I am American. Hear me roar.

My mini, multi-racial family and our Japanese dog :)
It is not often that I have written about my ethnicity on my blog. But I just finished reading one of the most touching books, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi Durrow, and I couldn't help but bring it up.

I have to give big props to Heidi for poignantly writing from the perspective of a mixed race girl. I don't know that I have ever read a fiction book with a biracial character. Everything I've read about being multiracial has been sociological studies.

Rachel, the book's main character, is half black and half Danish, growing up in the Pacific Northwest after a terrible family tragedy. Rachel tries to find her place among her peers and immediately feels like she doesn't belong with other African Americans, nor is she completely accepted by her white peers.

Growing up in two worlds but never quite belonging in any one of them is very true to my own experience (yet I had about three worlds to choose from). I am a quarter black, a quarter Japanese, white and one-sixteenth Hawaiian. But in all honestly I have always loathed telling others I'm part Hawaiian. I'm not ashamed, nor do I have anything against Hawaiians, but so many people would latch on to that little bit of me and deny the fact that my pigment has more to do with being African American.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Oh but you don't look black" or even worse "You don't act black." I've heard, "Wow you've really taken after your Hawaiian side." I have so many stories I could tell, but let's stop for a minute. How much influence does one-sixteenth really have on my appearance? I look like a short version of my mom who is black and Japanese. And that is why I deny being Hawaiian.

My cousins, I'm sure have all had different experiences, based on the way the gene pool has been distributed in my family. We're all mixed with varying quantities of the same ethnicities. Some appear to be only African American, others could even pass for being only Caucasian. How we all appear has influenced the groups we most identify with and least identify with.

My boyfriend is half white and half Mexican, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, yet most people are shocked to find this out due to his light skin and hazel eyes. While he doesn't deny being Mexican, he identifies more with being white. And even though him and I are both multiracial, I have had more jarring experiences with ignorant assholes based on my darker pigment.

I've been accused of "acting white" (by both black and white people) as Rachel is in the book, and yet I find that I identify more with being black and Japanese. Maybe it's because I'm very close to my biracial mother. Who knows? Insert sociological study here.

Boyfriend and I were having a good discussion about this over dinner one night. He thought it was neat that there was a book written from this perspective, and brought up the point that it was only in 1967 (when both of our parents were around 10 years old) when interracial marriages were even deemed legal in the U.S., based on a Supreme Court decision. Being multiracial has only begun to gain more awareness and acceptance within our own generation.

Of course there were interracial marriages and mixed children before. But you had to identify with being one or the other. My own mother's birth certificate identifies her as "Negroid", even though she is also half Japanese. Not to mention, it is completely politically incorrect to identify somebody that way. We've come a ways from the 50s. It wasn't until my own post-high school experiences that I even began seeing options to check "more than one race" rather than the "other" box or "choose one."

The bottom line is, you can be many within one. I am proud of my ethnicity and heritage, and I am proud to see more people celebrating being mixed.

*Fun fact: my second language is Spanish. I only know a handful of phrases Japanese, and I can count to ten. Expect the unexpected.


  1. Talking about racial identity is always so interesting to me...especially to read about other's experiences and know I'm not alone.

    I remember in junior high I would come home crying because boys would call me a "wet-back" or "spic", high school passed without incident and my questioning my racial identity didn't come back into play until I went to university in Missouri. There, racial lines were much more intense than in the PNW, but literally very black and white.

    As a half-Mexican, half-Caucasian at the U of Mo, I couldn't relate to the white sorority girls I met who used Daddy's credit card for everything and questioned my friendships with black people, but I wasn't accepted by other Latinos because they quickly dismissed me as soon as they learned I didn't speak Spanish (a huge driving force for wanting to learn the language). I was too "white-washed" for them. The majority of my friends at the U of Missouri were black, but I didn't feel like I belonged there either...they had Black Student Government, Black Homecomings...there were no student groups for someone like me. I didn't feel like I belonged in any world at one point..white, black, or mexican.

    Even though I'm the only of the 3 not born in Mexico, I've always had this inexplicable tie to my Mexican heritage, perhaps much stronger than my brothers. After the years of teasing and feeling out of place, I've realized my Mexican heritage is what makes me different from the majority, though being in Spain has taught me that this unique mix that I am, proudly Mexican AND white, is what it means to be an American.

    Thanks for sharing this post :)

  2. Hi Christine! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It's so nice to know we're not alone in these situations, which is why its important to talk about them and educate others about being mixed.

  3. Hana and Christine,

    Hana, what an interesting article! I have many foreign friends and coworkers, and know several people of mixed race but in all honesty, never stopped to think about how that could be a challenge growing up. With people who transplant or grow up as an “obvious” minority, I’ve always been sensitive to a certain degree of struggle they may encounter with ignorant people. But mixed race is a whole different set of issues – I especially found it interesting that both you and Christine had to sort out how you identified with each aspect of your heritage, something most people don’t have to consider. Okay, I considered how I identify with my German side but that just may be an excuse to eat sausage and drink beer… ;-)

    I have to admit, the shallow side of me has a secret envy of your mixed-race fortune because of the beautiful physical attributes that come along with it. It’s hard for me, little miss white-bread, to look exotic and you are both blessed with that happy outcome of your genetics! But, more importantly, beyond the physical you are both beautiful on the inside and I would wager your unique perspective formed the impressive strong women you are today. I am very fortunate to have both of you in my family!

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the post Heather! And thank you for your kind comments! I wouldn't write yourself off so quickly as "little miss white bread." You are gorgeous! We've all had different experiences identifying with our heritage and that's okay(and my white family is German and English so I can join in the beer and sausage eating with you!). I'm stoked to have you as part of my family too and look forward to hanging out again soon!

  5. Hana, I love your post. Your story is inspirational for other mixed girls & others. Being white, I do not go through experiences like you do. I had never considered the part about what to do when completing paperwork and answering the race question. Such little things that make a huge impact. I was also surprised to hear that your Mom was labeled a "Negroid". I've never heard that term before. What an ugly term.

    Even being white, I'm still mixed with different white ancestors. I've done very little research on this, but found that my ancestors come from many different countries. Something that has been forgotten through the generations. I can't even get the information from my Dad's side of the family... Unfortunately, many people put the past behind them and never look back.

    I was wondering if Asian is an alright term to use if you don't know what ethinicity someone is - lol. Also, what is the difference between African American and Black.

    I have found reverse discrimination to be a growing problem. One big example is that if I were to post somewhere that "I'm proud to be white", then I'm racist. But, if someone of a different ethnicity does this, they are just proud. I feel that ignoring our past is wrong, but also living in the past or overly focusing on the past is wrong. It bothers me when people feel they are entitled to something because of what their ancestors had been through. Most of our ancestors faced hardship. Today, we have a black president. Anyone can live up to their dreams. It should no longer matter if you're white, black, japanese, chinese, german, etc... However, this is not the case. From hearing public interviews and talking to people, many people voted for Obama because of his color. This included white people as well as other ethnicities. I found this upsetting... Someone should get a job, scholarship, etc, because they deserve it and have earned it. Not because of the color of their skin. The same goes for firing someone, etc.

    Hopefully some of this makes sense. I'm with Hailey and, being a 4-yr-old, she is distracting me :)

    I love your insight, Hana! I'm always open to hearing other peoples stories to find out where they've come from and what they've been through.

  6. Hi Jaclyn,
    Glad you enjoyed the post! To answer your questions, Asian is fine to use if you're not sure where someone is from. Black is referring to the color of someone's skin, but that person could be from any country. African American refers to Americans with African ancestry.

    I personally don't have a preference as to which of the two terms people use when describing my personal racial identity, but that doesn't mean another person doesn't. How people prefer to identify themselves does make navigating the subject of race tricky, but it's just a good rule of thumb to keep in mind that everyone is an individual and isn't easily defined as part of a group.

    I would agree with you that a double standard does exist for white people being proud of being white, versus those of other ethnic backgrounds. Really, it comes from such a horrific history of bigots around the globe that ruined it for everyone. And to further your point, the majority of white people in the US are mixed too, with many ancestors from many European countries.

    The difference between the mixed experience occurs when a total stranger asks me where I'm from. Telling them I was born and raised in Washington is typically not enough to satisfy their inquiry, as they're expecting me to name off some exotic or international place based on my appearance. I don't know of any white Americans people that get questioned like this by random strangers based on their appearance. It's a subtle expectation that Americans are white.

    Racism most certainly exists today, it's just in more tricky and subtle ways which almost makes it a dangerous and uncomfortable topic to bring up. That's why it's so necessary to bring it up and talk about it.

    Statistically speaking, most people of color in the US are not on an even playing field with access to opportunities as most white Americans are. Of course there are exceptions to this on both sides of the tracks. There are people of color who grow up wealthy and white people who grow up very poor. But scholarships and other services for people of color exist to try to even out access to opportunities in situations where the playing field is very uneven.

    I could go on forever about this whole subject and I'm surely boring you by now, but anyway, I'd love to get together and catch up and discuss all this in person! I hope you, Hailey and Kris are doing well and I'm glad you've been enjoying Sticks and Stones!

  7. Hana, I think you are amazing. I hope someday you write a book from your perspective that my mixed race child will be able to read!

  8. Great post to read and I can't wait to check out this book!

    So, this:

    "But in all honestly I have always loathed telling others I'm part Hawaiian. I'm not ashamed, nor do I have anything against Hawaiians, but so many people would latch on to that little bit of me and deny the fact that my pigment has more to do with being African American."

    AHHHH I identify with this so much in a weird way -- people always seem super disappointed when I tell them that I'm "just black and white." They desperately want me to have some exotic ethnicity and seem really bummed that I don't. I TOTALLY understand how they'd run with that.

    Anyway, loved this post and looking forward to reading more!

  9. Wow, first of all you're gorgeous. Second of all you're pretty much the mix that my future children will be (I'm half white/black and my bf is half white/Japanese). I shudder to think about the stupid questions they will have to answer regarding their race. Why these things even matter to people I'll never know...I just hope that it really does get better with each passing generation. Luckily I've lived in a culturally diverse area for a large part of my life but the bulk of my formative years were spent in a totally homogeneous white town. It was not always easy (heil hitlers aimed towards my brother by ignorant skinheads), but aside from that incident I thinkI was blissfully unaware of how deeply ingrained pigeonholing people into racial categories is in our world, and especially here in the U.S.

  10. Thanks Rachel! I'm glad you enjoyed the post - sorry I'm just seeing this for the first time, several days later! It's so refreshing to connect with people that have similar experiences. With a growing number of mixed people in the US, I think we will continue hearing more stories about the mixed experience.

  11. Rock Over London - I grew up in a homogenous white town too, so I understand how much that can make you feel like an outsider. That's terrible that skinheads aimed heil hitlers at you. I didn't start realizing that I was being pigeonholed until I was much older, or rather, didn't have the vocabulary to express what I experiencing. I understood that certain incidents left me feeling uncomfortable, but it wasn't always easy to identify why. I'm sure your future children will be strong with a parent who already is a cognizant as you are!