“What’s your background?”
As a biracial person, I hear this question at least once a month, or several times a day if I am new to the community.In the past, I felt urgency to explain my identity; today, I am no longer inclined to answer when probed for my racial history. I ask people instead to make their own guesses—Hawaiian, First Nations, Italian, and South American are some of many replies. It has taken over 16 years, and multiple mixed environments, to reach a point of identification where I no longer need to resonate with either side of my background.
I was one of two children representing a visible minority within my grade three class. My mother comes from the British Isles and my father is originally Chinese—despite this, I identified solely with my Caucasian descent as a result of lack of classroom diversity. Surrounded by a host of blondes and brunettes—where the only other student was of a similar mix to myself—my differences from my classmates, such as celebrating a different New Year, seemed more like minor divergences rather than important factors of my cultural identity.
As such, I began to reject these ‘abnormalities’ to the racial norm I perceived. Disliking the differences in my own appearance, I felt urgency in elementary school to establish that I did share 50 per cent of the same ethnic background as my peers. Rather than identifying as a child of mixed nationality, I focused on my mother’s side and tried to ignore my father’s.
This perception all changed, however, when I entered middle school. My environment shifted 180 degrees, taking my own claims to identity with it. In a class of predominantly Asian students, I now felt sorely aware of my other half—a half that I had ignored for 12 years.
Anxiously, I began learning about this other side that now composed my cultural norm. While eating kimchi for the first time or browsing the cubicle-type boutiques at Pacific Mall, Markham’s Asian shopping centre, were eye-opening experiences, my attempts to explore my other half ultimately yielded disappointing results. Despite my efforts, I could not strongly connect with this culture, nor could I now feel accepted identifying as fully Caucasian.
It wasn’t until I learned about the Métis people during high school that I finally resonated with an identity on the racial spectrum. The text described situations where the Mètis, tracing their identity to a mix of European and First Nations descent, took offense to being called ‘hybrids.’ I, however, immediately resonated with the term. While somewhat crude, it described my situation exactly—a hybrid of two different cultures. Recognizing that I was neither Caucasian nor Asian allowed me to stop trying to choose one side or the other, but instead create a new identity acknowledging the fact that I am both.
Several months later, my friend jokingly called me a ‘half-breed.’ The room dropped quiet as she hastily apologized, but I was surprisingly unfazed by the situation. Breaking into laughter, I acknowledged the accuracy of her claim, ultimately recognizing that I was proud to represent two different ethnicities. Today, after listening to the many guesses, I assuredly answer that I am a mix of Chinese and Irish—happily anticipating the surprise.