The complications of growing up mixed, and how it plays into the performance of race in society.
I remember the way I used to feel during suburban summers. Walking around with blaring heat, every visit to the grocery store yielded bliss in the form of a frozen treat.
My worries were very slim. I lived in the suburbs of the larger city San Jose, CA. Economically speaking, it contains a plethora of upper-middle class tech industry folks. Racially speaking, it is majority white people. It’s something that I never really considered while younger, but growing up I’ve realized it’s morphed the way I see myself.
I am what is called Hapa. It’s the word for describing a mixed-person who is half white and half asian. My father is white and was born in the U.S; my mother is filipino / hawaiian and born in the Philippines. This is what I am ethnically, but racially is an entirely different story.
I considered myself white-passing as a kid. Most of the people who went to my primary schooling were white and from around the neighborhood. They saw me as white for the main reason that the majority of people around us were white. With my dad being white, I figured I got some stronger physical genes from my dad.
The day I realized my race was more complex than merely “white-passing” is burned into my memories. I was exiting a Mexican supermarket, when the cashier asks me, “Eso es dos dolares.”
Flabbergasted, I kindly replied how I don’t speak Spanish.
“That’s a shame…” she sighed. Shaking her head back and forth as she handed me my items.
From then on out my curiosity has been keeping keen watch over other’s perception of my race. I’ve discovered that I appear as racially Latino, despite being ethnically Hapa. Through a bit of questioning, I have found that most of my friends from university initially thought I was Latino upon first meeting. Walking from class, I am approached by the Latino/a fraternity, yet glazed past by the Asian one.
These discrepancies from others has been the cause of subtle identity crises within me. I question the way I come across physically, and feel as if I’m a chameleon who can camouflage as different colors. My societal placement is under a gray area in which no strong identifiers of my heritage are shown in my appearance. Instead, my race is one that is assumed by society.
So I ask myself, “Where do I exist?” Without a label to my name, I exist in a perpetual state of misinterpretation. I am too white for filipino groups, and too asian to be ethnically white. At times I feel guilt for the privilege of being white. Other times, I question if I am granted those privileges based on my exterior.
The act of being mixed is one that exists within flux. The liminal position it puts one in is a confusing mystery that may never have a proper answer. The only way to overcome is accept the misinterpretation, and validate the identity within myself.