Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
It’s a curious thing to grow up bi-racial. People don’t know how to classify you only leading to not really knowing how to classify yourself. For some Asian people, I am not really Asian because I am only half. For some Latinos, I am not really Mexican because I don’t speak fluent Spanish and speak like a “gringa.” Both sides are shocked when they find out that I know a bit of both languages. Because yes, I have caught them talking smack about me have been too shy to stand up for myself. Either way, my identity has never felt like enough.
Questions and comments like “Where are you from?”, “You look so exotic”, or “You guys have the BEST food” are just a few things that I’ve heard more times in my life than I can count.
My name is Celeste. I’m Chinese and Mexican. Or as I sometimes refer to myself jokingly as a chicken chow taco. I am an American. I look just like everyone else — or so I like to think. My family is from Oakland, California — now a gentrified melting pot of mixed marriages, coffee shops, bike lanes, and bougie restaurants which still blows me away when I visit. However, my parents grew up during a time where your race and culture were things that people of color were sometimes embarrassed about.
A time when people outright called you a “dirty wetback” or “greaser” or “Jap” — to which my mom replied, “No, a**hole I am a Chink.” When you were embarrassed by your ancestral or native language, a time when you wished that your slanted eyes were a little bigger. You were embarrassed by everything that made you unique. You were embarrassed by everything that made you beautiful. But my parents got married at the ripe age of 17 in a time when races didn’t mix. You stuck with your own, and that was that. But they eloped and they are still happily married.
From the very beginning my parents instilled this sense of self in me, where I didn’t see myself different from anyone else. And, now that I look back, I’m grateful because it never let me only define myself by my race.
But there were times I wish I was more prepared for the questionable, slightly comical, and bizarre situations where my race has been a topic of conversation.
Situations where my ethnicities have been the icebreaker via the “What Race is Celeste Game,” or people telling me that I am basically Filipino (Salamat ya’ll), or those “oh so” memorable times in college when I was told my high school was “colorful” followed by conversations about “those dirty wetbacks” while I was sitting right there. (Yes, that happened and they were very aware of what they were saying.)
These situations were a harsh reality that I didn’t look like those around me. The heartbreaking relief of situations early on in life was that I was too young to even understand what some of these racial slurs meant. Like when I was called a “wetback chink” by my then best friend’s sister at just 5 years old. Or when I was accused of stealing when I never touched anything in a store. I thought that they didn’t trust me because I was a teenager. I don’t think that this happened to my white friends or 100% Asian friends.
I often hear people say, “WOW! Those two ethnicities are so different… that must be so interesting,” but culturally they’re not that different. I was raised closer to my Chinese side than my Mexican, but if you ask me they are so similar, and this is why I think my parent’s marriage has worked for all of the years that it has. Both cultures rely heavily and are rooted in family, will call you fat while shoving mounds of food down your face, have deep rooted traditions, and a sense of pride they wear on their sleeve.
Even though I have a strong sense of self, I find myself overcompensating for the fact that I am mixed to people with whom I share the same ethnicity. It might be a defense mechanism of mine, like I am saying “Look I am just like you I swear!”
Because in reality these are the people who I’ve seen the most prejudice from, who I wanted to truly be accepted by but who haven’t ever accepted me. Oh, the irony of it all.
I recently saw a New York Times article that was talking about the “American Children of the Future” that consisted of a slideshow of computer generated gorgeous faces. These were the faces of biracial and multi-racial kids, basically saying that everyone will be mixed one day. Some of them looked like me, others looked like the faces of kids that I grew up with. All I could think when going through the article was “the future is here ya’ll” because I’m American and I look just like everyone else.