Originally created 01/25/00

Teens from mixed marriages can be troubled with identity problems



Identity is important to everyone -- especially when you're a teen-ager.

Who you are and where you come from can be deciding factors in who you hang out with and who you date.

So what are the challenges for teens from interracial marriages? If your dad is black and your mom white, does one race identify you more than the other? Should you date a black person or someone who's white? Or does it really matter?

The number of interracial marriages has increased from 149,000 in 1960 to more than 1.4 million in 1990.

Although the overall number remains small in comparison with the total number of marriages, it means there are more young people from these unions.

For Nataly Machado, 16, a sophomore at Evans High School, the biggest challenge has less to do with her skin or hair color than the centuries of tradition broken when her Korean mother wed her Brazilian father.

With translucent skin and auburn hair, the slightly Asian slope of Nataly's brown eyes is the only indication of her mixed heritage.

She said she's never experienced any "weirdness" about her race.

"I haven't found anybody who's racially against me. I kind of blend in -- you can't really tell unless you know me," she said.

Problems for Nataly arise when it comes to dating and dealing with other cultural norms among teens.

"My dad is more laid back and my mom is more strict," she said.

Her mother, Misook Jun Machado, was raised in a traditional Korean household. Although she admits marrying out of her race was rebellious, she still finds it difficult raising an American teen.

"If you cross a certain line, she can't understand," Nataly explained.

In Korea, young women and men attend segregated schools and young people are taught to "worship their parents like gods," said Mrs. Machado. Usually, girls are allowed to date when they're 18. Mrs. Machado didn't date until she was 23.

"I want to be an open-minded person, but it's hard," she said.

Dating also has been a problem for NaTashia Evans, 16, whose father is black and mother is white.

She said problems about her ethnicity stem more from adults and their reaction than that of her peers.

"For the most part, the people at my public school are cool with it. The parents are a different thing," said the Jefferson County High School sophomore.

NaTashia, who has dated both black and white guys, recently broke up with a boyfriend who was white after they decided it was too stressful to maintain the relationship.

"His parents were opposed to it and were worried about how others would treat us," she said.

She tried to explain to her ex-boyfriend that "if you peeled me and you peeled any other girl at our school, you'd have the same thing," but they still broke up.

As for her parents, NaTashia's father told her he wouldn't care if she brought home someone who was "polka dot" as long as he treats her well and makes her happy.

Adair Blackwood, child/adolescent psychiatrist at Brightmore Outpatient Services, said one of the main problems for children of interracial marriages is identity.

"A lot of the time they identify more with one ethnicity than the other," he said.

Not true for NaTashia, who embraces all sides of her heritage.

"I'm Scottish, Irish and African-American. I consider myself 100 percent of each," she said.

"I guess it's another category -- they just haven't come up with a name for it."

When it comes to filling out forms and applications, both Nataly and NaTashia are sometimes faced with a dilemma. If there's no space for biracial or multiracial, they check "other."

Both teens said they are optimistic about their generation, which they said is more accepting of diversity.

"We know what it's like to have limits set on us and we're not going to do that to our own kids," said NaTashia.

Reach Margaret Weston at (706) 823-3340 ormweston@augustachronicle.com.