Five years ago, Ann Tollefson says, her family was stared at.
Nobody was openly hostile, but often enough they'd point to her
children - adopted from China, India, and Vietnam - and ask, "How
much did they cost?"
Today it's a different story. There are more mixed-race families
in America than ever before - even in Mrs. Tollefson's St. Louis
New 2000 Census data show that more than 1 in 6 adopted kids is
of a different race from their parents. And according to new
analysis by William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings
Institution in Washington, about 1 in 15 marriages in the US is
interracial - up from 1 in 23 in 1990.
America "has always, obviously, had people of color," says
adoption expert Adam Pertman. "The bigger notion is that America is
... starting to accept that it is a nation of color. We see that now
not just within cities, but within the family."
Tollefson sees it in her parish. Hers was the only mixed-race
family there when she and her husband first adopted in 1995. Today,
three other families have adopted kids from China, and several more
from Guatemala. It makes a difference, she says: Her kids are happy,
but they seem to relax just a little more when they're around other
"They warm up faster. They're not as clingy. They try new things
more when they're around people who look like us," she says.
And she notices a difference, too, in the way people look at her
family: "People are much more accepting today.... You know the
ripple thing, a drop in the water and the rings go out? It's hard to
find somebody who hasn't been touched by international adoption."
According to the first-ever profile of America's adopted
children, released in a Census report Friday, 1.6 million US
children under 18 are in adoptive families. Of those, 17 percent of
adoptees make their families multiracial, and 13 percent were born
Mr. Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption
Institute, estimates that the number of US adoptions from abroad has
tripled in the past decade.
"When you look at the number of people adopting from Asia, from
Latin America - more than half are adopting from countries where the
kids aren't going to look anything like their parents," he says.
"That's starting to make a difference in the way people think of
families, of inheritance, of nurture versus nature, you name it."
More people are marrying people who don't look anything like
them, as well. But Mr. Frey, who analyzed detailed microsamples of
census data, found that the numbers varied highly from state to
state. In New Mexico, for instance, 16 percent of all marriages were
interracial, whereas in Mississippi it's 2 percent.
"There are two ways of looking at this," Frey says. "One is, it's
gone real fast. And two: It's pretty concentrated in just a few
states.... It's still a pretty small share of all marriages,
especially those involving whites. …