Me: “Well, it’s because I am.”
Random stranger: “Ohhhh, so where are your parents from?”
Me: “The islands.”
To be honest, I’ve never actually responded to the where-are-your-parents-from question like this, but I’ve always wanted to. I wouldn’t be lying. Dad is from the island of Maui, and Mom is from the island of Mercer Island; you know, that tropical haven in the middle of Lake Washington, where the latte is the local cuisine and the natives are about as exotic as Baby Gap T-shirts.
Yup, put Mom and Dad together and you get little ol’ island mixture me.
That’s how I racially identify myself. Mixed. However, growing up on Mercer Island, I always felt like the token minority. I mean, I played Martin Luther King Jr. in our fourth-grade play. When I was little, I didn’t know any other Filipino kids, much less any mixed ones. So, for me, understanding who I was racially and culturally proved perplexing.
Last weekend, I attended The National Conference on the Mixed Race Experience here in Seattle. Among hundreds of other mixed-race and trans-racially adopted students, I learned how multiracial youth can internalize confusion, guilt and shame from being marginalized between two or more different cultures. Such feelings of isolation can exacerbate identity problems. And this is serious. A healthy racial identity is related to positive self-esteem. Early on, I taught myself that when people gawked at me like I was some exotic circus animal, it was because I was special, not different. But I’ve grown to understand that being mixed isn’t special because strangers think I’m some peculiar hybrid — it’s because multiracial people have access to membership in multiple worlds. We possess the opportunity to serve as bridges to promote cohesiveness in our multi-ethnic society.
But sometimes in the eyes of others, I’m not so much a link between communities, as an opportunistic freeloader.
“You’re only a minority when it’s convenient.” This came from the mouth of a highschool classmate who continued, “Think about it, Angela. Judging from where you were raised and how you dress and talk, it’s not really fair to identify yourself as part of a Filipino/Hawaiian community just because you’re darker than anyone around here. Can you hula? Can you speak Tagalog?”
You know what? The answer is no. I can’t hula or speak Tagalog, and I regret that. But I am not ashamed. I don’t have to “deserve” or “justify” my skin color. No one does. You don’t have to convince the stork that you’re “racially worthy” before it drops you off to your brown or white or mocha-colored family.
People talk about breaking down stereotypes and accepting others of different racial backgrounds. Mixed individuals are proof that this is happening. We’re tangible, living symbols of change.
Yes, I’m different. But I’m not about to start calling myself “half-American, half-something else.” All of me is American. By speaking out, mixed individuals can propel the dialogue on racial and social-justice issues in this country. We can create more unification in this pluralistic world.
Angela Balinbin is a Seattle University junior. E-mail: NEXT@seattletimes.com