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.


jane said...

hey, glad i found your blog (via hyphen's blog). i just sat here and read the whole thing more or less cos i was just like, yep, uh huh, i know, preach it. i think we share a lot of pretty similar experiences in terms of racial/cultural/ethnic identity. i'm also an american west coaster with a chinese mom and caucasian dad (and have also wondered, A LOT, about the asian fetish and self-hatred aspects of parents' relationship and by extension my existence). and what all that means in my relationships and future and potential offspring if there are to be any.
anyway i'm living in china now and i do sort of half-assedly keep a blog which i was originally planning to use to write mostly about identity kinds of things but that didn't seem to flow so i mostly turned to writing about carfree advocacy stuff. erm, well, sorry for blathering on, i would have liked to message rather than leave this in a comment but i don't see an e-mail address or whatever. oh, also i'm doing some zine stuff here and a future issue i would like to revolve around people with chinese heritage who grew up outside of china but now live in china (or, in your case, plan to soon live in china). maybe you'd be interested in contributing to that? well, feel free to mail me at hapatofu AT gmail DOT com

seitzk said...

i am really loving your blog. i love (and share) your comparatively hardline stance on cultural appropriation. mixed korean/white woman, currently living in seoul, SK, for another 10 days before returning to the fatherland...

CVT said...

Jane and Seitzk -
I'm glad you found my blog (I owe it all to Racialicious) - it's always nice to know that others share the experience (you'll probably really connect with the one I'm about to write). Good luck to you both in your overseas lives and please keep stopping by.

(Jane - keep me posted on the zine, and I'll definitely let you know if/when that China trip happens - thanks).

Anonymous said...

It has been so wonderful finding so many mixed Asian blogs out there. Reading your bio, I found myself nodding my head throughout the whole thing. Up until recently, the only half person I knew was my sister, and I could count the number of Asians I knew personally, on one hand.

It's been a journey for me to explore race, and mixed race, and I've found literally the only people who do understand this are those of any race (other than predominately white), so it's wonderful to find blogs like yours.

uglyblackjohn said...

I dropped a Superior Scribbler Award on you at my site.

mama d said...

Not sure where to post this: I'm a Caucasian mama to three children born in China. One is brown, two are blonde. Of the two blondes, one could easily "pass" as Caucasian. Most folks just assume that my husband is Chinese ... until they see all of us together.

I'm here to learn. I'm here because I don't want any of my children to feel they have to choose between their first culture and their adoptive culture ... between their ethnic heritage and a path of privilege.

I guess that would be like expecting Time Magazine to refer to Barack Obama as "our first bi-racial President." But, they won't, it doesn't sell as many copies as "our first black President."

Am I welcome?

CVT said...

Mama D -
I don't think there's anything else to say but "OF COURSE you're welcome!!!!" Don't know if you read my most recent post "On Blogging, Preaching to the Choir, and Throwing a Party," but that might as well have been an invitation to you, directly.

mama d said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hey -- sorry, I know this is one of your older posts, but I got to reading after veganabouttown passed me a link to your 'Mongrel's New Year' post. I just want to thank you for blogging about the mixed-race experience, because I've been increasingly thinking about my own experience and expectations as I get older and start thinking about having children. I'm half-Chinese (my mother) and half-white (father), and like you I don't want my children growing up whiter than me.

What makes my experience a bit different from yours, though, is the fact I almost always pass for white. While my sister gets the disheartening "what ARE you?" comments, I get the strange looks from full-blooded Chinese people when I try to adopt Chinese traditions and customs. It's something I'm still working through -- so I'm going to be interested to follow your blog and the things you discuss.

claire said...

hi! just found your blog via a link you dropped on racialicious. i love your writing and am looking forward to reading more.

by the way, i'm told (i'm chinese and white too) that the "stans" in central asia, being literally a place where asians and caucasians mixed for centuries, are a place where all the people look like us.

google up some photos of kirghiz or uzbek people and melt into the scenery

blackbelt said...

I am a full-blooded Korean immigrant at age 6. But, I could have written this entire post. Exactly. I don't have a "typical" Korean face and my American clothes, walk and make-up made me stand out in Seoul that caused curious stares and unsolicited comments. Growing up int he US, well, you know.

Anonymous said...

I love your description of pretending to be Hawaiian on a future trip to China...
When I was 9, I lied to all of my classmates and teachers and told them I was Hawaiian....despite being the progeny of a Chinese mother and a European father, both immigrants....

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