DENVER — Growing up multiracial or multicultural can be tough for kids. It can be hard for them to know where they fit in, who will accept them, that they're enough, and a whole person.
“We know that multiracial kids often struggle with the idea of feeling like they don’t fit in, they’re not quite enough of something. Because that’s what they’re hearing from their peers. 'You’re not Black enough. You’re not white enough. You’re not whatever enough,' and kids internalize that as some sort of deficit," said Lynn VanderWielen, a mother of two multiracial children. "They should know that their identity and whomever they are, however they identify, is incredible and beautiful and as parents we need to support that.”
Multiracial kids' developing identities can be complex and a unique experience not everyone understands, even their parents.
“In the beginning, when they were born, there were questions immediately about who they were racially that really surprised me, that I wasn’t expecting," VanderWielen said. “They’re infants, and someone’s demanding me to categorize them."
As a monoracial parent, VanderWielen said she wanted to learn more about multiracial identity development for the sake of her son Hans, who is now 5 years old, and her daughter, Ida, 2. She found there weren't many spaces or resources for multiracial families, so she set out to create one.
"That's really when I started to think about what I needed to do as a mom to understand how I could be a better parent," she said. "There’s complexity to a multiracial identity, and as a monoracial individual, I never understood that.”
Last year, she decided to create an app called Samahra to support parents like her, and their multiracial kids on their identity development journey. It launched last week for Apple users.
“The community of individuals who identify as multiracial is growing, and we need to be more intentional about supporting them and their identities as they grow," she said. "They need to have the confidence, the support to be able to enter into the cultural spaces that are who they are, knowing that they're going to encounter people who feel they're not enough of."
VanderWielen and other multiracial families are often bombarded with questions like "Where did they get that hair from?" and "Is your child adopted?" while their children are listening. For mixed kids, figuring out your own identity can be difficult when everyone's trying to determine what box to put you in.
“Outsiders feel that multiracial individuals will be able to fit in everywhere and it should be really easy to fit in because they have this kind of ambiguous presentation sometimes, physically, to navigate different spaces," VanderWielen said. “But the reality for multiracial adults, that we’ve learned, and that our team members know, is that often what actually ends up happening is you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. So rather than fitting in everywhere, the experience is fitting in nowhere.”
Joycelynn Iriarte-Randall, 15, is on Samahra's youth council. She's been helping to build the app from a mixed teen's perspective and is learning a lot about herself through the process.
"I felt a stronger connection to my identity as mixed than I did before," she said.
Right now, VanderWielen said, the app is meant for parents with children around the ages of 10-15. It has daily readings, reflection questions, group discussions and tips for multiracial families.
"Use a full identity. Never think about your kids as half this, a fourth this, impartial. They are fully all the things that they are," VanderWielen said. “So my kids are Dutch, they are Russian and they are Nigerian. They are all of those things, together as one. They are fully, fully wonderful.”
Eventually, VanderWielen said, they want to develop a version of the app for parents with younger children and a version for teens to use, something Iriarte-Randall is looking forward to.
"I hope a strong mixed community can be built from it. Strong friendships being born from the app," Iriarte-Randall said. “It really just brought me happiness and a sense of, 'I know who I am, where I came from.'"
The app, Samahra, is available in the Apple store. Android users will be able to find the app in the Google Play store in a few weeks.
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