Every single day of my life, I get asked the same question: what are you?
That can encompass a lot of different things, but I always know that people are referring to my ethnic background. It used to be a question that made me angry: why do I have to constantly explain where I came from and why I look the way I do?
I grew up with my Korean mother and never knew my African American father. I went to all-Korean church; throughout my childhood, all my friends were of varying Asian backgrounds; and I hung out with all the Asian neighboring kids after school around my house. As a child, I never thought that was weird. It was when I entered high school that people began asking me, “Why aren’t any of your friends black?” This was a question that never brought any attention to me because I didn’t see friendship in skin tones. I didn’t care who my friends were. I never sought out to have all Asian friends. Did I have to seek out a black friend just because other people thought it was weird that I didn’t have any?
My mother raised me the only way she knew how: as best she could. She couldn’t teach me the full spectrum of where I came from, aside from what she knew of her family. She couldn’t teach me what other people would think of me and how I should handle it. She couldn’t teach me that my hair would frizz in humid weather. She couldn’t teach me that self-worth does not lie in your skin color. She couldn’t teach me about the specific kind of racism I would experience, and how best to react. She couldn’t teach me that I wasn’t ready for what I was going to walk into just by virtue of being myself.
When I moved to San Francisco, I was excited to be in the melting pot of all races, in a mecca of diversity. But instead of being accepted and finding my place, I had never felt so targeted in a city full of so many different people. I began to feel isolated and annoyed by the amount of people that would approach me and question the validity of the background I had no say in crafting for myself. I hadn’t convinced my parents to have me, after all.
I had never felt like my looks were that interesting or different, much less to total strangers. I was used to being in the same place for so many years. I was used to people knowing my background. Sure, I got some slack back home, but it did not compare to the way I felt in San Francisco.
I didn’t know how to feel about who I was.
The first time I really felt targeted against was at the Colorado Airport as I was trying to catch my flight back home to San Francisco. The flight had landed and I was at the baggage claim waiting for my luggage. Someone approached me and let me know that I needed to have my bag looked at by customs. I was the only one on that fight that got pulled. I wasn’t annoyed. I get it, random back checks, right? I headed over and as the airport employee went through my bag, he started to ask me standard questions. Where are you going? Why are you going there? What do you do for work? Then he locked eyes with me and asked me, “Do you listen to rap music?” I just stared at him for a long time. Are you trying to ask me if I am black? I was infuriated. I told him I was black. He told me he thought I was something else and was “just making sure.”
In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten so mad. Maybe my ethnic background had nothing to do with why I got pulled. Maybe in that exact moment he really was just curious.
I fell into a very diverse group of people over the years and was thrown off by other people’s perspectives of me, or what they thought I should be. They were vocal about this. The array of questions I got when people asked me my ethnic background was astounding; I got everything from, “Why do you have a white name?” to “You’re not Filipina?” and “How come you don’t talk ghetto? Can you just say something ghetto for me?” It goes on: “Is your hair real? Can I touch it?” “Why isn’t your butt bigger?” “Why don’t you date black guys?”
I could take ignorance with a grain of salt, but I couldn’t take on everyone’s miseducation. I could, however, start with my own circle of friends. I will not and am not the center of jokes or belittlement, so please ask me a question in all seriousness and I will fully guide you. Just don’t make my identity into a joke.
Being biracial is not a joke. It is being a human being.
I found, however, that I had to learn who I was and learn to love myself before I tackle anyone else opinions of me. They were just as confused as I was.
At the end of the day, I am a blend of a love that is lost and what remains is my mother’s eyes and nose, my father’s mouth and a mix of their skin and heights. Everything that is inside of me is me. The way I look is not all of who I am. And the next time you want to come up to me and ask me what I am? I will be more than happy to answer.
I am biracial.