I am Chinese and white. My mother is from Singapore, and my father is a white American. However, my mother raised my brother and me largely on her own, and my father has not been a part of our lives.

Technically, I am Polish. But Polish culture has had no bearing on my upbringing, thus I feel that the Polish ethnicity has nothing to do with who I am.

I am, however, white. In many situations I am taken to be white, thus I receive many white privileges. It would be untruthful for me to deny this, just as it would be repressive and self-hating to deny how very much being Chinese has shaped my life.

I do not like to identify as half-anything. It is too simple, too formulaic, too divisive. It implies that I must keep my identities separate. I experience the world in many ways: as an Asian American woman, as a white woman, and as a Hapa woman. My identity is much more complex than two halves.

I grew up in Austin, Texas and attended an almost entirely white public school. Almost all of my friends were white, and I had no sense of an Asian community or identity.

For much of my life, I would identify as Chinese only when it was convenient or pleasurable for me to do so, and more times than not felt ashamed when others realized I was Chinese. I would distance myself from what I perceived to be “Asianness.”

I refused to learn how to use chopsticks as a child, would beg my mother to cook American foods, and purposefully avoided becoming friends with other Asian students. To this day, I regret that I did not have any Asian friends growing up.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school when I started to become aware of my cultural experience. In my English class, we read the essay “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan. For all of my life until that point, I had been asked to identify with the experiences of white male authors. For the first time I was reading about a Chinese American woman whose struggles I could actually relate to; never before had something similar to what I’d experienced been articulated to me so clearly. I almost began to cry in class, and wrote page after page about it in my journal.

Since going to college, I have discovered my great passion: feminism. Feminist scholarship and activism sparked my interest in all things having to do with social justice, and has become a huge part of my identity. I wouldn’t trade my feminism for the world, and a large part of that has to do with how feminism helped me to become proud and reflexive about my Asian American identity. At my college I worked to co-found an Asian American Alliance, which has become one of my most personally rewarding educational endeavors. Owning both my whiteness and my Chinese identity, I am today truer to myself than ever before.

I often tweet about feminism, social justice, anti-racism and Asian American issues. If you are interested, follow me at @micromermaid

2 thoughts on “Chinese, White

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I think were are opposite sides of the same coin. I’m half Chinese, half Irish, and because I grew up with mostly Chinese kids, I always felt I was never Chinese enough…and compensated accordingly. In college I realized all my friends were Asian!

  2. Interesting insight into your experiences. As I have two young kids who are half-Taiwanese and half-white and I blog about this experience, I am always trying to hear perspectives from adults who are Hapa and how that fits into their identity.

    I can relate to what you wrote about reading Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” essay. I had a similar experience as a high school senior, when I read “Joy Luck Club”. (yes, I’m that old) It ended up being a part of my college application essay.

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