“Are those kids yours?”

April 20, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council of Edward-Elmhurst Health: We are DRIVEN to create a culture in which all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, physical abilities and socio-economic backgrounds can meet, share, learn and flourish in an accepting environment. By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other. And through better understanding, we can effectively meet the needs of our diverse patients and deliver on our mission.

Not that long ago, people didn’t always think twice before audibly questioning the race or biological relation of someone’s children.

At least, that was the experience of Polly Lleras. Lleras, Internal Communications Manager at Edward-Elmhurst Health, had two young, ethnically-blended children then that didn’t exactly resemble her.

Lleras, fair-skinned and red-haired, married a man from Puerto Rico and her children more closely resembled their dad.

Lleras kids

“To me, they were just these beautiful kids with dark hair, olive-colored skin and brown eyes. I never thought, well gosh, I wish I had some blond children,” Lleras says. “Strangers would ask me, ‘Are those kids yours?’ or ‘Where did they get their dark hair and brown eyes?’

“I would usually let it roll off my back,” Lleras says. “I’d answer, ‘Yes, they are. Their dad is Puerto Rican’ or make a comment like, ‘I’m so jealous of their tan in the summer.’ I wouldn’t be confrontational about it.”

Lleras grew up in a small, central Illinois town she describes as “not very culturally diverse.”

“It took a bit of coaxing to convince my parents of my marital choice, but once the kids came along, they couldn’t stop fussing over them,” she says.

She and her husband divorced when the children were 4 and 7 years old however, so she spent a lot of time out and about with the kids by herself.

“The questions could be off-putting sometimes,” Lleras says. “I was this red-haired, fair-skinned mom toting around these olive-skinned kids. Why was it anyone’s business who they looked like?”

The kids’ ethnicity wasn’t the only topic people asked her about. Her married name, Lleras, also sparked some curiosity.

“Going from my maiden name of Armstrong to Lleras was quite a change. People would ask me, ‘What’s with the double L? How do you pronounce that? Is it Greek?“ Lleras said. “We didn’t really pronounce it correctly. Double L in Spanish is like a y sound, but that would be too hard to explain to people so we just went with Lleras, like Paris. (The question) sort of puts you on the spot.”

Lleras says she regrets that her kids, now 29 and 32, weren’t raised with a better appreciation for their   Puerto Rican heritage. When they got older, they were able to travel to Puerto Rico with their father to meet more of their relatives and get a sense of the culture, which they really enjoyed.

They were also fortunate to attend a diverse high school and grew up accepting cultural and ethnic differences in others.

“I never felt like my kids were discriminated against due to their Puerto Rican roots, but I realize that is not always the case depending on where you grow up.”

Fortunately, times are different now. People are generally more culturally aware and may be more likely to stop and think about their questions of others before asking them.

“There are so many people in mixed-race marriages that you barely even question it anymore,” Lleras says. “I think kids today are much less likely to have prejudice or animosity toward other cultures or anyone who is different from them for any reason. And that’s a good thing.”

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