My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is Polish-American (from northern Wisconsin), and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin in the 80’s. We were the only mixed-race family I knew, possibly the only one in town, and my family never talked about race. That made things hard. When the kids at school were pulling their eyes slanty and going “Ching-chong-wing-wong!” my parents told me it was the cruelty of kids, not racism.
My dad tried really hard to be as white as possible (joining the bowling league and tennis team, speaking flawless English), quite possibly partly to stop standing out all the time. However, that didn’t help my own questions of who I was, of my identity. He didn’t like talking about Hong Kong, festival days, beliefs, either — he kept it all close to the vest, which again left me with little resources to go off of in figuring out where I fit in in the world. I grew up with Chinese newspapers strewn around the house, but I couldn’t read them. And he would talk long-distance to his relatives, but I couldn’t understand them, and nor could I talk with them myself.
So it was hard and confusing, and lonely. The first time I met someone who looked like me, I was 21 years old (!) and in France studying abroad. The girl sat in my classroom and I just kept staring at her: she looked almost exactly like me. After class, I practically ran up to her to introduce myself and said, “we look alike.” She laughed and said, “Of course we do. You’re biracial. So am I. I could totally tell from the moment I saw you.” She was half Chinese, half German.
From that moment on, my search for identity began in earnest. I’d never heard the term “biracial” before, but I knew that it was finally a name for myself that I could “own” — that was mine, being biracial was my path. Since then, I’ve been devouring books and articles, and I LOVE Hapa Voice, seeing all the different ways that people like me navigate the world and their questions in it.
I’m also a children’s writer, and my debut book, Bird, just came out through Simon and Schuster. The protagonist is, yes, multiracial (Jamaican/Mexican/White). I didn’t make her Hapa because that felt a little too close to home. Besides, I love learning about new cultures, and it was fun to learn a lot about Jamaica and Mexico. Growing up, I didn’t have any “mirror” that reflected me or my experiences — not in movies, TV, books, or billboards. A part of me was starving to encounter a story that reflected my own questions, my own lived experience. It is with Bird that I offer mixed-race kids a mirror to themselves – and perhaps a window to their parents and friends, that they can peer in and see a little bit of what our struggles, our joys, and our questions are like.
Come find me at: www.crystalchanwrites.com