“What are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“What kind of Asian are you?”
I get these questions quite often. From the Korean student I sat next to in my classes last semester, to the Caucasian guy with the very obvious Asian fetish during my 2-day-long stint on Tinder, to the fellow traveler I talked to in a hostel in Copenhagen…
I find that people are not quite sure what to make of me when they first meet me. I used to wear my identity as a half-Chinese, half-white person on my sleeve. It was my “fun fact” when we were being introduced in elementary school at the beginning of the year, and I was so proud of it. I thought it was so cool, probably because I rarely met anyone like me growing up. As I’ve gotten older, I still hold quite a bit of pride in my biracial identity, but I’ve held back because I’ve started to realize just how much a part of me it is and, at the same time, have realized how little I understand what it means.
Growing up, my best friends were Korean, and we weren’t allowed to have sleepovers as often as we would’ve liked to. I ate Dino chicken nuggets with chopsticks. During summers, my mom would order math workbooks online, and I would be hysterical for hours because I didn’t want to do math problems when I could be playing dress-up in the Disney Swan Lake princess outfit I begged my parents to buy for me.
I was raised in a mixture of cultures, and it was normal and comfortable until I started to live outside of my home more than I lived in it. Don’t even get me started on what it’s like to fill out bubble forms asking for my race. Am I Asian? White/non-Hispanic? Asian-American? Which half of myself do I feel like identifying with today? Which half am I allowed to own? Am I abandoning one half of my identity when I embrace the other? Do I have to pick just one? How do I justify my choice? What do I need to prove?
When we talk about representation in media and film for minorities, I think often, biracial and multiracial people who identify with all of their parts find it difficult to find someone just like them on a TV, movie screen, or a magazine. I got so excited while watching “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” when I found out that Lara Jean, Kitty, and Margot were half-Korean. Casting two actual hapas – half-Asian, half-white – actresses as hapa characters was also a meaningful choice for a biracial person like myself. Fictional characters like Lara Jean Covey and real-life princess Meghan Markle are so important when it comes to representation for bi and multiracial people in popular media.
But often, identity for us gets overlooked, erased, or even criticized. Barack Obama is biracial, a fact that got glossed over so frequently, I only realized it after he ran for his second term. When Colin Kaepernick, ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback, chose to protest the national anthem for the rights of minorities in America, an NBC sports analyst criticized him by saying “he’s not black” when, in fact, Kaepernick’s biological parentage is half-black and half-white.
It’s difficult for me, as a biracial person, to feel 100% comfortable in my own skin when my identity changes constantly based on context. When I hang out with my white friends, I am half-Asian. But when I hang out with my Asian friends, I am half-white. I barely know how to define myself, and when context decides for me, it just gets more and more confusing.
It’s not easy to pick just one half of myself, and frankly, I’m not sure those who identify as biracial should be asked to. It is okay to be both at the same time. Asking biracial and multiracial peoples to check only one box is a form of identity erasure. Only acknowledging one half of my heritage is denying me of my whole identity.
For those of you reading this who feel the same, I say this:
You are valid.
You are whole.
You can be both of your halves.
You don’t just have to pick one and don’t let others make you feel as if you have to.
Find a way to embrace the confusion and the identities that exist within you simultaneously. It will always be a part of you.