My name is Emma McMahan. I am Asian, though you wouldn’t know it from my name. McMahan is not an Asian name, but Irish because I was adopted at 8 months from Changsha, Hunan, China. My parents tell me they always wanted to adopt a baby from China, which is how I ended up living in the United States. As soon as I arrived, I became a naturalized citizen.
My parents took me home to a small town called Madisonville, Texas. The population at the time was just over 3,000 people. One might think that growing up in rural Texas as a person of color would be hard, especially since most small towns in Texas have a majority white population. This was not the case for me. Racial discrimination rarely affected me when I lived in Madisonville. In fact, it was when I moved to Houston that I started to experience racial discrimination.
In Madisonville, I remember playing cowboys and Indians with my neighbors and my classmates at school. I always wore my cowboy hat or baseball cap wherever I went. When most people think of cowboys or American farm dwellers, a small, Asian girl does not come to mind. Nonetheless, I wore whatever my parents bought me to wear or what my younger brother Liam wore: jeans, t-shirts, overalls, some kind of hat, and of course, cowboy boots.
My parents do not see me any differently because I am Chinese.
Even though I am racially and ethnically Chinese, I did not grow up with Chinese culture. I never learned Chinese in the home because my parents did not speak Chinese. For supper, my parents cooked me burgers, steak, beef stew, and spaghetti instead of rice or stir fry. My parents raised me in their Irish-American culture with a Texan twist. They did not force Chinese culture in my life because of my skin color. My parents wanted me to feel included in the family just as much as my brother, who is not adopted.
My parents do not see me any differently because I am Chinese. Humorously, my mom often forgets that she adopted me. She tells me, “I always think of you as if I had you myself.” How much more inclusive could she be? My skin color never mattered to her, but she loves me because I am her daughter, regardless of what I look like.
This is where a fine line appears between race and culture. Some people like to comment on how “American” I am when they first get to know me. Race is race, but I’d say culture is much more important. One is not required to be a certain race to practice a certain culture. Racially, I am Chinese. Culturally, I am Irish-American-Texan. This is the beauty of America: you don’t have to be a certain race to practice our culture. My parents were colorblind while raising me, and still are colorblind. They always taught me what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught: never judge based on color. This colorblind approach has always stuck with me. I find racism deplorable because I’ve been taught to love others because of their personhood and character, not their race.
You can’t change race, so why judge others for it? Judgment should always focus on character, not color. This is not to deny racial identity, but to focus instead on what means more. Culture is much more meaningful because culture can be chosen. Race should not define culture, either. While some may argue that race is a big part of culture, this doesn’t have to be the case in America. As an adoptee, I believe that my culture completes my identity more than my race does. My experience as an adoptee has shaped my colorblind attitude. Because my parents love me for my character, I learned to love others for theirs as well.