situations come up at school. So be proactive and compassionate about the issues that may arise. Here are the most common questions that my kids have and have faced from others, and how I respond.

When kids ask them "What are you?"

My middle-schooler said she made it halfway through the first day of school before IT happened. By now, she’s a seasoned pro at responding to this question. Her answer: I am my mom, who is Mexican and black, and my appa, or dad, who is Korean. Ultimately, I want her to know that it’s OK however she identifies, and she only has to identify herself if she wants to.

Questions like these are a good opportunity to introduce your kid to Dr. Maria Root’s “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.” My favorites:

I have the right...

...to create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multiethnic.

...to change my identity over my lifetime — and more than once.

When kids ask them "Where are you really from?"

Reassure your kid that they are from here, and that people who ask that question are just trying figure that out because being from here means you can look many different ways and speak many different languages.

Also, make sure your kids know that if they feel uncomfortable at any time, they can say “I don’t want to talk about this any more” and move on. They don’t owe people an explanation, and they’re not responsible for making other kids comfortable with them.

Image via iStock.

When kids ask them "What are you more of?"

As a grown woman, I still get this question, so it’s not surprising that my mixed kids do, as well. My daughter says questions like that make her feel like she has to choose between her appa and me. I remind her that she never needs to choose. Tell your kids that you don’t have to choose one over the other.

When your kids ask you "What box do I check?"

We want our Mini Mash-Ups to know and feel that they are whole. Unfortunately, so many of our official forms and documentation require you to “pick one.”

First, I tell her nobody will upset if she chooses one identity over the other if she has to. Second, I tell her what I’ve done — choosing “other,” checking one box then writing in more identities in the margins, or not filling out anything at all. Finally, I tell her that someday soon, the papers will eventually catch up to our family!

When your kids ask you "What do I do when someone makes a racist joke?"

This is a peculiarly Mash-Up challenge, for kids and adults alike: Being Mash-Up and being mixed-race often means that somebody is making off-color (ahem) jokes about your culture, and they may not even know it. You’re an outsider on the inside. Then, when you call someone out on an offensive joke made at the expense of one of your tribes, they turn around and say something along the lines of “but you’re not even full (aka 'real') Asian/black/Jewish/Latino/fill in the blank.”

I remind my kids that they are whole people and that it is OK to be wholly offended by a mean joke. Also, racist jokes are hurtful to everybody, not just to the person or culture that is being made fun of. It takes a lot of strength to stand ​up to a bully, and they are being strong and kind for doing it. A lot of adults could learn from them!

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Emily Vondy's mom fail.

Sometimes, we have to just laugh at our failures.

“Here’s a little story to allow all the moms of littles out there to maybe feel a little better about yourself,” Emily Vondy told her 1.3 million TikTok followers.

In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.

Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

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Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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