What You’re Made Of

November 20, 2015

I’m hapa, specifically half Japanese and half white. It’s not exactly something that I talk about often, despite my race being a very personal part of myself.

I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona in a predominantly white community. As a child, I didn’t have many Asian friends and I certainly wasn’t around anyone that was mixed the same way I was. I remember being seen as different, possibly not in a good way, and because of this, subconsciously distanced myself from my race. This is called internalized racism.

Now living in a far more diverse community, I find that the majority of my friends are still white. In my close friend group, I am the diversity. Within my graduating class within the School of Theatre, I’m the only Asian–and I’m only half. In most class discussions (or social discussions for that matter) regarding race, I feel silenced. I’m not considered ethnic enough to say anything, but I’m not white enough to be unaffected. I simply pass.

Passing is a difficult concept for me to wrap my mind around, but the way I think of it is this: To the untrained eye, I look white enough. I talk and behave enough ‘like a white person’ to pass as one. I benefit from white privilege to an extent, because I pass. For this, I’m pretty grateful. I’m very fortunate and privileged, partially because of what others perceive me to be. The difficulty for me lies in what to do when I don’t want to pass anymore.

Last week I had a racial identity crisis that stemmed from being asked if I would be offended to be cast as a Vietnamese woman (I said I’d love to), and spiraled to the point of me calling my mom crying while I begged the world to tell me what I am. Apparently, this kind of identity crisis is not uncommon for mixed race people, so at least I’m not going completely insane. At the end of my crisis, I came to the conclusion that I’m allowed to feel the way I do. I’m allowed to not feel 100% connected to both my races all the time. I’m allowed to talk the way that I do without feeling bad about it. But I’m also allowed to speak when people are talking about diversity and race and #MixedPeopleProblems and not feel like I’m being judged by those ‘more ethnic’ than me. I’m allowed to be offended when one of my white friends jokes that she’s more diverse than me. I’m allowed to identify as being mixed because I actually am.

To any and all mixed (specifically hapa) people reading this, here’s a video that I found funny, and here is one that made me feel less alone. NPR also wrote a story about being hapa here. Also, consider submitting to The Hapa Project!

Xo, Willa

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