As I revamp a story that I began over a decade ago and mash into my current novel idea…an idea I’ve been presently plotting and outlining before I begin the tumultuous writing game, I find myself pondering the world of genetics, ethnicity, and evolution. I wonder about the impact of cultural differences and skin color – where you how you look and how you behave can cost you your life. Or cause you to be ostracized from your home. Or at the very least, presumed to be x, y, or z and judged accordingly by your supposed peers. All because of the tonal variation of your skin color and the uniqueness of your day to day rituals.
Swirling amongst those brain thoughts of me being mixed race and the life that has come with that, I also have the nagging remnants of the little girl I once was still trapped in my brain. The little girl who had hopes and fears. The little girl who had a big imagination. The little girl who felt like she never belonged.
And really, she never did. Not for one moment.
My youth was spent in a mostly white city with the next most populous race being Black. Asians were way scarce when I was growing up in my hometown. And quite honestly, I feel more comfortable around Blacks than I do Asians. I currently live in Seattle where there is a more abundant Asian population and a much less Black population compared to my most previous home cities in Ohio. And even though I may be surrounded by more folks who “look like me”, I feel even more as though I do not belong.
To the Seattle white folks, I feel like they just see “another Asian” in the crowd of Asians. I imagine most of them do not see the white in me. Most white people don’t.
And to the Asians, especially the older generations, I feel the frequent enough stares and the questions in their minds.
“What is she?”
“Where is she from?”
“I just can’t place her.”
Because no one has ever been able to guess. And there have been a plethora of guesses throughout my life since I was a wee babe in grade school being asked “What are you?” as each tiny interrogator of my ethnicity scrolled through their own personal rolodex of foreign countries (or to them, sometimes states).
“Are you Chinese?”
“Are you Hawaiian?”
“Are you Japanese?”
Those, of course, were the most common assumptions.
Because no one can see the white.
(I am, of course, speaking in generalities here. Some folks realize there’s more going on than just one race or another when they take a moment to really see me.)
As any minority knows, it is very difficult to not allow how others see you to define you. No matter how you feel or how you see yourself. Even though I feel white, especially from growing up with a childhood oozing southern Ohio whiteness and the white side of my family being the most prominent in my upbringing, I still can’t help but acknowledge I am not just white because most people only see the prominent Asian features scattered all over my face.
However, because I did not have an Asian parent present throughout my formative years and have no firsthand experience of growing up in an Asian culture or household as my half-brother and half-sisters did, I feel like I cannot claim my Asian background or even feel comfortable being around other Asians.
So subsequently, that otherness I feel is and has always been a part of my existence.
I am not white enough to be white.
I am definitely not Asian enough to be Asian.
So what am I?
You might say, “Well, you’re Asian American.”
Am I though? Even that feels not quite accurate when the Asian part only really applies to my appearance, especially because I have an Asian father who pretty much only contributed the sperm to give me life and didn’t have much else to contribute thereafter.
Aside from the negative and usually racist interactions due to my Asian features, my experiences are all-American, 80s, small-town white girl through and through.
Shit. For most of my life, I always thought I was half Thai. It was only about five years ago or so that I discovered from one of my sisters that our dad is actually half Thai and half Chinese as she had just learned that herself. He denied his Chinese heritage.
So, everything Thai I had learned in my youth (which is only about 1/4 of my ethnicity if you’re up to speed with me so far) has been through reading about the culture, etc. in a book or partaking in some Thai cuisine. So first of all, I didn’t even have all the correct information about where I “came from” to begin with even if I did want to get in touch with “my roots” or “act the part” to appease the puzzled white folks.
But anyway. To me, I am in some parallel limbo of misfits who do not fit into a predetermined box. I used to check “other” or “two or more races” and sometimes I wish those were still my only options where I was allotted only one ambiguous box to mark instead of now being able to check ALL the boxes that apply.
I, as well as other folks like myself, cannot be easily categorized, and it’s a lifelong journey to come to terms with that…to be OK with that. To be comfortable with that otherness.
Sometimes, it never happens. You accept that disconnected feeling and move on with your life…learning how to define yourself as you go along.
It is this feeling, this way of life, this limbo of not fitting in that I hope to do justice in my novel, and I cannot wait to bring those people and their world into existence.
*Image is a screenshot of my DNA map from 23andMe. This post is not sponsored. And please do not @ me about my privacy and whatnot. I know how to read fine print, and I take full responsibility in accepting the risks involved in sending my genetic code out to some random company…as if my DNA isn’t out in the world all the time for any ol’ person to snatch up anyway. And no, I’m not some crazy conspiracy theorist. ;)