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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

If you didn’t know, the start of May marks the start of not just the countdown to the end of school, but also the start of another important event: AAPI month, also known as the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Considering this month is less publicized and celebrated in the U.S. collectively, I want to use my platform on Her Campus at UCLA to both encourage everyone to reflect and celebrate AAPI history during this month and to also share my own experiences as a member of the community.

Mixed students have often expressed how having a diverse ethnic background contributes to a fragmented identity, and I can certainly attest to that. Being Wasian — the popular term for being half white and half Asian — both defines my identity, and also divides me internally and externally. 

Being Wasian has drained me in many ways, especially since coming to college. While I recognize my immense privilege everyday, it’s certainly difficult to have a mixed identity that people don’t understand. It’s truly insane how quickly people judge and categorize you. My experience at UCLA has been, to my surprise, that nobody knows that I am Asian at all. Many think I’m Caucasian, or mixed and Latina, but never Asian. Even my Asian friends would never have guessed that I was Wasian before telling them. Having a part of my identity misunderstood by the public has been a somewhat shocking experience. I don’t feel like I fit into any Asian communities here that I would like to be involved in just because I don’t look (or am) Asian enough — when in fact I am just as Asian and Caucasian.

At the same time, I don’t feel like I quite fit in with other communities. My white friends don’t understand crucial parts of me, to no fault of their own, and I feel a disconnect. When people see you in a way that is inaccurate, or don’t see you at all, it shapes your identity in dramatic ways. I have a hard time connecting with a part of me that has felt so strong before. I even feel like I don’t fit the typical Wasian stereotype since I don’t “look” Wasian. Being torn between two conflicting identities is an experience for many, yet it still feels rarely spoken about or addressed in a school setting. In this way, my mixed identity is a burden.

My Asian identity and side of the family have been a huge part of my identity. I went to an international school for around 15 years, where half of my classes were taught in Mandarin, and I traveled to China and learned aspects of Chinese culture and history every day. My Asian side of the family has rich traditions and experiences — I learn about stories from my grandparents who live in Hawaii, the cultural foods we make and love to eat as a family, and my mom who has experienced years of discrimination and inequality as an Asian woman in the workplace. On my Asian side, I am Filipino, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, and I am proud and grateful to have such a complex and diverse background that shapes my understanding of life and allows me to be myself. Being Wasian, or any mix of Asian, looks different for everyone. In this way, my mixed identity is a blessing.

I can overcome people’s misunderstanding and quick judgments when I remember how lucky I am to come from two different cultures that contribute to my complex identity. As a society, we can do better by not categorizing people based on how they look or what we assume. The AAPI community is strongly misunderstood and underappreciated — there are so many more ethnicities and cultures that make it up than you may think! 

Ultimately, I am so grateful that I am Wasian. If you are mixed and can relate to this experience, remember we’re not alone! While culturally we will always have a foot in both doors, and that can be overwhelming, we experience life in a special way that is uniquely ours.     

Maile Smith is a first-year Global Studies major from Palo Alto, California. She loves horseback riding, traveling the world, painting, reading on the beach, and her dogs!