Growing Up Mixed

Growing up as a “mixed” child means many things. For some, it means that somewhere in their lineage there was a crossing of two or more ethnicities-- eventually leading to a unique blend of cultural flavorings and pathways. For others, it is much more difficult than this. The importance of ethnic background varies with each person, some finding it more significant to their lives than others. There are those who can create an identity that is separate and distinct from their race, and those who find value in identifying as their genetic coloring. Sometimes, though, being mixed means a constant emotional battle between two prominent sides of your being. It means there is an imbalance between which ethnicity to identify with, on which day, to which crowd.

For me, being a mixed child is hard and always has been in some ways. Using myself as an example, I tend to mainly identify as Italo-Hungarian and Puerto Rican. Of course, there are many other micro-lineages in my blood that trace back to various..., but these are the two main sides I’ve grown up knowing. The challenge arises in the lack of one side being present in my life, the Hispanic side. When one parent is not in the picture for one reason or another, for a mixed child, there is an absence of culture. As an example, being raised by my Italo-Hungarian side there are many beautiful stories and familial recipes that are endearing and staples in my identity. Learning about my great grandmothers and grandfathers, their legacies and their sacrifices to find new life in a new country has brought nothing but joy and wonder to me. I hold immense pride in this part of my bloodline. On the other side, though, there are crickets chirping. Questions that have yet to be answered.

See, I’ve always wondered what parts of my Hispanic side that I am missing out on. I’ve identified many times as being part of the LatinX community, and there are times where I have felt wonderful pride. There are also times where I feel completely discouraged. My skin tone is something that has brought me many emotional episodes. The darkness of my skin fluctuates with seasons; summer being my “golden” season and winter being my “white” season. I use these terms because these are the words that many have used when talking to me about my ethnicity. I cannot count the amount of times friends asked me if I am adopted because I am darker than my mother, or have told me that I’m “too white to be Hispanic”. It’s like my identifying race is dependent on seasonal opinions. Am I white or am I not? Am I Hispanic or am I not? Who am I?

Growing up only being immersed in one side of my identity has caused a sort-of “imposter syndrome” in my other. Time and again I have shied away from approaching Hispanic communities and friends on campus because my Spanish is quite lacking. I have held myself back from joining Hispanic clubs because listening to peers discuss their favorite ethnic food dishes, traditional dances and “Spanish parents be like…” jokes causes me to feel...almost like a phony. That I cannot identify with my ethnicity because I have no experience with any part of it.

So, writing this I am thinking of tips that I can share with other mixed people falling into the same internal conflict, and even for myself to use in the future. I would begin with,

  • It’s okay. It truly is. You cannot help the circumstances you are born into. The universe is untamable.

  • Second, remember that this is a struggle that you hold with yourself and your journey to molding your identity. Do not shut out or feel animosity towards the side you grew in. Love and embrace the side you know! It’s an important part of you, express gratitude towards it and your family.

  • Third, step out of your bubble. It will be scary in some ways, but it may be liberating as well. Find peers that will extend their hands to you and give you insight on some of the ethnic traditions, and maybe have a cooking date and share recipes. Don’t be afraid to learn your language even if it takes 5-14 years. If it is important to you, you will find a way to achieve it. With your identity as well, you will find a way to fill any void and doubts you feel, and embrace your lines of lineage harmoniously in some way or another. Allow yourself to feel pride in the importance of culture, race, and ethnicity to you.