February 4, 2011

This article came up on my Reader feed followed by a comment about not fitting in with either purely white or Asian circles. And I find this idea of race/ethnicity and identity fascinating. Maybe it’s because, not being mixed race, I’ve never really had to think about it. Maybe it’s because I lived in a town that was non-diverse enough that these things don’t come up.

Either way, I never had any weird existential crisis when filling out the race/ethnicity question on standardized tests – I’m Asian. Chinese if I’m asked to specify. But the article is obviously about something larger than a multiple choice question. And this is why I’m interested. Logically (or rather biologically) I’m Chinese. But I grew up in Wisconsin, in a town that’s 95% white and is made fun of because it’s so white. So as far as culture is concerned – I’m almost as white as you can get without actually being. Or as my housemate once asked me, “do you ever look in the mirror and are surprised that you’re not white?”

Sure, I might have some stereotypical Chinese values, but I bet most of it stems from being in a very upper middle class environment (things like doing well in school/college/job, maintaining a good family reputation, etc). And I understand those small idiosyncrasies – like covering your furniture in plastic, keeping your house cold, eating fish eyes because it’s good for your brain – but mostly only on a level that I can joke about it. So it seems ridiculous to read this article about how young adults aren’t sure how to identify or where they fit in or how to deal with being pigeon-holed. Should I have an identity crisis because I don’t fit in with the only box that I can check? Should I be spiteful and just start checking the white box too? Who cares?

The two sentiments expressed at the end of the article – about wanting both races to be acknowledged or having neither matter – to me, are really the same. How does one acknowledge two different racial identities without potentially stepping on your metaphorical toes? Or in my position – how does someone obviously acknowledge I’m Chinese without it getting awkward when they ask “where are you from” and I answer “Wisconsin”? The way you do it is to not have it matter. Either you don’t get all antsy if someone assumes only one race or everyone else doesn’t ask stupid questions like “where are you from” or “what are you” because that’s rude and unnecessary.



  1. I grew up in Hispanic Miami, lived in white, suburban Oregon, and graduated high school from white-ish rural Tampa. This is a legitimate issue with me. I specifically reject the stereotypes and tropes of my ethnicity when I’m not in Miami, but when I’m visiting my hometown or even sometimes just my family, some of those things come back and tint the way I talk/act. People notice it sometimes too.

    It’s confusing and I don’t always know what to say or do or act and I do sometimes worry about the way I come off to people. I act and dress “white” and outside of Miami I’m apparently not obviously Hispanic, so I get awkward interactions at times. I mean, I had a man in the grocery line turn and tell me “Why is there a Spanish option on this thing? We’re in America, right?” and I turned to my little brother like “Does he not realize that my parents are Cuban and I speak Spanish and I might find that terribly offensive?”

    Ethnic/Racial prejudices are also different for, say, you and me. You most stereotypically would be saddled with expectations about your grades/intelligence, which ties in with your actual intelligence and performance in high school, but I get stuff about immigration, laziness, machismo, stupidity, violence, etc. Not to say that all Asian stereotypes trend nice and all Hispanic ones trend bad, but let’s just say that I don’t play up my accent or act Hispanic when I’m looking for a job or trying to impress a girl’s parents.

    • I guess what’s confusing to me, which you also deal with is the fact that we clearly identify as one race/ethnicity – you’re Cuban, I’m Chinese – but at the same time, we are very much “white” – mostly I would guess due to where we grew up. So to me, this racial identity crisis is an issue for anyone growing up in an area that’s not the same as your racial background rather than something specific to being mixed race – or rather it’s so prevalent now that it’s almost a non-issue (kinda like puberty). In fact, I would think it’s worse for us who should theoretically have a clear identity, and yet still don’t. Reading about kids who are arguing about whether or not Obama should have checked white and black boxes rather than just black just seems whiny to me.

  2. “… covering your furniture in plastic, keeping your house cold, eating fish eyes because it’s good for your brain”

    Haha.. you made my day! 😀

    • Ha! See I told you all I could do was joke about it 🙂

  3. […] would expect. Dan sympathizes with her concern. I, on the other hand, don’t. I’ve mentioned before that I’m Chinese, but grew up in the very non-diverse upper middle class white culture of […]

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