​​​​​​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!

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Laverne Cox in 2016.

When kids are growing up they love to see themselves in the dolls and action figures. It adds a special little spark to a shopping trip when you hear your child say “it looks just like me.” The beaming smile and joy that exudes from their little faces in that moment is something parents cherish, and Mattel is one manufacturer that has been at the forefront of making that happen. It has created Barbies with freckles, afro puffs, wheelchairs, cochlear implants and more. The company has taken another step toward representation with its first transgender doll.

Laverne Cox, openly transgender Emmy award winning actor and LGBTQ activist, is celebrating her 50th birthday May 29, and Mattel is honoring her with her very own Barbie doll. The doll designed to represent Cox is donned in a red ball gown with a silver bodysuit. It also has accessories like high heels and jewelry to complete the look. Cox told Today, “It’s been a dream for years to work with Barbie to create my own doll.” She continued, “I can’t wait for fans to find my doll on shelves and have the opportunity to add a Barbie doll modeled after a transgender person to their collection.”

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.