DSC04671.jpgA collaboration between Kaylana Mueller-Hsia ’19 (Interviews and Writing) and John Liu ’19 (Photography)

 

Last Black Friday I put an AncestryDNA test in my Amazon cart. It was the perfect pre-packaged, discounted key to my mixed heritage. In six to eight weeks my identity would be broken down beyond a hyphenated German-Chinese last name into precise proportions of countries and time periods. However, scrolling through reviews criticizing the scarcity of information on non-European ancestry, my confidence began to waver. Did I want to pay $54.99 to learn about the 6.8% of me that was determined Eastern European? More fundamentally, was I ready to accept the definitions of ethnicity mysteriously coded according to a mix of culture, location, time and physical features? While we swarm to give away information that holds the history of our ancestors and the future of our descendants in search of some objective identity, our cultural truths remain blurry and complicated. No number of percentages and charts organizing my genetic profile into neat geographic categories would ever paste together my experience as a third generation, multiracial Chinese American. So how could I think about myself? In the last several months, I have found pieces of my answer in the following dimensions:

  1. To understand my identity, I need the language for it.
    Multiracial, multicultural, Hapa, Eurasian, mixed, half. Does the right language exist for an intersection? Can I describe my crossroad with the same words that you use to describe yours? I seek a shared identity with others on the basis of multiplicity, instead of a common cultural heritage. Yet even within this shared quality, differences abound.
  2. I must consider the place of my identity in society.
    Biracialism confers many privileges for me. The ability to pass between multiple communities, to identify as a woman of color yet to benefit from the cultural acceptance associated with my whiteness. To choose between identities at will. Yet, there are other mixed Asian experiences that do not include the historical and systemic advantages of whiteness. We must understand multiracialism beyond a model of “white + X,” and the power dynamics at play in multiracial couples and children. While that particular pattern has its own problematic history in the exoticism of women of color by white men, partially white children are also represented more than other mixed children and thus set as the standard of mixed identity. We must press multiracial discourse to be inclusive of all mixed backgrounds.
  3. I should also question how society shapes me.
    How people read my “asian-ness” physically, ranging from predominantly Asian to at least not white, influences how I perceive my own identity. “Ethnic ambiguity” means constantly dissecting yourself, correcting assumptions, fitting at best partially into multiple communities, at worst not fitting into any. Simultaneously, it means you are often vaguely lumped into a monolith of uncategorized faces, as if multiracialism is a singular cultural experience rather than the exact opposite.
  4. I cannot try to simplify my identity.
    A post-racial world was the fantasy of 21st century dreams of globalization and multiculturalism. Yet twenty years later, the deidentified, olive-skinned woman of the 1993 TIME magazine cover is not the face of America. I have yet to reach the point where there is no need to think about my experience and responsibility as someone who is half Chinese and half white.
  5. I must seek out the stories of others.
    The photos and experiences that follow are meant to be a platform that recognizes multiracial East Asian Americans. I chose this subset because it is what I can speak to, and attempting to represent all mixed identities felt like an inevitably insufficient endeavor. Most editorials that highlight multiracial identities choose to emphasize headshots, undone hair and no makeup, an
    au naturel hybrid profile to peer at. Here is a taste of some of the personalities behind the faces. They are friends and friends of friends, and their stories say more than any number of words I could write.

 

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“I think something that is not necessarily unique to mixed people, but is more imperative, is making up traditions where there haven’t been any before. At my Bat Mitzvah, for example, my Jewish grandmother gave me a prayer shawl called a tallit, as is customary. Then, my Korean grandmother, my halmoni, gave me a Korean gown called a hanbok. The tallit part was classic, the hanbok part completely made-up. It fit my reality of having grandparents from different places, of honoring multiple traditions by creating a new one.”

Maddie Chang graduated in June 2018 with a degree in History and a minor in Middle Eastern Languages, Literature and Culture. She is half Korean and half Eastern European Jewish. Maddie grew up in San Francisco, California.

 

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“I think the experience of being Vietnamese is very unique, as opposed to being from East Asian countries. My family members were not economic migrants, they didn’t come here with a college education to pursue something greater. They came here because they were refugees from the Vietnam War and they had literally been persecuted out of their country.”

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“I was very angsty in high school about the fact that I never really tapped into my Vietnamese identity in a way that felt personal and salient and real. I always felt like an imposter saying I was half Vietnamese when I couldn’t speak the language and had never even been to the place. When I finally went to Vietnam, my great aunts there had been saving these jade bracelets for the first grandchildren to ever return home and I got one. It’s permanent, it doesn’t come off, and it’s very much a daily reminder of how much I value my Vietnamese ancestry and how much I want to continue practicing the culture and traditions…The experience of going there, and receiving this bracelet, stands out a lot to me in terms of feeling very affirming, like yes, you can claim this part of yourself.”

Audrey Huynh is a senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Human Rights. Audrey is half Vietnamese and half white. She grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

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“In terms of not-black people I am perceived as a part of the black community. And then in the black community I am perceived as mixed. So there’s a duality of never being fully integrated and always feeling like you’re slightly outside.”

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“You look at our family photos and most of us look nothing alike. But we are truly a family. We get together more than most people I know. We have shared experiences and memories built together. I think a lot of people lose their extended family when they start their own and I hope that won’t be the case. I think there’s a good possibility that it won’t be. And I’m proud of that.”

Kenyon Donald is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He is half black, one quarter white and one quarter Japanese. Kenyon grew up in Lakeport, California.

 

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“I went to a summer camp when I was in 5th grade in Hawaii. It was the first time I was surrounded by a lot of people that looked like me. And it was also a bunch of really driven kids. Even in 5th grade, these were kids whose parents were on them about schoolwork and things like that. My parents had always been the same way. So I think that was really formative for me in shaping my identity because I started wondering what it meant to be Hapa and what it meant to be in this community of kids who have parents coming from different backgrounds. [I realized] there’s this whole community of people who are similar to me, in terms of their background and interests, that exists out there. And I think that was probably something that crept into my mind before, like are there other half Asians out there? It seemed very unusual in New York. So seeing a whole community that at least looked the same and came from a similar background was really cool for me. Coming to Stanford was the same––coming into a community where you’re more represented in the student body is an important aspect of being more comfortable with yourself.”

Conrad Milhaupt is a junior majoring in Economics and Public Policy. He is half German and half Japanese and grew up in New York City.  

 

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“Something I used to do a lot when I got to know someone is ask them, What do you see me as––Asian, white or mixed? I think I was always really sensitive to how people perceive me on a physical, racial basis. And I would allow how other people perceive me to dictate how I felt about myself in my interactions with that person…But honestly, the last year or two I’ve come to really appreciate being biracial. I think it’s a very unique part of me.”

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“I just had a conversation about race with my mom, which is funny because she is the white one. And she said she had hoped that by not ever talking about race that it wouldn’t ever be an issue for me. And so she never knew how much my racial identity affected me. And I can see where she’s coming from, but I honestly wish someone had talked to me. But then neither my mom or my dad could truly relate because my mom is fully white and my dad is full Asian, so they both have their own experiences.”

Jessica Hui is a senior majoring in Human Biology. She is half white and half Chinese and grew up Thousand Oaks, California.

 

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“I don’t think I discovered the Asian-American part of my identity until coming to Stanford, where I was posed the question of ‘which groups do I associate or identify with?’ I think that the Asian-American Theater Project helped me figure this out through a play called Purple Cloud, which was oriented around being Hapa, or mixed race. Although I had never acted before, I decided to audition because I thought that if I was ever going to act, this was going to be the play to do so.

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I ended up being cast as the role of the grandfather, a half white, half Chinese mechanic coming to terms with being neither truly asian nor truly white in the WWII Era, a period of great racial division. By talking with the Director, the Playwright, and the rest of the Cast and Crew (many of which were also Hapa), I was able to acquire a better conception of not only my character’s perception of being mixed race identity, but my own as well. I am extremely thankful that I was able to be part of such a meaningful production that has allowed me to better understand my racial identity, and has motivated me to tell stories to represent people like me on screen, on stage, or in other ways as well.”

Matt Shimura is a senior majoring in Film and Media Studies, and minoring in Computer Science. He is half Japanese and half Caucasian, and grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii.

 

 

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About the Guest Editors:

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Kaylana Mueller-Hsia is a senior majoring in International Relations with a concentration in South and East Asia. She was inspired to create this project after researching the history of multiracial Asian American representation in U.S. media for the class “350 years of America-China Relations” with Dr. Gordon Chang. If you would like to talk with her about the editorial, her contact is kaylana@stanford.edu.

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John Liu is a senior majoring in Symbolic Systems in the Decision Analysis track. Coming from Stratford-upon-Avon in England, he has become fascinated by how differently race is talked about and perceived in the Bay Area compared to back home. The recent discovery that he is partly Dutch (thanks to 23andMe) sparked a personal interest in how he understands multiracial identities. He is incredibly excited to work with Kaylana, his first freshman dorm friend, on this project!