I accompanied my mother to pick up my little brother at a kindergarten classmate’s birthday party. When the birthday boy saw my mom, his eyes widen. With a gasp, he cried to my brother, “I didn’t know you were ADOPTED!”
I was bewildered. Why would he say my brother was adopted when he wasn’t? Why could’t he see that she was our mom?
This was the first time it dawned on me that being biracial was something that could be seen as out of the ordinary.
Disney World, 1998
It was summer and my extended family and I were at Disney World. One of my cousins and I were playing pinball, speaking only in Cantonese.
A Caucasian boy who looked to be about the same age as us (eight) walked over. “Ching chong chang,” he said, pulling at corners of his eyes.
My cousin was visiting the States for the first time and wasn’t confident in his English. He had never experienced anything like this before and had no idea what to make of it, although he sensed it wasn’t good. I, however, was no stranger to racial taunts and slurs, having experienced similar things on the school playground.
“STOP IT,” I shouted.
“Not you,” the boy snapped. He jerked his head in my cousin’s direction. “Him.”
“HE’S MY FAMILY.”
“How can he even see you out of those eyes to know you’re family?” he snickered as he walked away.
“You’re half Asian? No way.”
“Why the skepticism?”
“Well… actually, I guess I can believe that. You’re not that good at math.”
“Sir? Sir, I don’t know how to fill out this section.”
“It’s the demographics section of a PSAT. I’m pretty sure you’ve filled it out before.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I insisted. “In the box for race, it says to check one. But there’s no biracial option. Does that mean I just check ‘other’?”
The proctor shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “Or just check one of whatever race you are.”
“But then I’d be lying.”
“Oh, then just check ‘other.’ It’s not a big deal.”
The year 2006 and there was still no “biracial” or “two or more races” option on a standardized test high schoolers took nationwide and it wasn’t a big deal? I, and every other single biracial or multiracial child, begged to differ.
Hong Kong, 2008
“She’s a 鬼妮.”
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t born overseas. It didn’t matter that I spent part of my childhood in Hong Kong and spoke Cantonese and would go on to spend a year in Beijing to study Mandarin. It didn’t matter that I could more easily relate to Chinese culture and heritage than many first generation Americanss (American-born Chinese). To many Chinese, I’d always be a Western girl.
The irony was that to many Westerners, I’d always be a Chinese girl for those very same reasons.
“Do you have a picture of your parents you could show me?”
“I want to see what they looked like to make you. You’re so beautiful — I want to know what type of white man your mom married, so I know to look for. I want my children to be as beautiful as you.”
Washington, DC, 2014
“That dumbass was a woman AND Asian, so yeah, she was a terrible driver.”
A quick, and slightly guilty, glance in my direction.
Sorry for what? I wanted to ask. For the hurt behind your racist and sexist inclinations that you utter so blithely and carelessly from your cocoon of white privilege? Or for seeing me as Asian some days and American others, depending on what’s convenient for you, and never realizing that I am always, eternally, perpetually both?
“What are you?”