What Does Being of Color Have to Do With Being a Marketer and a Mom?

I was tired of listening. I needed action

woman with microphone
Unlike before, I expressed how I wanted to be communicated with and how I did not want to be communicated with. Illustration: Amira Lin; Source: Pixabay

When people identify or assign a term like person of color, it makes me feel like I have an identity crisis.

I’m a mom who happens to be a mom of color but who never refers to herself in that way and, frankly, doesn’t really see what being of color has to do with being a mom. It’s hard enough balancing life working from home with three children under 5 years old, let alone letting color affect that perspective.

Perhaps I’m fortunate. The closest interaction I ever had with feeling like a person of color was when a former Caucasian employer in my earlier days sent me an email on a Saturday morning to go into the office early and clean his office chair. Needless to say, I didn’t stay with that employer very long or address the email he sent me. In retrospect, I realize now that by not engaging with him, I was perpetuating another stereotype of an obedient, passive, Asian female—which, by the way, is not what I am.

It's hard enough balancing life working from home with three children under the age of five, let alone letting color affect that perspective.

Growing up, I was taught to respect my elders, work hard for what I wanted to accomplish and listen. We were fortunate enough to live in metropolitan and diverse cities where we rarely had layered or meaningful conversations related to any kind of discrimination or the topic of systemic racism. It wasn’t until I continued to pursue my career in advertising, moved to Colorado for a few years and became a mother that I came to realize I was usually the only Asian person or one of few in the room—which never bothered me or deeply affected me until recently. I found myself doing more listening than talking, in group meetings, in one-on-one settings, in general and in the process, losing my voice.

It wasn’t until my now almost 4-month-old son had a monthlong stay at the hospital that I found it again. I thank him for fighting in times of uncertainty and for helping me find my voice. Lucas’ arrival on March 10 was quite an emotional rollercoaster. He was born during the coronavirus pandemic. We couldn’t wait to bring him home to start our new chapter as a family of five. Three weeks later, our world would turn upside down. It started late one night when we noticed something off about the way Lucas’ arm moved. Thanks to the swift action of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital medical team and unsung heroes along the way, he was admitted that day into the pediatric intensive care unit, diagnosed with late onset Group B strep meningitis.

The first week in the hospital was completely overwhelming, to say the least. Several doctors, specialists and nurses came into the PICU room every hour giving me updates and telling me what to expect. We were terrified, but we asked many clarifying questions, demanded second opinions and went into autopilot mode to focus on advocating for Lucas. In some ways, being a mom of color unintentionally affected the way I spoke with the team those first couple of days when I was still in shock that we were there and felt like I had to be polite rather than firm. I found myself apologizing for asking questions and then changed my tone and started to ask more questions. It wasn’t until we got over the initial hump—my son graduating from the PICU to an acute care room—that I expressed how I wanted to be communicated with and how I did not want to be communicated with.

We needed more time, and we never stopped believing that Lucas would fight through this and prove the doctors and supposed statistics wrong, so I advocated for him. I challenged what the doctors said. I told them my son was not a statistic. I asked for clarity, and I asked for more support in communicating with me three weeks postpartum. My husband couldn’t be there because they had a one-parent-only policy. I was terrified but kept pushing. I went into autopilot for a month to be his voice at the hospital every day. We finally came home a month later, and I left with a sense of new purpose. My son, who some doctors said may be severely developmentally delayed, is at home thriving because I wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and speak up anymore.

This change in mindset helped me reset my approach to marketing and working as well. I made an intentional pivot to channel my energy into what mattered—dedicating blocks of time for my family, finding a way to balance a heavy workload, speaking up and showing up more in meetings. By showing up, I mean disagreeing, expressing my opinion and strengthening my point of view. Funny enough, it has given me new opportunities to meet other team members and work on other projects I never would have known about otherwise.

I was tired of listening. I needed action. Now that I’m working from home trying to make sense of the new normal along with our other two kids and alternating schedules with my husband, I will continue to advocate for all moms (without needing to say moms “of color”) who could use some mental support in dealing with incredibly stressful situations and coming out better on the other side.

For parents who may be experiencing similar hardships, know there are better days ahead and their voice matters. Be curious, ask questions, have hope, trust your instincts. Although there may be some setbacks, people have an incredible ability to rise up and bounce back.

Emmeline Toyama is a working mother of three and a product marketer.