If you grow up multiracial, your childhood is hard. You’re different from other kids. You don’t have any American Girl dolls, because you can’t really relate to any of them. You bring strange foods to school in your Sailor Moon lunchbox and all the kids pick on you for it. Standardized tests are a nightmare because you’re told to only pick one box for your ethnicity and you can’t decide which race you feel most like on that day.
When people try to get to know you, it’s as if you’re being demeaned to some sub-human creature. You always feel pressured to explain your ethnicity and sometimes, sometimes you act like it’s fun through a guessing game. In reality, you just feel like some wax model in a museum exhibit.
People gaze upon you either in wonder or confusion. Their reactions are predictably insensitive and inconsiderate. “Um, what are you?” they ask, overwhelmed with curiosity. “Oh, so you’re a mutt,” they conclude when you list the (many) countries of your answers.
No, I’m not a mutt. I’m a fucking human being.
To be fair, it’s confusing for a lot of people. In my case, my last name doesn’t look like it belongs to me. But at the same time, this doesn’t matter. Why do I have to “look” like my surname belongs to me?
My childhood was a nightmare. My 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Romano, explained the symptoms of jaundice by telling the class that “jaundice looks like Sarah’s skin.”
Talk about fucked up.
Two years later, I was one of only 2 non-white kids in a class of 22. A class project required us to posts flags of our ancestors’ countries on a poster board. My classmate Vincent looked at my many flags (including the American flag) and said, “You’re not American. You’re Japanese.”
I was 10 years old. I barely understood racism. “I’m American,” I asserted. “I was born here.”
“No,” he said. “You’re Japanese. You’re not American. I’m American.”
I went home that day and looked in the mirror. Vincent was right, I thought. I may have felt American, but I didn’t look it. The sad thing is – is that my Japanese peers didn’t think I look or am Japanese. Ultimate rejection.
Living as a multiracial individual in American society is a gift and a curse. The curse is the battle to find your identity. The gift is to be exposed to the beauty of various cultures, to be able to relate and connect with the rich diversity of people in the world.
However, the curse often trumps the gift – and no one talks about it. Racial disparity is a crisis in America, but it is often limited to the discussion about black and white. Miley Cyrus’ antics are being called an exploitation of black culture. Lorde’s Royals lyrics of “diamond-encrusted watches” became a featured story of racism on CNN, but we don’t hear about the racial disparity among multiracials. And it’s sad, because growing up, our education was about racial tolerance and living Martin Luther King Jr’s dream-a dream we have yet to realize. In fact, the only time we have ever seen a glimpse of a discussion on multiracial culture was from a Cheerios commercial – and the world exploded in negative feedback.
So much for equality.
Schools rarely teach children about the Asian & Chinese Exclusionary Acts; they barely talk about the Japanese Internment Camps. Children do not learn about how the National Defense Authorization Act, the Transportation Security Administration and the Patriot Act violate the lives of Arabs and South Asians every single day.
Why is race a hot topic in cases of criminal activity, like the Boston Bombing’s Tsarnev brothers and Virginia Tech’s Seung-Hui Cho, but rarely do we have a discussion on the race of successful multiracial individuals like Steve Jobs (he’s half Arab, by the way)?
As Americans, many of us like to believe that we are tolerant and accepting of other races, but in reality, the racial divide is unintentionally expanded by those who have to “apologize” or defend those of a minority. Some of them think that their three month study abroad trip in Morocco or their involvement in Japanese Club on campus gives them the full, underprivileged insight to understand my struggles as a multiracial in America, but they don’t.
Your whiteness doesn’t let you experience the rejection of those of your own race. You aren’t mistaken for your race. You aren’t labeled as a “half-half” by your family nor do you have to lie about your ethnicity to just avoid a conversation on your family history. You do not have people talking to you loudly because they think that somehow yelling at you will make you understand English better. You don’t get a follow-up question of where you’re actually from, when you say you’re from Chicago. You don’t have random people telling you “Ni Hao”, “Hola”, “Salaam” or “Namaste” in the street. You don’t feel invisible, because somehow the government thinks you don’t exist enough for a fucking little box on your job application. And you don’t get taken aside for further questioning and have the privilege of being felt up, because let’s be honest, “random selection” is bullshit.
You don’t understand what it’s like being multiracial and a by-product of immigrants. I do. I am trapped in the state of invisibility by my own birth country. I am American, but somehow, I don’t feel American. I am everything, yet I am nothing.
I don’t need your social construction of race to tell me what my racial identity is, because frankly, your classification of race is shit.
I may have the olive skin of my Mediterranean father, the thick black hair of my Japanese mother, but I am still the embodiment of America. I don’t care if I eat my couscous with my Hello Kitty chopsticks, because I do what I want.
The rich cultural history of my racial background and the diverse love that I grew up with is what makes me who I am. It is something I see as the very core existence and history of America.
More importantly, it reflects my identity more strongly than anything – my identity as an individual.
Sarah Harvard has won several awards in journalism including the Critic’s Choice Award in Critical Essay and the Enterprise’s Journalist of the Year award; and has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Al Jazeera’s the Stream, and Antiwar.com. She has interest in US-Middle East Relations, national security, culture in America and post-punk revival bands. Currently, she’s working on launching a media technology start-up based in San Francisco. This was been re-posted with permission from DL Magazine.