"Are you adopted?" "Why are your parents' different colors?" "Wow, you look so exotic!" "You're black but you don't even act black."
These stereotypical phrases are heard regularly to people of mixed race or ethnicity, including myself. While some questions allow me to proudly share my heritage, many of the other comments used to contribute to feelings of confusion, misplacement, while forcing me to justify the way that I am to others. Meghan Markle's article in Elle inspired me to share my own story, which share many similarities. So, this is my story about how I was able to overcome these insecurities about my background while growing up in a predominantly white community.
Ever since I can remember, I was aware of my different ethnicities. My father, a strong African American man and my mother, a graceful Filipino woman, both gave me a good sense of who I am and where I come from. There were times when I was younger, I recall asking my mother shyly, "Why is my skin darker than yours?" To this, she would simply answer, "Because that is the way that God made you." My parents emphasized how my facial features and my eye color were the same as theirs, just like other families. These answers gave me clarity, confidence, and comfort. However, this did not last for long.
In elementary school, we had annual standardized testing and that came with filling out questions pertaining to one's grade, age, and ethnicity, much like Markle's experience at her school. There were five boxes that I could choose from: White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Other. I had never felt so conflicted about my ethnic background in my life. I was unsure if I should pick Black or Asian because I felt that choosing one would negate my other half. After going back and forth, I looked up from my paper and realized that all of my white classmates finished and were waiting for me to move to the next question. Finally, in a rush of embarrassment, I chose Black. I did not choose this because I rejected my Filipino side but because I felt pressured to fit in one box. This moment snapped me out of my color-blindness and forced me to face the fact that I was different from all of my white peers. Soon I began to hear jokes about my biracial heritage from my classmates that I had not noticed before.
My classmates' micro-aggressions slowly chipped away the confidence that my parents instilled in me.
One day I bought a hair straightener and started to dress like my white friends so I could attempt to look similar to them despite my dark complexion and my stubborn, frizzy hair. This behavior continued for a couple of years until I reached eleventh grade. Finally, I had matured and had dialogues with my parents about my rich ethnicity and how this was one of my greatest strengths. Not only did I belong to one culture, but two. I threw out my straightener, embraced my wavy hair, and began to accept both of my ethnicities as something I should be proud of. I corrected people when they called me Black by adding that I was Filipino and I was excited when they complimented my skin and hair. I no longer allowed those tiny standardized test boxes or my peers' comments to confuse my identity or dictate my level of self-confidence.
My experience as a person of mixed-race has been nothing but a blessing to me even though I may not have recognized it all the time. My hope is that every mixed person is able to find their identity on their own without feeling the pressure to conform -- while celebrating every part that makes them unique. All in all, I love being Black and Filipino and I would not want it any other way!