I suppose before I address the actual content and issues that are brought up in this class and in the readings, I’d like to express how I feel about just the very existence of such a class. It feels good. It feels really damn good. Let’s see if I can find a way to properly express this feeling… It feels as though there’s finally some sort of evidence or legitimacy that I can use to rebut when someone or some group of people tells me what I’m not. That’s something I have been struggling with my whole life – not when people tell me what I am, but what I’m not. When a group of people tells me that I’m Chinese, or that I’m American, I feel a sense of belonging. Sure it feels a little off when someone is assigning me to a race or a culture, but I still feel a sense of acceptance and comfort. More often than not however, people like to highlight my differences and list reasons why I don’t fit in.
I’m half Taiwanese/Chinese (here’s a whole other debate that I have to have depending on who I am talking to), half European mix of…white. And I’m Jewish. I am U.S. passport holder and am in the process of obtaining dual-citizenship with Taiwan. Phenotypically, I look more Asian – or so I’m told. Blessed and fortunate enough to have spent time living in a multitude of cultures, that also meant that I got a good dosage of being ‘otherized’ my whole life.
My younger childhood in Latin America – I was “la chinita.” A little bit older in America, I didn’t receive quite such an endearing nickname as I did in Latin America. It was a lot harsher. It didn’t make me proud of who I was. “She’s *tugs eyes* ‘CHINEEEEESE!!!’” I was the girl who brought the stinky lunchboxes filled with weird food that wasn’t Lunchables or sandwiches. I was the only little girl who didn’t have pretty blue eyes or light brown or blonde hair or a tall nose or anything that was considered desirable in your standard American girl doll. I remember my Dad holding my hand as he took me to Hebrew school at the local synagogue and having everyone stare at me whispering about how I was adopted. As if that’s an awful thing to be anyway. Cruel kids. Cruel teenagers. The teenage years were different. Less direct. More implicit. It was the small things that I began to notice. The teenage years were spent in China. This period in my life was filled with contradictions. On one hand, I was the 混血, the “mixed-blood.” This term is not derogatory in Chinese, but rather seen as a privilege. Being mixed-blood automatically meant that I had to be beautiful, smart, a leader, and well-liked by everybody. That wasn’t the case.
Abraham Maslow suggested that humans are social beings that have an inherent need to belong. Well, proving Maslow’s theory to be correct, I was like all others – a teenager who wanted to belong in this new, rather homogenous place where everyone looked a little more like me than where I used to live. Excited to not be the outcast, I was disappointed to find that though I may pass as pure Asian to many at my school, culturally I wasn’t. Bear in mind that today I identify as a lot more culturally Chinese than I did when I had first moved to China. My accent was off. I didn’t enjoy reading manga or anime like most of the other Taiwanese or Chinese kids in my year. I was once again different. Though society may have painted the “mixed-blood” person to be portrayed in a very positive light, I didn’t feel the warmth I was told I would find.
Something I struggled with in the later years of my teenage-hood was the authenticity of my obstacles. “Shut up, you should be thankful for being mixed.” “You have huge eyes, something we all wish we have.” “You’re so tall for an Asian girl – but it’s not fair because you’re mixed.” “You’re so exotic.” All seemingly positive comments that are supposed to make me feel better about myself…yet didn’t. I found it difficult to verbalize the conflicted emotions I felt inside because though on one hand I may have just received a handful of “compliments,” they all achieved the end goal of making me feel detached from the in-group.
Barack Obama once said something about why he identifies as Black. He said it was because that’s how society assigned him to be; that’s how society will always treat him. Word, Barack Obama. I really feel that. If I ever say, “I’m Asian” in a conversation, it’s almost always followed by a comment along the lines of, “Well, no you’re mixed with White too.” Yes… but when would it ever be acceptable for me to introduce myself as White? People would laugh at me as if I had never seen a mirror before. It’s only ever been acceptable for me to introduce myself as Asian or Mixed – never White. That’s a word I will never have access to. No matter where I am, no matter which culture I am in. Whether or not it’s something I want to have access to, I’m not sure – but the fact that I was never given the choice bothers me.
While I appreciate Maria P.P. Root’s Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People A LOT, the day where I feel I can really “identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify” in a culture outside of lovely Claremont, seems like it may never come. And maybe yeah through words I can say I identify a certain way, peoples’ minds are already made up. Most of the time they stop listening after they hear a portion of my mix that they already decided I am. “I’m half Chinese, half ………..*white noise*” She’s Chinese, knew it.
In Spickard’s text, there is a quote by American sociologist Edward Reuter who wrote that “the mixed blood is [by definition] an unadjusted person” (p. 216). Well, Reuter, I beg to differ. Yes, based off everything I wrote thus far, it may seem as though I feel displaced in everywhere I’ve lived and yes, I didn’t feel completely assimilated into most cultures I have experienced living in, but those were all stories that merely introduced the beginning of my journey. I’m at a place now where I still redefine who I am on a daily basis, but if there’s one trait or skill I have acquired through my upbringing, it’s that I’m able to adapt to new situations/places very quickly. Maybe people won’t accept me at first and maybe they’ll highlight why I don’t fit in right away, but before you know it I’ll make you comfortable with my presence and who I believe I am. No matter where you’re from, no matter what you look like. I may not have grown up with the privilege of feeling comfortable myself in new places, but I don’t see that as reason to make others feel uncomfortable with me.