Monday, June 30, 2008

A Mixed Experience

My mother is Chinese (born in China). My father is white (born in New Jersey). I am neither (born in California).

I don't look like my mother OR my father, and I don't share their racial experiences. When I would visit my grandmother (on my mother's side) in Oakland Chinatown, I felt very American and out of touch with Chinese culture. When I am with my father's side of the family, I feel my "other"-ness strongly and know that that is not my world, either.

When I went to high school (in the SF Bay Area), I was considered to be a "third-rate Asian sell-out" by the Chinese kids. When I went to college in the mid-west, people continuously asked me if I was an Engineering student.

I can't count how many times the first question a stranger asked me was "What ARE you?" (or a variation thereof). I've been told I have "a great look," as if my racial combination was a fashion statement.

I often wonder if my father has/had an Asian fetish. I wonder if I was into Asian women alone - would that constitute a "fetish"?

I grew up listening to indie rock in a largely white town, while my group of friends was a photo-op for diversity (we often crammed into the "most diverse backseat of a car in the world" - one mixed Filipino/white guy, one Jewish guy, a Mexican guy, a black guy, and an Indian guy; leaving out my white/Mexican girlfriend of the time).

Now I work in the whitest city in the U.S. (Portland, Oregon), listen mostly to hip-hop (and write and record my own) and constantly seek other non-white folks to bond with.

I've been ashamed of my Chinese-ness, preferring to call myself just "mixed" or else pretending to be Latino or other races attributed to me. Now I loudly, proudly claim my Chinese background and blow up stereotypes whenever the opportunity presents itself.

My ambiguity and experiences have given me a multi-faceted perspective on race in this country, while my ambiguity has caused people of all races to discount my experiences.

I have been told by white people that I am "practically white" and therefore cannot speak to being a "person of color." I have been told by Chinese folks that I am "definitely NOT Chinese." I have been told by black folks that there is "no way anybody could think you are anything BUT Chinese" (after I told them what my background was).

I have been in diversity trainings where my explanation of what it's like to be a person of color has been humored and ignored, only to watch every person in the room focus, ask questions, and otherwise validate the experience of a black person who said the EXACT SAME THING as me.

I have pondered long and hard how the racial identity of the mother of my future children would affect my ability to connect to them. I have also thought about how that mother's racial identity would either let down or make proud my grandparents.

I don't want my children to be whiter than me.

I have thought about how, when I finally travel to China, I might avoid problems by pretending that I'm Hawaiian, and not telling anyone about my mix.

I have never been in a room where more than half the people look like me. Only while visiting Hawaii did I feel like I actually looked like a "native." No place exists on this planet where I can even pass as the racial majority.

Strongly interested in racial politics, I have studied, read, and talked to people from racial backgrounds different from my own to learn about their racial experiences and to try to understand what it is, so as to avoid stereotype and prejudice pit-falls in my own life. And I have grown to realize that almost nobody else - of ANY race - is willing to return the favor. So I'm going to put it all in one, easy-to-access place.

I've lived in various U.S. cities and Tanzania. I've worked crap-jobs, in a psychology lab, and now I teach middle school math.

And now I'm writing a blog.