Lessons Learned from Multicultural Jewish Asian Families

What does it mean to be Jewish and Asian? Amidst the complex conversations about race in America comes JewAsian, a groundbreaking book that explores Jewish Asian identity. What have authors and parent Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt learned about JewAsian multicultural identity? What lessons can parents learn? What might the Jewish community do to welcome JewAsians? Team Be’chol Lashon talked to the husband/wife team to find out!

BL: What drove you to write this book?

Helen Kim: We wrote this book in large part because we were seeing couples like us where one partner who was Jewish in a cultural or/and religious sense and another partner who was racially Asian and  of a different ethnic or cultural background. We were curious if there was hard and fast statistical data so we went searching and asked lots of people who had lots of interest in social studies data about intermarriage but there was really nothing quantitative or qualitative about racial composition. Nothing on multicultural Jewish families. This was back in 1997, but everyone said you have to talk with Gary and Diane Tobin of the IJCR and Be’chol Lashon. They encouraged us to look into it.

Noah Leavitt: It was also personal. Around the same time Helen and I were beginning to talk about having kids and wanted to raise them in a way that would help them appreciate all the kinds of heritages and traditions that they were born into. There was also some desperate new parent anxiety, wondering how can we as parents be attentive and respectful to give them confidence and understanding of who they are. Our son was born was the same time when we made the commitment to do this project.

BL: What advice do you have for parents in Jewish Asian multicultural families?

Helen Kim: Based on what we studied, how to do and pass on Jewish and Judaism is a lot clearer than how to do Asian.  That  is not to say that for the couples or adult kids there is not a sense of the Asian ethnic identity. As a generalized finding, the question of how to do the Asian identity is weaker. In my own life, I find myself bumping up against that. As a second generation Korean American, I grew up with parents who wanted me to assimilate as much as possible. I’m comfortable to discuss race but my kids would not have a clear answer about what it means to be Korean. Parents in multicultural families should be open to exploring and talking about Asian identity investigating the meaning and history of Asian identity.