Hi, my name is Alexis Dods. I am 19 years old, and currently finishing up my freshman year at Whittier College in the Los Angeles area.
I was born in Washington state to a Caucasian father and Thai mother. Shortly after I was born, my mother and I moved to Thailand and I grew up there for a year or so. Then she and I moved back to the United States after my sister was born.
Based on intermittent conversations with my father and frequent conversations with my mother, I have gathered that I am Thai/Chinese/German/Scottish/English. To this day, I am not entirely certain in regards to my Caucasian side, as I have been estranged from my father for quite some time. I have also learned from family members on that side that have been searching into the family’s ancestry as well that we may have some Native American heritage.
Because I became estranged from my father at a young age, I was raised by my Thai family. My great grandma on my mother’s side, or my Yai, taught me to speak Thai as a child. I am so grateful for this, as I feel that my ability to speak Thai fluently—so fluently in fact, that as a child, I spoke Thai better than English and struggled in school—has preserved and strengthened my ties to my Thai heritage and Thai culture. I traveled to Thailand with my family when I was 15 and felt like I belonged there; however, only to an extent.
While visiting, I found that I was exoticized. Furthermore, people would glance at me repeatedly with a quizzical look. They were surprised when I appeared alongside my Thai mother and were even more surprised when I spoke to them in Thai. A lot of people assume that I am Indian, Mexican, Hispanic, or Native American.
When my mother would explain to them that I am half Thai half Caucasian, they still wondered why I was so dark. Despite this, I found that people were more drawn to me because they could not quite figure out what I was. I find that this is more pronounced in the United States—especially when I go to the Asian market with my mother. I have had people blatantly stare at me for ten minutes. Nonetheless, I am not offended or deeply upset by this, it has just led me to question my identity and place in society.
I often struggled with deciding which box to fill in when questioned about my race in college and job applications. I still do to this day unless there is an option for “other” with lines next to it that allow me to fill in the blanks. I can definitely say that I have come to love being Hapa. I was not always fond of my multiracial and multicultural identity.
I went to two predominantly white high schools, and felt that I did not belong as a person of color who could not be lumped into one particular group. I was able to make friends easily, but people often made assumptions about my race, as stated above. My best friends from high school were mostly Caucasian. I had very few Asian or Hapa friends in high school, but I think that’s because there were very few of us to begin with. It was not until I got to college that I was comfortable enough to identify as Hapa.
I am proud to be Hapa because I have gained different cultural perspectives on the world because of it—although they are limited to Thai and American culture. I feel that this was not only influenced by my own Hapa identity, but by my family overall. Most of my cousins and even younger brother are Hapa. My younger brother is half Thai and partially Chinese and half Caucasian, like me. One of my cousins is Thai/Romanian. My other cousin is also Thai/Caucasian. Moreover, I have Thai/Japanese and Thai/Mexican cousins.
Because my family is so multiracial and multiculturual, I have learned some of the cultural customs of different cultures and races. As a result, my family enjoys all kinds of food because relatives have shared different recipes. At family gatherings, you will find all kinds of authentic cuisine. Lastly, being Hapa allows me to experience two different worlds at once. As I explained earlier, being in Thailand was extremely gratifying for me because I was able to speak the language and understood the culture. What I once looked at as being a burden—being Hapa—I now see as a blessing.