Adopting a child of color catapults women into an experience of scrutinizing and then organizing their lives through a new lens: race. They have never previously seen their whiteness as a socially organizing frame that segregates their public life from those they include in their intimate circle of friends.26 Their status as white women determines their friendships, their cultural activities, and the public spaces they frequent. However, often they have co-workers, supervisors, or clients of another race. They learn the language of diversity in the workplace, which rarely translates into intimate friendships. The women talk about how their time is now consumed with calculating ways to place their child in public places frequented by people of their child’s race and cultural background.27

While finding such public places or cultural activities in the greater Boston area is not difficult, these spaces do not easily provide gateways into intimate circles of people of color because of the mothers’ whiteness. Gina reflected upon how her views of places to swim changed when she considered her daughter’s race:

We go to the public town pool, which if you had asked me ten years ago would I go to a public pool, I was probably a big snob: “Is the water clean?” But actually the public pool is a really nice pool. It is clearly 70, 80 percent black. . . . One day we go there and then one day we go to this private pool in the suburbs that my sister joined that has few people of color.

However, the separate pools of water symbolize, in this case, both racial and social class divides. Gina did not have to talk to anyone at the public pool. She was an invisible overseer of her daughter’s play—a space she occupied that allowed her daughter to be camouflaged with the other kids. She was caught between the white world and the world that her daughter fit into. There was no in-between or mixed world in which both she and her daughter could comfortably exist and be affirmed as a family unit. As she shifted between swimming areas, so did her own comfort level.

Marli also articulated a similar struggle to find both public and intimate com­munities that would affirm both her whiteness and her daughter’s Asian identity. Marli talked about being able to easily find and integrate herself and her child into networks and groups made up of white parents and Chinese kids, but not the Asian community. As the numbers of transracial families in Boston rise, these families band together as a hybrid community.

But how to then create a multicultural, multiracial, white/Asian family, now that seemed like a really daunting challenge. There is this tremendous network of people who have such a family configuration in Boston. So you can be part of that network, which is not the same thing as being part of the Asian community.

While adopted Asian children of white families have a huge network of similar families, the white mothers do not have the personal experience of growing up Asian to rely upon. Similar to religious converts, they learn the culture and lan­guage hoping that authentic members of the local Asian community will accept their child foremost and themselves secondarily. These adopted families some­times hire authentic members of the Asian community to school their children (and themselves) in the cultural knowledge they lack.28 They have to consciously work at creating Asian identities for their children immersed in a white world.

We order the books about China from the adoption places up the kazoo. And then we recently hired someone who comes in to teach the kids Chinese songs.

It’s just Chinese songs so far, and I would say it’s a flop, but it will get better. Aid we try to go to holiday things like something the Children’s Museum puts on, or we go down to Chinatown. I assume that we’re gonna have to do a whole lot more things and I don’t know all of what they are yet.

Rich and complex cultures are reduced to more easily accessible events or experi­ences for themselves and their children. This is not all that dissimilar from the experiences of first – or second-generation children of most ethnic families. Cul­tural knowledge declines and becomes more symbolic; foods, holiday celebra­tion, and some language skills become symbolic reminders of a family’s history.29 Marli was savvy. She offered a complex statement about intersecting ident­ities and where, theoretically, a family that is transracial could find a place. Yet the social world is structured in such a way that the intersections she sought are often absent.

How would you create a multicultural life, affirming of being black and white together? If you were Christian and you go to a Christian black church, and that maybe would work for you. But where would you live? Who would your friends be? Where would you be welcome? Where would your child be welcome?

Her statement points to the structural constraints that women need to overcome if they are to foster not only a multicultural world that celebrates diversity but an intersecting world that embraces overlapping identities.

Mothers who create transracial families search for day care situations that include other children who are of diverse races. Unlike for white parents with white children, racial safety—the tensions that a child feels being a token minor­ity—weighs heavily in their day care decision making.30 They do not want theirs to be the only child of her race or the child who is used to fill a minority quota.

In an ideal world, Patricia explained, she would have friends and a commu­nity life that included African Americans. She lacked this diversity and therefore sought a day care center that would provide ongoing diversity for her daughter. Patricia selected a setting where the majority of children were African American. Her selection of a predominately black day care setting complicated her relation­ship to her daughter, who at age four saw skin color difference between herself and her mother. Her mother repeated what her daughter had recently wished:

I have used the word adoption right from the start. There’s somebody on the Barney show that’s adopted: “Oh, she’s adopted just like you.” I don’t think she fully understands it yet. But interestingly about the race, she’s actually in a day care where there are all children of color. xAnd the majority of teachers are people of color. So she’s pretty much in a daycare world that’s pretty brown. And she came home about two months ago and said to me, “I want you to be brown like me.” On the one hand, I was glad. On the other hand, it’s like right there. So we talk about it. And it comes up—it’s not come up now for a few weeks, but we talked about it and I said, “Mommy’s never gonna be brown like you. We’re different colors.” And she calls me gray, which is fine. And adoption has come up too around that, because she came out of a brown woman’s tummy is how she put it. Also for her, that issue came up very early on, which I was totally surprised it wasn’t the daddy issue: “Where’s my daddy?” The way she seems to have got it is that we don’t have a daddy that lives with us right now. That’s how we say it.

I feel like at this point I’ve been able to answer her questions, what she’s asked.

It’s obviously gonna get more complex as she gets older and I’m trying to be prepared lor that.

Patricia believed her daughter fixated on her racial difference with her mother. Patricia’s strategy to place her child in a school where her daughter was part of the racial majority made Patricia the minority in her daughter’s social life. Patricia’s daughter had access to a racial world of which Patricia was not a part, and the child wished she could change her mother’s race so that they could share this world her daughter loved going to each day. Further complicating this scenario was a home life that included few people of color. Patricia was concerned with how her life and her daughter’s was so segmented—further divided by a working-class day care setting and a more middle-class home life. She worried about the composition of these worlds and how to better align race and social class in their everyday lives.