Mixed Race Culture

Although mainstream Sonoma county doesn’t see too many of us, the mixed race generation is multiplying at a rapid pace. My parents got married in and they were a part of the first wave of mixed couples being normal. That didn’t stop my white grandpa from being worried that my brother and I would be “neither fish nor fowl”, or whatever that’s supposed to mean, but here we are. Actually most of my cousins are mixed with Chinese and white or black or Japanese and one with Thai, Japanese and Mexican! But damn are we hapas good looking. “Hapa” is traditionally a Hawaiian term to describe half Asian or pacific islander with half/mixed with something else. We are easier to identify with that other half being caucasian, but hapas come in all shapes sizes and colors…

One of the main challenges us hapas, and other mixed kids face, is with the way we look. People often “don’t know what we are” and have a hard time making sense of it when we tell them. In our own communities we don’t look this enough or don’t look that enough and get rejected on multiple fronts even when we belong to them all. The Asian world, specifically the Chinese, don’t recognize me as one of their own all the time. When I was in 7th grade, I was at the Chinese culture summer camp I went to for a month every summer. The assignment was that we had to order our food in Chinatown in Mandarin. I did, and the old Chinese man working the counter just smiled back at me saying “oh, white girl speak”. It was a genuine mistake, but a reminder of how my pale face is perceived. Growing up and going to Chinese New Year parties, I was taller than all of my cousins. Heck I was taller than my older brother most of our childhood. My hair was always a lighter brown, my eyes a little lighter and my boobs and butt always bigger. I remember my auntie grabbing them going “WHERE DID YOU GET THESE”?! “I’m half white auntie”. Just as white as I am Chinese.

Unfortunately I’ve come to resent my white face because I so deeply love and identify with my Chinese culture. What I resent even more however, is the fact that when I was younger, I was glad I looked so white… of this I am truly ashamed. But now I ask, what about our society made me want to look white? And what today, makes me drastically wish I didn’t in order to feel more apart of my community? Is it truly our inability to accept people’s identities if they are not protruding from their physical features? Why do we hold these cultural and ethnic expectations over one another that make some of us feel so alienated? These are the questions to examine and explain.

I wanted to look white because white people are treated the best. They’re considered the pretties. I mean watch any mainstream show or moving and look at the leading ladies. We definitely love our blondes, but brunetter too, they’re front and center and they’re white. Boys, who were my concern because I’m heterosexual, liked white girls. Or at the very least how they looked. They like long hair and familiar features. Colleges across the country have reputations of how pretty their girls are, and most of these schools have their leading white and often blonde ladies in sorority poses. Make up campaigns growing up used white models, who were on the fronts of magazines and in commercials. With their height, soft brown hair, curves and double lids, they looked like me. And I liked that. I felt entitled to both worlds; having access to culture while not oppressing anyone with my ethnic appearance.

Today things are just started to shift. The eurocentric western white world isn’t the “best and brightest” anymore (although of course it is). There’s “Blank Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians”, which give the silver screen someone who looks me and my family. Well, maybe not me personally. Now there are intersectional movements about being a minority, an immigrant, a woman, that are being promoted and actually changing mainstream culture. These movements promote me and my history of being a Chinese American old San Francisco Chinatown family, but I often feel alienated from these movements because my features do not serve as my club membership. Looking around a circle of other hapas or Asian Americans, I just don’t look like them, even though I belong to them and with them. In high school there was a group of girls who identified as “lilmixed(their name)”, as they were all mixed asian. I was never acknowledged as or a part of this group. Appearance does not make one's culture or identity. To assume either of these things have an inherent appearance rejects individuals such as myself who are just as valid and worthy of their ethnicity as anyone of that ethnicity. This is something we need to adopt and accept within the ethnic groups so that we strengthen ourselves and our numbers, and validate the identities of our own.  

The mixed race culture is new in the eyes of the world that has seen “pure” groups for so many generations. New looks, new physical features are just recently making their mainstream debut, at least that are normal to the public. This is why people ask, “what are you?” when they can’t figure my face out. They can’t figure me out because I do not have jet black hair and monolids, but do not look totally white. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to say we have to condition ourselves to be able to recognize the ethnic origins of everyone we look at. No no no, it is simply that we should not clump or declump people, and that when we would like to know their ethnic origins, that we ask with respect and acceptance of the answer.

DO NOT ASK, REPEAT, DO NOT ASK SOMEONE: “what are you?”

“Human, what are you?”

“A boy, what are you?”

“A lizard, what are you?”

Rather, “what ethnicities are you?”,  and even that can be assuming that you are entitled to their personal business so maybe ask, “if you don’t mind me asking…”. Notice also that I ask ethnicities plural. I’m simply attempting the way of the world; that we’re all going to be mixed soon and that so many of us already are.

If you’re a person of color, mixed or otherwise, I want you to know that your identity, culture and appearance are valid. You have the right to your culture in all ways and your family and history are both rich and yours. No one may take any of the prior from you, or devalidate them. If you are not a person of color, please respect what has just been told to you. Understand the experience of people of color in our country and realize how important race and culture are to your mixed friends and local community in a way you may never really be able to understand. To accept that, will serve people of color and you more than you realize. To both, we cannot assume anything based on appearance, and we must deconstruct these expectations that apep acne equal ethnicity and vise versa. Constantly supporting and validating those who belong to us by their identities is key to this sense of belonging and equality with the cultural homesteads that run through our veins.

 

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