3 things we say when our immigrant children express fear about Trump

"Mommy," a small voice said from the back of the van. "Um, I was talking with [two Hispanic classmates] at recess, and they're scared about what will happen if that Trump guy becomes president."

"Oh," I said, totally as filler to give myself a moment to think. "Why's that?"

"Well," she paused. "They say he wants to send some of their family back to Mexico."

I waited, giving her space to say what I knew she needed to say. Surprisingly, the rest of our kids held space too. They all seemed to be willing her to ask the question, as they waited for my answer.

"If he becomes president, will me and Philip and Patricia and Zoe have to leave the country?"

I'm glad I was driving. If she had seen the anger in my eyes, she might have thought she had done something wrong. I wasn't angry with her, though. I was furious that the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric by a leading political candidate had made my girl question her place in our family and country.

(Lest you argue that maybe her friends' family members weren't here legally, please know that I've heard from dozens of adoptive families whose children are asking the same questions. Some have been told outright on the playground that they'll have to move back to their birth countries if Trump is elected. These incidents have been on the rise throughout his candidacy. His rhetoric is emboldening hateful language from others. Our kids are seeing it. Feel free to discuss the issues here, but our children's real experiences aren't up for debate.)

Some people don't think of our kids as immigrants. But, trust me, they are. We know the paperwork. We've filed documents and paid thousands of dollars to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department of Homeland Security. We can share stories of the first moments each of our children by adoption spent on US soil. They know too.

After all, this is our family - hailing from the US, Taiwan, and Uganda - while we were still living on African soil:

So what do I say when these questions come? After helping them name the emotion and validating it with empathy - "Wow. It sounds like you might be scared and curious about what you heard. I'm so sorry you're feeling that way, and I'm so glad you told me." - here are the three truths we stress:

1. Our government system involves checks and balances so no one branch can make unilateral action on immigration.

2. You are now American citizens so you are treated as such under the law, even though you weren't born here.

3. If all else failed and you had to leave this country, we would ALL leave, because we're a family and we're in this together.

Our kids need to hear the truth about our government system, the truth about their legal status, and the truth about their standing in our family. We came back to these truths when one of our children had "go back to Africa!" screamed at her by a group of classmates on the playground this past spring. And we returned to them again recently when they overheard something on the news while at a friend's house.

Immigration isn't just a political issue. It's a personal one. Whenever you're tempted to lump one group of people together - either lauded in praise or burned in effigy - pause. Because it's hard to love a group, but it's much easier to love a person.

And if your kids are asking questions, pause then too. Listen. Help them name their emotions. Validate them. Offer empathy. And then affirm the truths of the situation in a way that answers their questions without dismissing their real feelings.

my past and present are sometimes at tension. that's okay. #takeitdown

Some ancestors on my mom's side arrived in this country around 1620.

All of them I can trace were white, though (like many families) we have rumors of some Native American ancestry somewhere (and like many white families, those rumors are probably bogus).

As well established and well-to-do land owners, many of them owned slaves.

I know some of those ancestors fought as part of the confederacy, following articles of secession that explicitly argued for three of my children to be considered property instead of people.

If my grandmother was right, I'm somehow related to Jefferson Davis on her side of the family.

My dad is a history buff who participates in reenactments of multiple time periods, including as a Confederate solider (though he's pictured below attired as a Quartermaster Sergeant from the 2nd Seminole War, circa 1837).

photo by Mark Rodriguez

Almost every member of my family can look back on most periods of history as "good ol' days" even if they were times in which my multiracial family wouldn't have been tolerated.

Before he retired, my daddy ran the jail system as a major in our county's sheriff's office and served at one point as the president of the American Jail Association.

And I'm the mother of black, white, and Asian children.

My past and present are messy and sometimes at tension with each other. Yours probably are too, albeit in different ways.

I've been blogging and posting elsewhere lately about the conversations we need to be having about race and progress and privilege. As we have these conversations, we don't have to hide our histories and deny the tensions therein. No, let's pull it all out of the shadows and into the light. Let's all bring our collective lived experiences to the table, joining together in the kind of beautiful harmony or tapestry that can only exist when diverse members intermix.

As we do, perhaps our grip on our own histories might loosen as we realize the other side of that experience. Mine certainly has, which is why I - as a descendant of those who raised the Confederate battle flag - join with the voices calling for it to be taken down and only displayed in museums with other relics of yesteryear.