'She Just Knows She's Different'

Alissa Hill, a 38-year old sexual assault case manager in San Antonio, Texas, is the mother of two daughters. The Hills, who identify as African American, live in a largely Latino and white area of San Antonio. In fact, one of the daughters, 5-year-old Alexa, is the only African American child in her preschool class. That, Alissa says, has led to many thought-provoking conversations.

"Soon after she started going to her preschool, she would come home every day and say things like, 'Mom, why am I darker than the other kids?'" Alissa says. "This was new to me, because in Illinois where we lived before, Alexa was able to identify with people who looked like her. I think this was the first time she had to experience being the only one."

Alissa says she was careful to answer Alexa's questions in a positive way, highlighting the good things about being different.

"I told her, 'God makes all types of different people, and all of us are very special. There will be many times when you'll be different from other people around you - you might be the only girl playing with the boys or you might be the only kid around who likes to eat a certain food,'" Alissa says. "I let her know there's nothing wrong with being different, and it doesn't make you any better than or less than the next person."

Alissa says she doesn't believe Alexa has ever been made to feel isolated as the only African American girl in her class. "She just knows she's different," she says. Alissa, the daughter of a Korean mother and African American father, recalls experiencing similar feelings during her own childhood.

"It was hard for me growing up as part of two different minority races," she said. "Sometimes, even when I was as young as Alexa ... I felt embarrassed about my mother, because she didn't look like or speak like anyone else at my school. I didn't want people to see she was my mother because I thought they would laugh at me."

That experience, Alissa says, has influenced the way she talks to her children about diversity.

"I never want my children to be ashamed of what they look like or where they come from," she explains. So when her daughters ask questions - "Why am I darker?" or "Why do I look different?" - Alissa provides both an answer and an affirmation. "I explain why being darker and different is beautiful and something they should be proud of."

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