"So, what are you?"
An Art for Change project
Video by cottonbro studio via Pexels
EXPLORE THE GALLERY
Multiracial identity is complex; it is as much a subjective experience that can alter over time as it is a genetic or biological certainty (Parker et al., 2015).
As a biracial, multiethnic woman who has spent the past several years actively navigating and learning about "mixed identity," one of the most common experiences I have observed is how many of us often struggle to develop a sense of self and belonging within a system that has historically rejected our identities. To delve deeper into this societal issue, I utilized this assignment as an opportunity to invite persons of "mixed" ancestry to describe their racial-ethnic identities in the absence of external forces and social pressures and to display their perceptions in the online gallery that follows.
Recognizing the statement "What are you?" as one that people of "mixed" heritage face throughout their lives inspired the project's title. While this question may be posed innocently, it is generally marked by projections and awkward prying into the nature of the respondent's background. Consistent with these experiences, participants were also asked about the factors that influenced their choice of language for expressing their racial-ethnic identities in order to shed further light on how the "mixed identity" can be shaped by a variety of factors other than those found in our family trees.
The project was implemented and promoted on the @iammultiethnic Instagram page between March 4 and March 25, 2022, and the completed gallery was published on March 31, 2022. Twenty-six individuals from within and beyond the United States contributed personal statements and portraits that illustrate the diverse ways in which members of this community may self-identify.
I am African American and Tamil Sri Lankan.
I am Filipina/Hawaiian from the beautiful island of Saipan.
People always assume I'm from the continental U.S. because of "the way I talk/ my accent," which I usually just clarify by telling them more about my background. Whether or not others understand my ethnic origins, I'm so proud of who I am and where I come from, and I love sharing that with others.
I am mixed.
My ethnic background consists mostly of Filipino and Korean, with a strong Spanish bloodline and some Norwegian and Pacific Islander. It was extremely difficult for me to navigate my identity growing up because I felt I had no certain place or community. While I felt external pressures to identify with one side or the other, I eventually became comfortable in affirming my own unique identity based on my family and experiences, in part because my parents raised me to be proud of my mixed heritage and to practice all of our cultures. I am me, whether or not that makes much sense to others.
I am Chamorro.
I spent much of my life not knowing how to describe my identity to others. I would say "I'm Asian," "I'm Japanese," or "I'm mixed," but my Chamorro identity, which is half of my being, was not something I'd share because it required further elaboration. I was often met with, "What's that?" I've only recently started to take pride in my Chamorro roots and to claim it as my identity. The matrilineal history of Chamorro culture has continued to empower me in embracing being a Chamorro woman.
I am a Brazilian person of color.
Brazil has one of the most mixed populations in the world, of which I am part of. For the longest time, I couldn't pinpoint my race, and the uncertainty bothered me. Although I'm a Latina, I don't feel that it identifies me as a person. But, when I learned the term "person of color," I thought it was a perfect description of me.
I am Chinese and Irish-American.
My father's family is of Irish descent, but they've lived in the United States for a long time. My mother was born in China and immigrated to Saipan, where she met my father. Both Chinese and Irish-American (which is different from Irish culture) cultures were extremely influential in my life growing up, and I feel that my identity needs to acknowledge that. So, I choose to identify as Chinese and Irish-American, while referring to myself occasionally as mixed or biracial more generally.
I am Black enough.
Although a mixed woman, society almost always identifies me as Black. I've also navigated life as a Black woman through the way I identify myself on forms, the social circles I'm in, and even by the way I celebrate my successes. It's always been reminded to me within my own community, however, that I'm not fully Black. While I also embrace my Filipino culture and appreciate all that it has to offer, it's hurtful to feel unwelcomed in the already marginalized bubble that society forces me into.
I'm grateful for a community that embraces me, understands our shared societal struggles, and accepts me for who I am. I'm understanding of the privileges of having lighter skin, as I'm also aware that society does not separate us in the same boxes that we separate ourselves. It's taken a lot of soul searching throughout the years for me to be able to see past the moments when I'm not being fully accepted by my community and proclaim for myself that I am, indeed, Black enough.
I am a Mixed BIPOC American.
I use the word "Mixed" because I've grown comfortable living in a nuanced space. I don't really like labels, and this word allows me to be what I am, without grabbing onto a stark racial category. I also represent myself as a BIPOC, because I feel it's important to claim this specific American community. I'm not yet able to simply call myself American; our country still has much work to do for us all to truly be equal.
I am Afro-Latina.
Afro has been historically invisible within the Latin American culture, even though a large percentage of our population would be considered Afro-descendant. It's sad to see the lack of representation within our politics, news, entertainment, fashion, etc.
I am a Pacific Islander (Chamorro).
Although I'm half Caucasian from my father's side, I identify as a Pacific Islander, specifically Chamorro, because I was raised by Chamorros (Chamorro women, to be precise) on the island of Saipan. I know the language and the culture, and I connect more with that part of my identity and heritage than I do with my Caucasian side.
I am Pasifika.
I think about how the blood quantum was created by colonizers to make us appear "less than." I used to feel obligated to explain each of my ethnic percentages and how they came to be when asked "Where are you from?" or "What are you?," but I'm at an age now where I don't feel the need to justify who I am. I was born and raised in the Pacific and have indigenous bloodlines—I am Pasifika.
I am Egyptian and Korean.
Being the first generation of immigrant parents, learning about my racial identity and its intersections, and engaging in therapeutic work with my clients around racial identity—I see what I am with pride and will continue to do so in honoring my family, culture, and myself.
I am Filipina and white.
Regardless of how people have tried to define my identity, I know that mother is Filipina and my father is white, and that will never change. Their racial/ ethnic background shaped who they are as people and as parents, which was inherently passed on to me. So, regardless of whether or not I fit into people's ideas of race or ethnicity, I know that I will always be Filipino and white because that's what my parents are.
I am Wasian.
I'm Mixed—White and Vietnamese. My sister and I grew up calling ourselves "wasians" to encompass our racial makeup in one word. Growing up in Houston, no one batted an eye at the term. It made sense. Now, in Austin, I feel as though I'm re-teaching the concept not just of "wasian," but of mixed and Asian, to people I meet.
I am mixed,
with African American and Caucasian.
I self-identify as African American, but I feel as though it would be disrespectful to my mother (who is Caucasian) to not mention that half of me. So, instead of just saying African American, I state it first.
I am more than a Pacific Islander; I am Chamorro.
In today's day and age, there are many ethnicities behind the label of "Pacific Islander." This can include Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian groups, which are further broken down into smaller communities of people. The term could also be used in the context of someone who was born and raised on a Pacific island. It is a beautiful sense of identity, but as a Chamorro woman, I've found it to help my sense of purpose, belonging, and power to truly identify with my indigenous community.
I am the sum of all my parts: Punjabi, Welsh, British, Indian, Desi, and many things in between.
Saying I am mixed-race is no longer enough. For me, there are really so many identities within that. Culture, race, and ethnicity all need to be included because they're all a part of me. I am the sum of all my parts. I am whole.
I am a human first belonging to both the Black and Mexican communities.
"What are you?" is a question I'm frequently asked. To me, this question is odd because, don't I appear human? I bleed, I cry, I swear, I smile, I dance, etc. as a human. To be asked "What are you?" always felt like I was something other than human, some anomaly that has happened.
The reality is that two human beings in love came together to create another human being. So, whenever I'm asked that question, "I am human." This, in turn, normally makes the other person more aware of how and what they're asking; when they do find the right words to ask their question again, I respond with, "I belong to both the Black and Mexican communities." I do not respond with "mixed" or "biracial" because society has created an added definition to these words that makes the individual feel lesser of who they are or that they they do not have enough "percentage" to be who they are. Ultimately, I am human with two beautiful cultures flowing through my veins.