One or the other

How people view me as a biracial girl

by Emma Lam

S o what are you? A halfie? A white girl? Can’t you just pick one? You act more white to me. You don’t seem Asian at all! Shouldn’t you act differently?

Just once I’d like to say to the numerous people in the world:

Why do I have to be one or the other?

Sometimes people don’t realize the struggles boiling inside me when asked about my racial identity — wanting to answer politely but also punch them for questioning my racial origin countless times. The vexation I feel when people see me with both my mother and father together, and not realizing that we’re all related. I remember one time in Italy, my family was boarding a train but my mother got left behind, stuck behind a group of people. The train whistled and was just beginning to depart, my mother screamed, “my husband and children are on that train.” When the train conductor asked her which one was her husband, she pointed to one of the only Asian men on the train, and he looked less than inclined to let her on. She actually had to argue with him and call me over to show proof that we were related and that I knew my own mother. You’d think in this day and age that mixed race couples and children wouldn’t be a big deal, but apparently not.

The amount of times I’ve had to deal with this irritation is astonishing. I know that sometimes people are just honestly curious about what I am, want to get to know me better as a human being, or just have no clue in the first place. And don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the fact that people want to know more about me, but to be perfectly honest, yes, I am slightly peeved and aggravated at having to answer all these questions. It gets slightly irritating when people widen their eyes in shock or confusion, thinking either that I don’t look or act even remotely like an Asian or Caucasian. The sputters of wow and I can’t believe it ring the air soon after the fact that they discover I’m mixed. I can’t even count on my hands where I’ve had to playfully laugh and say that I’m “sorry” I didn’t fit their expectation of what a mixed child was supposed to look like.

I have to remind myself that sometimes it really is just curiosity, and not a rudely worded question. I can’t just be the girl who roasts you every time you ask me something remotely relating to my race.

Of course, there’s always those people who can’t learn to take a hint and simply joke around at the expense of my race. Those people who comment that I need to somehow adhere to the Asian stereotype or that I act too much like the “white girl” stereotype they see in the news who buys coffee in a giant mug and whose life relies entirely on shopping. It’s sad how I can’t be both, and people assume I’m one way or the other. I can’t possibly be mixed, because I look one way, or act one way according to them. There’s absolutely no way that this girl with the mushroom haircut and the whiter than white legs can be Asian. There’s a zero percent chance that the girl with short eyelashes can be white. Almost like pizza toppings. There’s always going to be a variety of toppings and whatnot, but sometimes people can’t see past the three that they eat, and discard the others.

Moving on from my food analogies, even everyday life can be a struggle for a mixed girl. Sometimes it's the small things, like my father automatically receiving chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant, whereas I have to ask to receive them in the first place. Or going to dimsum at Joy Luck Palace and having the waiters tell me what everything is, even though it’s probably been my 1000 time eating dim sum there and by now I’ve memorized the layout of the restaurant. Or people saying I’m supposed to be good at math and science, when my true passion lies in language arts.

Or even when I go to Starbucks, and my friends joke to get the chai tea, when all I really want is a caramel frappuccino.

On a larger scale, with the “check one” race boxes, when I’m actually two, or the fact I, as a journalist, can’t go to cover a white supremacist rally without realizing that I may as well be perceived as an enemy to both sides is rather sad. It’s frustrating that I can’t even do things that I usually would want to do without fear of being judged for something I haven’t done or never will do. It’s a pain in the ass really that I can’t do what I see fit without thinking of the repercussions that could potentially occur because I’m “White” or “Asian.”

Living in the Bay Area however, I encounter these problems less often. But it still does happen. Last week, at a Chinese market I went to, I accidently bumped into a woman and apologized in my broken Cantonese. Two minutes after I had left, I could hear her in Chinese mocking me for my excuse of an apology and how youngsters these days didn’t understand true respect. She had no clue that my limited understanding was enough to decipher every word, simply because in her eyes, I looked white. Then again, it could just be my paranoid self speaking from past experiences.

I’d like to say I have a solution to this problem, but in all honesty, I don’t. Maybe if the world was a perfect place, which it clearly isn’t, with events such as the escalation with North Korea and the Charleston riots merely two months ago. I hope by the end of 2017, that maybe instead of people picking apart everyone else, we can all live in a kumbaya state of mind. But knowing the people of this world, I doubt it. Maybe if I had a giant neon glowing sign attached to my chest, it would be easier.

So maybe the next time you ask any questions regarding my race, or anyone’s for that matter, think a little before you do so. Think if that’s really the way you want to word it, or would you rather face my bright smiling eyes, quietly judging you on the inside for being insensitive.

But for now, I’ll just be sitting and sipping my pointedly Asian jasmine green tea, while internally raging at the fact that in other’s eyes, I can't be both sides of my identity, and instead have to choose one.