“Check one box” is not a satisfying option for a multiracial individual. From a standardized test to a blood test, I have always paused at the section that asks me to choose one racial identity.
As a Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic, why would I not be allowed to naturally check more than just one box? Although I grew up looking the “whitest” of my peers, what if I do not feel satisfied with that? If I am more proud of my Japanese side, am I allowed to check that, despite it only being a quarter of my blood? Or am I really dwindled down to the box that reads “other”?
Growing up in Honolulu, Hawai’i, the only state in America where whites are not the majority, my surroundings were always a multitude of ethnicities. Considering a little over half my blood is white, I was commonly dismissed as just white. So, during my short time at Wheaton, the number of people that assume I am Hawaiian, Filipino, Mexican, Samoan, or another inaccurate ethnicity has astonished me. Realizing my looks are ambiguous, I cannot expect people to know what I am as a mixed person.
In America, recognition of mixed race individuals is a relatively recent phenomenon. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruling that overturned all laws banning interracial marriage.
Unfortunately, our present culture is more fascinated by the emerging mixed race for their “exotic” looks rather than understanding the complex and conflicting identity of the human being. For individuals of mixed ethnicity, the collision of their ethnic makeup creates a distinctive look that often sets them apart from their peers. Within their DNA, cultures intersect and converse with one another. As a small but growing portion of the population, the relevance of recognizing and understanding mixed race identity will be increasingly important in the 21st century.
But how do we characterize biracial and multiracial people? Are they a separate minority of their own? Or should they be recognized fully for each ethnicity they embody? The stories shared by mixed students at Wheaton reveals the perplexing reality of being mixed. Their stories are similar in the sense that they all had to come to terms with their racial identity, but the ways they define themselves are distinctly set apart by influences from family, location, and circumstance.
Close to One Ethnic Identity
“Imagine you wake up in the morning and go to the mirror and you look completely different than you did yesterday,” shared Nat Lewis, who is half Caucasian, a quarter Chinese, and a quarter Korean. Although most assume he is Asian, Nat strongly identifies with only his Caucasian side. While he appreciates being half Asian, Nat’s white suburban upbringing never allowed him the chance to partake in his Asian culture. Although they may not look the way that they feel, people who identify closer with one ethnicity tend to suppress their other parts.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, about one in five multiracial adults have felt the pressure to choose one side of their ethnicity. Similarly to Nat, Taylor Meyer is often assumed to be only Native American or Hispanic, even though she identifies with her Caucasian side. Despite her lack of immersion in Hispanic culture, Taylor endeavors to become more connected with her Spanish roots and traditions. It can be discomforting for mixed people who identify as one thing yet are seen as something else. While some find themselves content siding with one ethnicity, others eventually grow eager to discover a part of them they have long neglected.
Embrace Every Ethnic Identity
Some learn to recognize and embrace each part of their ethnic heritage. Their racial identity stems from the fact that they are different ethnicities and proud of it. Izzy Case, a biracial combination of black and white, affirms, “I am both. I have always been both. I don’t think it’s fair for me to pick one or other.” Like Izzy, Gabriel Flores, who is a biracial Puerto Rican and Jamaican, emphasizes that being mixed makes him one person with two ethnicities. Their firm acknowledgment of their various ethnic dimensions allows them to be fully embody everything they are.
For people with a fluid ethnic identity, their setting shifts the way they interact and present themselves to others. Both half white and half Asian, Kendrick Miyano and Cody Wollin agree that growing up in Asia, while also having an influence of Western culture, has made it difficult to define their racial identity. In their case, it can be uncomfortable to switch between predominantly Asian settings and predominantly Caucasian settings. For instance, although they strongly resonate with Asian culture, they have felt set apart from the other Asians because of their physical distinctions and Western influence.
Although biracial and multiracial students believe being mixed to be advantageous, many have either been discriminated against or been treated differently based on their race. The extent of discrimination varies among individuals and circumstance. Most often, the student experienced these discomforts among people of their own ethnicity, who saw them as “not enough X.” As David Seung shares, being biracial sometimes made him feel alienated from both sides of his family and also from his peers as a minority.
Actress/singer Piper Curda, who is the second Asian to be in a regular series on Disney Channel following Brenda Song, has experienced discrimination in the entertainment industry. A talented actress, Piper understands that she has not received jobs because she did not “fit the Caucasian role.” Despite these setbacks, Piper turns it around by acknowledging that being half Korean and half Caucasian has given her a richer perspective in life.
Everyone, upon first meeting someone, is bound to subconsciously make assumptions. We are curious, but we are also often wrong. One of the challenges of being mixed is dealing with people assuming you are something you are not. Elli Boyer, though Caucasian, Asian, Hawaiian, and Hispanic, struggled with the fact that everyone assumed she was white upon coming to Wheaton. She did not relate to white culture, yet everyone expected her to “be and act white” since that is how they saw her. When people assume you are something you are not, you conflict with either complying or constantly seeking to prove yourself.
On the other hand, being physically ambiguous has given mixed people the power to understand different sides of situations. “It has made me a lot more empathetic and willing to be put in situations that could be uncomfortable in other cultures,” remarks Tuesday Whittington, “It’s made me more sensitive to know how others like me may feel in other moments.”
The mixed student community overwhelmingly agrees that being mixed allows, “more freedom to embrace other cultures,” as Kalena Wong worded it. Mixed race people will not fit in a box. Their unique outlook on life permits tasting multiple cultures within themselves and in others. Since most grow up aware of being more than one ethnicity, mixed students repeatedly shared, like Charity May, that “mixed people have a voice to bridge between cultures.”
As mixed people, we do not want you to try to define us since we do not always have a clear definition of ourselves. While mixed people lean toward a certain type of racial identity, our stories have layers that cannot be boxed. We are alike, but we are drastically different. So, if you want to understand us, ask us about ourselves and we will more than likely share the joys and trials of being racially mixed millenials.