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All in the (mixed-race) family: a US trend

Data show a significant rise in mixed-race families due to interracial marriages and multiracial adoptions.

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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 suburb.

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 mixed-race families.

"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 abroad.

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