Hun xue er, or 混血兒 in traditional Chinese characters, is a term used to describe people of a mixed ethnic background like myself. I have a Taiwanese-Chinese mother and a Jewish American father. I am half Asian and half Caucasian (which can sometimes be a hassle when trying to check off one ethnicity box on a form), but I am fully mixed race. “Fully mixed” seems like the best way to describe myself because it allows both of my cultural identities to coexist. It’s very easy to fall into the habit of thinking of biracial individuals as half one thing and half another. Compartmentalizing identities can actually be very messy; it’s kinder to let everything flow together into one whole person.
Growing up, my mixed identity never sat at the forefront of my mind. It was something I never actively thought about until I realized that it was something that others used to perceive me with. I would often receive a collection of questions and comments:
“Your last name isn’t Asian. Were you adopted? You look fully Asian.” A jarring question, but it usually came from a place of genuine curiosity.
“Do you have more Asian friends than White ones?” I never understood why the races of my friends were relevant to other people.
“What are you?” This is a very vague question. It’s also rather philosophical, if you think about it too much.
“I’m guessing your mom is a Tiger Mom and your dad is laid-back.” Assuming parental dynamics just from one look at my face! I wonder if the people who commented this study sociology now.
“You’re mixed! That explains why you’re so pretty.” A compliment is a compliment, but this one has a strange undertone.
I became more aware of my racial identity as I grew older, and I often reflect on how my cultural upbringing fits into my life. I live in the United States and am very much an American girl, but I grew up spending almost every summer in Taiwan, playing with my cousins, eating with my grandparents, and taking the Taipei Metro all over the city. I’m very lucky that my mom gave me such an immersive cultural experience, even when we lived almost 8,000 miles away from her homeland. I never felt like I had to try too hard to stay connected with my background because my mom made sure elements of Chinese language, food, and culture were all around me.
My dad provided his own cultural immersion with his childhood stories of growing up in Rhode Island and his movie and film recommendations that embodied a quintessential American vibe. There was a stark contrast between the way my parents grew up and the cultural things they taught me about, but I loved it. My mom would tell me about what Chinese New Year was like for her, while my dad would recount his Bar Mitzvah memories. In a way, this made it easy to relate to two completely different groups of people yet difficult to relate to those who grew up in a monocultural household.
I was fortunate enough to have a small collection of half-Asian and half-White acquaintances, friends, and classmates who didn’t make me feel so rare. As social media became more popular, I began to discover people who looked just like me in music videos, in television shows, and in magazines. The amount of them were few and far between, but it felt wonderful to see my features on other people nonetheless. Sometimes, it feels isolating to be so different from most people, but most of the time it feels wonderful to be able to connect with people from both sides of the world. With online content and communication, the world is becoming more of a mixed place. Cultural exchanges are so much more common than they used to be. My own mixed world is expanding, and while some people may look at me and wonder how to categorize me, I know that I am a hun xue er 混血兒. I know that my mixedness makes me whole.