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Photos, Personal Accounts: Portaits of a Multi-Ethnic Life

| December 16, 2011
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Friday’s episode of Forum, part of the “In My Experience” series, highlighted personal stories about growing up biracial and multi-racial. The series is produced by Forum and the Public Insight Network and aims to shed light on experiences often analyzed through data or debated by experts, but rarely discussed in the first person.

You can listen to today’s episode of Forum here:

There were more interesting replies to Forum’s call for experiences than we could ever fit in a single episode, so we decided to document some of them online. Below, in no particular order, are excerpts from responses that people shared with the Public Insight Network and photos taken by KQED’s Michelle Gachet.

Fanshen DiGiovanni of Los Angeles: “Being mixed-race manifests for me on a daily basis, in terms of how I code switch depending on whom I’m talking to, get asked ‘what are you’ whenever I meet someone new, and I often ponder whether my father can love me fully when I am half of a race that has been responsible for so much oppression historically – and how to still love and honor my white mother despite this.”

Nicole Littmann of Oakland: “When I was younger, there was also an exoticism that was applied to me and my mixed-race friends that we used to talk about a lot. We didn’t like it because it further isolated us (pedestal or not). I’ve also been approached by complete strangers out of the blue and been asked what I am. Hated that, too. I don’t mind the question if I’m getting to know someone, but for someone to be so compelled to categorize me in their minds to the point where they would approach a stranger and ask that one question? Crazy!”

Alison Perez of Fremont: “I can’t tell you how many people have matched my face to my name and said, ‘Well, you don’t look much like a Perez.’”

Anthony Wright of Davis: “I’ve appreciated living in California in the last 10 years, where the hyperdiversity is common and in many cases accepted, and where there’s an understanding that a last name doesn’t necessarily indicate ethnicity. I joke that I am a typical Californian: half Latino, half white, a percentage Asian, and from New York.”

Lora Santiago of Vallejo: “Even at college, I wasn’t Filipino enough to join the Filipino Club because I couldn’t speak Tagalog and my parents weren’t born there. UCD seemed like the land of tall blondes. I definitely felt culture shock coming from a predominantly Black neighborhood in South Vallejo.”

Whitney Pennington of Berkeley: “At home, I was very much Korean. In public, I did everything I could to just be black. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to embrace this part of myself … being of mixed race has often made me feel conflicted and empty.”

Anonymous: “As a ‘multi-ethnic American,’ my language skills, knowledge of tradition or culture, the way I look, and my overall being in general never quite met the qualifications of authentically belonging to any of those branches. The result has often left me an outsider, at best a diplomat.”

Leah Price of San Francisco: “I feel like I get the best of both worlds! I get to learn about, celebrate, and enjoy two very different, yet rich cultural heritages. My mixed race background has been an asset to me and has helped me be more open to cultural differences.”

Maria Pilar Bratko of Oakland: “Being mixed race has resulted in my appearance being difficult to decipher. What that means is that people often make me what they want me to be… sometimes I’m Hawaiian. Sometimes I’m Indonesian, or Native American, or Philipino, or… you get the gist. However, sadly, no one has ever guessed what I really am which means I fit everywhere and yet am never seen.”

Dan Pimpan of Emeryville: “When you come from a “mixed” background your intuition is to find the compromise between two situations as ‘you’ came from ‘two’ culturally different ideologies, cultural influences, social economic backgrounds to form a new biological entity and at some point in one’s life, your faced with finding ‘your’ middle or identify with one and disregard the other. I think well rounded blender babies have mastered the middle. But getting to the middle can be a mind-screw as you grow-up, to tell you the truth.

Jay Harvey of Chicago: “Teenagers especially are the strongest generation I’ve seen in terms of not choosing one race or another. It’s a joy to see.”

Sahra Sulaiman of Los Angeles: “In short, being a mix has set me up to be a mediator. After 9/11, I found myself becoming a voice for the Muslim world with my students at USC, where I was pursuing a doctorate in International Politics. As a mixed person, I was somehow more legitimate and not fully one of “them” … even if airport folks still treat me as a potential threat…sigh.”

Susan Champion of San Francisco: “She’s optimistic about the increased presence of mixed-race individuals in the media. She says “I am super-encouraged by the increase in media representations of interracial couples and their proliferation in daily life. Although I still feel that black women tend to have far less inter-racial romantic opportunities than black men. All-in-all, though, I am so excited for the almost exponential, yet unspoken-about increase in interracial couples/offspring in the media.”

Ella: “I do wish there were more multiracial characters in TV and movies, where they just happen to be mixed. It sounds stupid now, but as a kid — I felt torn because I thought I had to choose between the Asian characters and the white characters … Whenever a character is “mixed” in some way, it is often in a cheesy fantasy or sci-fi way, where the character angsts constantly about being half human (or whatever).”

Cheryl Quintana Leader of Mar Vista Hills: “The Caucasian community that are my friends feel that I should ‘take advantage’ of being ‘the flaver of the month’ and opt into all the opportunities afforded to my community by the government. Then, there are those in the Caucasian community … who feel that I am just a mere opportunitst who is ‘scavenging off’ what they feel to be unfair ‘hand-outs’ by the government. Then, there is the Latino community who feel that I am not ‘Latino enough’ because I don’t speak Spanish fluently, I don’t come from ‘the neighborhood,’ and I don’t subscribe to the same religious or cultural beliefs as more traditional Latino/as do.”

Chris Buswell of Costa Mesa: “It is becoming the defining American experience to be multiracial.”

Jonathan Gillespie of Los Angeles: “There isn’t an automatic ‘you belong with this group’ when I walk into a new situation or work place or school, or whatever. I often have to branch out to to other people who don’t fit into a solid group, or make friends with people from all different groups, which I think is not the normal experience for people who know automatically where they ‘fit in’ so to speak.”

You can share your experience with the Public Insight Network by clicking here.

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About the Author ()

Amanda Stupi is the Engagement Producer for KQED’s daily public affairs program Forum. In that role she turns the information shared during the hour-long call-in show into web-friendly content. Her writing has been featured throughout KQED.org, including on KQED Arts and News Fix as well as on MLB.com, Hyphen Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner. Her radio work has aired on The California Report and Talk of the Nation. Stupi runs the @KQEDForum Twitter account and Forum Facebook account. Her personal Twitter account is @FiftyCentHotdog. She believes that Hostess products get a bad rap and that cereal can save the world. Reach Amanda Stupi at astupi@kqed.org.
  • Anonymous

    While being multiracial can’t help but form part of one’s self image and consciousness, it really should be pushed into the background since in the great scheme of things it won’t matter that much.  What matters is for those with the determination and capacity to find a vocational niche that has a greater likelihood of fostering a livelihood which in turn bolsters both financial and social capital that leads to forming and maintaining a family.