- IMANI AND SAGE YOUNGBLOOD
Family is Everything: A Black Filipino Love Story and Reflection on Raising Multiracial Children
As Black Filipinx embodying disparate cultures, we're constantly reflecting on the impact of race, class, and gender dynamics on our identity. That's our reality. But what about our parents? There's no rulebook for being a parent, especially for parents of multiracial children. Naturally, we made assumptions about their approach to raising Black and Filipinx children based on our observations and experiences.
With a list of questions in hand, we sat down with our parents, Dennis and Susan Youngblood, to understand their perspective on intersectionality with a mixed family, specifically within a Black and Filipino household. The insights we gained from the conversation were predictable and surprising and helped us deepen our understanding of our family.
You dated for two weeks before getting engaged, did you have discussions around raising a Black/Filipino family?
Dennis Youngblood: I'm not gonna lie, I don't remember having any. Or even conversations about the potential for y'all. What was in my mind was I hit the jackpot here! I can't mess this up. I don't recall thinking anything, except this is too good to be true. She was a hell of a nurse. Your mom carried herself with such grace and dignity, and I was so impressed by that. Ride or die.
However, as we were planning our wedding, we established that we wanted kids. At the time, Susan’s daughter was still living in the Philippines with her grandparents. Man, I was selfish and thought it wasn’t a good idea for her to move here, but I soon realized that I was wrong, and I had to work through some stuff in my head. I messed that up, but then Uncle Sam got in the way.
Now, in terms of raising Black Filipino children? I didn't give it a lot of thought because I thought the strength of our love, our personalities, and our character would overcome any problems. I think I should have thought about it more, but I didn't even know enough to think about it. And you have to remember, when your mother and I got together, there weren't a whole bunch of mixed race couples— even in California. There weren't a bunch of couples that we could actually go to for perspective and advice. We just didn't know enough to ask about it.
Susan Youngblood: So it’s a very interesting love story, okay? I was working the night shift, and Dennis was on call. Our mutual friend Dr. Mitchell already told me a little bit about him, and he had told Dennis about me. That night, we just started talking for hours, my God. About everything except for work. We talked so much I had to remind him to finish all of his notes in preparation for the grand rounds in the morning.
Our discussions didn’t have anything to do with raising a Black Filipino family. Only about my expectations of raising a family and being married, in general. Raising a family and being married, to be honest with you, comes with a lot of heartaches and frustrations. It is not what I had envisioned. Dennis was gone a lot of the time, and I wish that he would have been there more. I wish that his presence would have been there for you all. Those were my only expectations. I didn't have any concern about raising Black/Filipino children because I was confident enough to make this work.
What is your relationship with your spouse’s culture?
Dennis Youngblood: My relationship with Filipino culture feels greater than mine with American culture. I’ve always felt like Filipino culture is more aligned with my Black culture than American culture as a whole. United States, white American Culture. Had I never met this woman, had I never been more involved with her rich culture, I may not have seen the similarities and struggles Filipinos have had to deal with.
Throughout the course of our marriage, my wife, your mother has been very adamant about making darn sure if there's any question about number one, whether I was in the military or not – because people automatically assumed that I picked her up in one of the bars in the Philippines – and number two, she wants to make it very clear we met here in the US, not in the Philippines. And number three, she is a naturalized citizen of the United States. And that had nothing to do with me. It is because of papang. Her father was already here. She didn't get nothing from me in terms of citizenship, you know, and that was important to her because she knows what that looks like. What people say about Filipinos,
What was your initial perception of Americans before you moved to the States? How has that changed?
Susan Youngblood: I thought that all Americans are rich. I never knew about homelessness. Maybe I wasn't a wide reader, I don't know. I wasn’t paying attention to the news. But, you know, growing up, I thought they all smelled good and that they all had nice houses. That was my perception.
So when I get to LA — because, you know, my color has always been an issue in the Philippines — I would wear my umbrella all the time outside. I didn't want to get darker because kids used to call me Negrita. But, my co-workers kept telling me that people in the United States pay a lot of money to be my color. I didn't know that! So I said from now on, no more umbrellas. That's lesson number one.
Number two. In the United States, you have to struggle. You have to work in order for you to survive. Your food? You need to buy everything. In the Philippines, you have your backyard over there, okay? You grow your vegetables in the backyard. All you need is a little money to go and buy your meat and your fish. Over here, you buy everything. It's kind of like survival of the fittest if that makes sense.
And the last lesson is about racism. I have a very good example in Dallas. It was the Tom Thumb shopping area by our house. They have a jewelry store over there and it’s locked all the time. Even the staff have to press a button in order for you to enter. So there's two white ladies on the floor, they have a complimentary glass of champagne for guests. Did they offer me water? No. When I walked in there, nobody entertained me. I had to ask someone to assist me. They didn't know how much money I have in my pocket. And it made me feel so angry that I will never ever forget that. Never.
Do you perceive your children as more Filipino American, Black American, or both? And has that changed over the years?
Dennis Youngblood: When you were growing up, from your birth to about 14 years old, I perceived you all to be more Filipino than Black. The influence of your maternal grandparents and of your Filipino cousins were greater than the influence of your African-American cousins. We didn't really see them as much.
After that, and especially when you went off to college, you all went in the completely opposite direction, more Black. You attended BLM protests and were more outspoken in conversations and online, pertaining to the Black experience.
Subsequent to college, you all were navigating those two worlds a little easier because of these life experiences. You're able to articulate things clearer. You’ve had to navigate anti-Blackness in Filipino communities. But you also have to deal with racial imposter syndrome in Black communities. Despite these adversities, I think you all have stood up for yourselves as Black-Filipinas.
Susan Youngblood: To me, personally, it is both because you are in a house where you eat Filipino food one day and then the next day, you eat gumbo. I think it's in the middle. If I can say 55% for Filipino, it’s only because you were exposed to them for more birthdays and holidays.
What is your advice to parents who have Black Filipino children?
Dennis Youngblood: Number one. You're raising Black Filipino children, so teach them Tagalog early. Insist upon it. I tried early, and then your mother and I got busy chasing this American dream, just trying to make sure you all went to school on time and stuff like that. We really didn't push it enough. That's my big regret.
Number two. Expose them to as much Filipino culture and Black culture as possible. But, instill in them the importance of identifying themselves as mixed. You know, your mother was very insulted when I said you all were “Black children.” You are mixed. You bring an equal amount of Filipino and Black to the table, and I'm very proud of that. Don’t say Filipino or Black exclusively. I don't think it's fair to the other party. It is who you are and be proud of it.
Susan Youngblood: Values, that's number one. It’s important to instill that early on in their formative years. Some parents let their children call them by their first names. Bizarre! People always get so surprised when they find out that my girls call me “mommy.” What else would they call me? I know that I taught you to address older people with respect.
Next, let someone know what you are thinking rather than keep it to yourself. You know, I did that a lot, but I shouldn’t have kept everything to myself. If you are ashamed or afraid of talking about certain things, make sure that you tell it to somebody else. Maybe your friend or your family. You know what I used to do? I went to church. I didn’t have to attend Mass, but I would just go there and speak to God. I go there and talk openly.
Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be a church, you can be on a rooftop. Just talk openly to God because I truly believe that God is everything to me. Whether you believe it or not, he answered a lot of my prayers. I still didn't win the lottery, but that's because I didn't even pray for it. I'm just kidding.
But when you do pray, tell him what you're feeling. What's going on? What's hurting you? Please guide me. That's the word, guide me.