Growing up Multiracial: Feel Free to Ask, but Kindly, Please

A display at the Mixed Heritage Union's table at the Org Fair in January 2014.

I am half Filipino and half white.

When I was 8 years old, I got so tan after a family trip to the beach that people simply could not fathom I was related to my white father. Just last summer, I was babysitting two of my cousins, and a woman asked me how my nanny job was going (under the assumption that a Latina-looking woman playing with blonde-haired, blue-eyed children must be their nanny and not their relative). Two days later, a doctor assumed I was my grandmother’s caretaker when I accompanied her to a checkup.

Growing up multiracial in a world dominated by the monoracial has been…interesting. Growing up ambiguously tan — looking a certain color that makes it slightly difficult for others to determine your ethnicity — and regularly having people assume so much about you because of that ambiguous coloring can be incredibly disheartening. I’ve been asked more than a few times if I was adopted.

I am able to “pass” for a variety of ethnicities, which has allowed me to blend in when I want to. And I am fortunate enough to be of two races which mix together in a way that doesn’t severely separate how I look from my heritage. Being multiracial has given me a unique perspective on the world.

But it’s hard for many people to understand how it feels when you aren’t considered part of your own family solely based on how you look.

I love having a foot in two cultures. I love being raised in the traditions of two heritages and experiencing life as both Asian and caucasian. But there are some societal standards and biases that make it frustrating to be biracial or multiracial. And with the number of multiracial people in the United States increasing, I know I’m not the only one who has these frustrations.

Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 32 percent increase in multiracial individuals in the United States, according to the 2010 census. In 2013, 12 percent of newlyweds were interracial couples, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Even looking at the people I’ve met at Loyola, many have dated outside their races.

Because of this, I think it’s important to understand what’s respectful and what’s not to people who are biracial or multiracial.

To start, it’s awful to be called “halfie.”  You may not know the term — some people may substitute it for similar nicknames — but “halfie” basically refers to a multiracial person. I’m here to tell you it’s offensive.

I used to think it was cute and endearing. I thought friends calling me “halfie” was cool. Only after an intense reflection on diversity and leadership at The People’s Institute (a Loyola retreat) did I realize how othering — making someone an outsider — the term is. It implies I’m not whole. It implies I am lesser because I am not one race. While the friends (and others) who called me “halfie” probably didn’t mean it in a negative or degrading way, the negativity and degradation remained.

I have friends who look black but are half Irish, who are Korean but were adopted by white parents. I am part of a community that understands misrepresentation can be caused by people taking the way you look and assigning a definition to it. I am mixed and proud, but I am also widely misunderstood and misrepresented in current culture and media. My only solace comes from inclusivity and self-reflection, both of which I gain from the community fostered by the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs department and the student organization Mixed Heritage Union.

I think only time will help increase understanding of multiracial perspectives. An increasing multiracial population makes this inevitable. Until then, there’s one lesson that’s necessary to learn: Do not be afraid to ask.

Don’t ask “what” I am or where I’m really from (as though Tennessee is not enough of an answer). Don’t make a question out of an assumption. (One of the most annoying questions I hear is, “So you’re Mexican, right?”)

But don’t be afraid to ask if I’m multiracial or ask about my ethnicity. You’ll never know until I tell you or you ask, and I don’t often greet people with my racial makeup. If you’re curious, it’s better to be safe and ask the question in a polite way, rather than sorry and offend with an assumption.

Marissa Boulanger is the Editor-in-Chief.

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