“What are you?” is the question I most often get asked when I meet someone for the first time.
I can vouch for many other mixed-raced Asian kids that this is probably one of the most commonly asked questions. Being someone with a mixed ancestry can mean a lot of things, but one constant is the never-ending quest to find our place in the world.
Even something as simple as official forms becomes a headache. Which box should I check for my ethnicity? Both my parents and grandparents are mixed – so how do I even begin to describe my complex ancestry? My constant struggle with choosing which ethnicity to pick feels like I’m choosing one parents’ lineage over the other.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as there are other issues that biracial folks experience.
The Language Fix
Living in Asia often means you are at least bilingual. If you’re a Filipino for example, chances are you speak Tagalog and English as they’re part of the curriculum at school. We don’t mean to flex but, some of us can even speak three or more languages!
In Asia specifically, when you’re of mixed race, many automatically assume that you’re a language wizard. However, when you can’t speak your mother tongue, people then rip you apart. For example, in some South Asian countries, you’re labelled a ‘coconut’ if you can’t speak Tamil. If you can’t speak Mandarin or any of it’s dialects, you’re then called a ‘banana’. These are stereotypes that have to go!
If you’re a biracial kid, there are two ways you could have a ‘language fix’. Depending on how you communicate growing up, you could either be a multi-linguist, or someone who can’t speak their mother tongue well or at all.
The problem with not being able to speak your mother tongue is that some people may look down upon you for not appreciating your culture. However, for a lot of biracial kids, their inability to speak their native language has more to do with their upbringing and culture. For example, many Asians who migrated to other Western countries are forced to prioritise the lingua franca of that country instead of their native one. Hence why it’s harder to practice your mother tongue if your parents don’t speak to you in it on a daily basis.
Your Opinions Can Become Invalid
Another issue with being a biracial kid is that it’s sometimes harder to be heard. Not only are we a subcategory of our many ethnicities, biracial and multiracial people like us don’t get much representation on TV.
When people find out that you’re mixed, you will tend to hear a lot of the words ‘if’ and ‘but’. The issue when some people try to brush a biracial person’s struggles off with an ‘if’ or a ‘but’, is that it makes it seem as if their experience is not worthy to be in the bigger picture. What may happen here is that mixed kids may feel disregarded as people are not willing to listen to their story.
I find that this usually happens when you’re discussing a heavier issue, say, something political regarding your ethnicity. When you try to give your input on the matter, others may think your struggles aren’t ‘pure’ or as real as those who aren’t mixed. They think you just get a ‘pass’ as you can always say you’re half this or that. In reality, some biracial folk work hard in trying to represent their cultures, not hide it.
It’s not easy trying to navigate these conversations, especially when both sides of the family constantly chime in that you’re “playing for the other team”. Growing up, I always had a group of cousins who kept ‘checking’ me about my privilege. They would say that because of my ‘biracial advantage’, I didn’t have to worry as much as them when it came to finances.
For context, if you’re Malay or a native in Malaysia, you can apply for higher education in selected government universities for a very affordable price. Other races, or in this case for my Indian cousins, don’t have that leeway, so I totally understand where they’re coming from.
As much as I agree that it can be unfair in some situations, there is no need to treat a biracial person with animosity when it comes to the topic of privilege. A better approach would be to have an open conversation on the concept of privilege and race. If this was practiced more instead of just highlighting their privileges, we could actually figure out how to make our education system more merit-based and not race-based.
People Might Fetishise You
I’ll admit, I have used dating apps like Tinder or Bumble. Although there are fun conversations, there’s one thing that doesn’t sit right with me. Quite a number of people on these apps have a fetish for not just Asian women, but biracial Asian women too.
It’s true that people can have preferences, however, when pick up lines like, “If you’re Asian or mixed, slide in my DM’s” keep appearing on online dating bios, it can be detrimental to people who are of those identities. It raises the question of whether they are into Asian or biracial women just because of their ethnicity more than actually wanting to get to know them as individuals.
A Vietnamese-American friend of mine, Clara, went on a date with a guy who clearly had a thing for biracial women for all the wrong reasons. One of his questions was if she was ‘flexible’, as “Asian women were known to be more flexible and have lean bodies.” She ended the date as soon as she could when his questions became more perverse. He even noted she could fit perfectly into his family as she’d make their lives ‘spicier’ but still knew how to be an American.
What’s worse is if these preferences turn into a fetish subjected to Asian and biracial women unwillingly. Finding out that you’re just another notch on a guy’s belt because of your mixed or Asian ethnicity could also affect your self-esteem, as it makes it seem like you’re just an object to be won.
You’re More Culturally Aware
Aside from the cons that biracial kids have to endure, being biracial allows you to learn and understand more cultures.
Biracial folks who are exposed to more cultural traditions can result in them being able to understand more about the concept of race and ethnicity. For example, someone mixed would likely be able to relate more to inside jokes about two or more cultures, as they would be more familiar with the trope or lingo.
They can also sometimes see more points of views regarding heavier topics, such as racial stereotypes. As they have seen or grown up in more than one culture, they may be better at distinguishing and recognising how little racial stereotypes actually have to do with the actual ethnicity itself.
When it comes to travel, mixed kids likely have a slight advantage especially if they know the culture or language more. Anyone can have a love for culture and tourism, however, not everyone can easily adjust to how a specific country lives. Many racially-mixed people have no qualms about trying traditions or food that are foreign to them as they’re used to learning about multiple cultures in their own household.
If a biracial person can speak more than one language, they would usually have no problems blending in with the locals, especially if they can speak the same language.
All in all, growing up biracial indeed comes with a few struggles. It’s not easy to live a life where there are double the expectations to live up to. On the other hand, there are of course some privileges that come with this identity. As long as one knows how to balance the two, being biracial could just be a blessing in disguise.