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My Lightbulb Moment: Reevaluating How To Navigate Culture Clubs As A Mixed-Race Student

One Saturday evening this quarter, I found myself curled up on the bottom bunk bed in my dorm room, mindlessly binge-watching some Netflix. My suitemate knocked on my door and asked if she could put a container of leftovers in my mini-fridge. “I went out for dinner and boba with the Japanese American culture club!” she explained with a smile. 

As she placed her to-go container in the fridge and headed out of my room with a wave, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit jealous. When I first started in-person college, I had planned to join the same Japanese club. My maternal family is Japanese, so I was super excited by the prospect of meeting and bonding with other Japanese American students on campus. However, during the first weeks of school, I scrolled through the club’s social media pages and started to feel anxious as I saw lots of Japanese activities and phrases I had never heard of. My mind raced with questions like: I don’t speak Japanese; will that make me stand out? I didn’t grow up with all of these traditions; is that a problem? Am I Japanese enough to even show up to this club? I didn’t end up joining this year. 

Acknowledging and reflecting on my emotions when I experienced FOMO that Saturday evening led me to reevaluate my reasoning for not joining any cultural clubs this year. I’ve turned down many opportunities to get involved with identity-based groups, from the Japanese-American clubs to the various Jewish cultural organizations across campus. Each time, my hesitancy has been born from a strange form of imposter syndrome which causes me to fear that I’m somehow invading a space that isn’t meant for me. This logic is problematic, and I want to break out of this cycle of thinking.

I believe that, as a biracial person, my anxieties over joining cultural clubs come from internalizing the harmful belief that I’m “half and half” rather than a whole, complex person. This concept is repeated to me all of the time by strangers, friends and media, and it can feel really alienating. The truth is, I’m not just half as valid as a Japanese person, so I shouldn’t assume that I’d be half as welcome in Japanese spaces. The same goes for my Jewish heritage; I shouldn’t worry about standing out as a Jewish person of color. I’m sure that if I took the plunge and went to a few club events, I’d see other mixed-race students and begin to break down my self-consciousness. I just need to take that first step!

Another option I have for navigating the terrain of college cultural clubs is signing up for more groups specifically made by and for multiracial students. These organizations could be the perfect places for me to share about the struggles of not fitting in. I previously haven’t put the effort into searching for these groups, but my recent realization that I’m depriving myself of finding college communities has lit a fire under me. I now feel excited to research what opportunities are out there.

With all of these thoughts in mind, I’m setting the goal for myself to join at least one on-campus cultural organization during my college years. Why deny myself the chance to find a new community and celebrate my unique heritage? If you’re in a similar place of feeling unsure if you should join cultural clubs, you’re totally not alone! Together we can try to remember that no culture is monolithic; we all have something valuable to contribute.

Kate is a San Francisco native and second-year English major at UCLA. When she's not writing articles for Her Campus at UCLA, she enjoys getting lost in a good book and experimenting with vegan recipes.
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