By Sophie Haugen, IV Form
Biracial Me: Life as an “Other”
As I walk through school, talk to people, and go through normal, day-to-day activities, I don’t feel as though I have a large sign pinned to my forehead that reads “Biracial.” When I wake up in the morning, it is not the first thought that crosses my mind. In fact, I don’t think about being biracial very often, and I don’t feel biracial most of the time, unless someone or something makes me aware of it.
Something that is an aspect of being biracial is having to choose. In my case, my mom was born in Korea and moved to America when she was young. My dad is 100% Norwegian, but has lived in America for his
entire life. I have been asked if I feel more Korean than Norwegian and vice versa, but in reality I don’t feel as though one ethnicity defines me more than the other. In terms of culture, I have been more exposed to Korean culture than Norwegian because of my mom. For example, I was a Tae Kwon Do martial artist for six years of my life; I eat Korean food very often, and see a lot of my Korean relatives. There is definitely a large part of me that feels Korean, and feels Asian. However, I was raised in a white culture. In most places that I have lived, the majority of people have been white. So although I do have multiple, constantly portrayed aspects of Korean culture in my life, I do feel white in the sense that I live in a mostly white society. I truly feel as though I am mixed because one ethnicity doesn’t overpower the other.
It is rare that I am put in a situation where I have to “choose” what I “am.” Situations like taking standardized tests when there is a race/ethnicity column and I have to check the box titled “Other”, make me aware of who and what I am. Situations like freshman orientation, when we were all divided into affinity groups; I had to make the conscious decision to categorize and identify myself as either Asian or white, make me aware of who and what I am. In this case, I went to the white affinity group because I felt as though I could identify better with others there than I could have in the International or Asian group. I don’t speak Korean; I have never visited Korea, and don’t experience being the target of a lot of Asian stereotypes or discrimination very often, so I felt more comfortable participating in the white group. I was reassured to see that there were other mixed and biracial students who had made the same decision as myself. Having to make the choice in situations described above does not make me resent being biracial, or even make me question it. It simply brings awareness to my life, and just brings the realization that I am, at least on paper, an “other.”
For five years in the middle part of my childhood, I lived in San José, California. In California, there wasn’t really such thing as a majority race. If anything, it was people like me, or 100% Asian people. The point is, all sorts of ethnicities were represented where I lived so I never felt as though I was out of place or that I was different. We were all different colored marbles placed in the same bag, and it didn’t matter which color anyone was.
Once I moved back to Massachusetts in fourth grade, it was different. I felt different, was looked at differently, and was made more aware of my race than I was in California. Maybe it was because I was older, but the majority of people were white. Therefore, it felt more as though there were different bags, each with their own color inside them. It’s not like I am or was discriminated against in Massachusetts, it is just that I was made more aware. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about being made aware is in sixth grade. After class one of my teachers asked if she could talk to me, and I assumed it was about work or a test. I was shocked when the first thing she asked me was, “May I ask what race you are? Because I just wanted to tell you that you look so different from other people – in a good way. Like, you’re very exotic looking and I think you’re pretty in such a different way than what is normal.” As a twelve year old, I was confused and sort of offended by this. Was I only pretty because I was “exotic?” On the other hand, it didn’t bother me too much because I knew she had had good intentions with the comment and was genuinely curious about what ethnicity I was. Another similar event happened the following year. I was in the library with one of my best friends, who is half Chinese and half Cuban. A girl from our grade came over and told us, “You guys look so alike you basically look like twins.” We looked absolutely nothing alike. We had different color hair, different skin tones, differently shaped eyes, nose, and everything. We had the same basic facial structure, and granted, were both biracial and half-Asian. Sarcastically, we said, “Oh yeah, we’re cousins.” Her eyes lit up and she explained how that makes so much sense and explains our similar looks. She truly believed we were first cousins, and for the next two years, mostly everyone in the school thought we were cousins because of it. What we had felt like telling her was, “Just because we are two of four half-Asian kids in our grade doesn’t mean we look alike, and it doesn’t mean we’re related. That’s the same thing as saying all white kids look the same.” At least that’s how we interpreted it.
However, I have decided on something. I have been faced with many microaggressions that range from jokes about me being only “halfway good at math because I’m half-Asian” to being asked if I was adopted since I don’t look like either of my parents, to being told that I look like all other half-Asians in my school. Although most racial stereotypes and discriminating comments are microaggressions, I don’t think that all microaggressions have to be about race. The incentive behind these comments can be a number of things; such as curiosity, genuine unawareness, or ignorance. Most of the things that people have said to me have been out of curiosity or unawareness. Some people have just not met biracial people before, and are genuinely asking and wondering. I appreciate those kinds of comments and I like being biracial even more so in those types of situations. Of course, as anyone would be, I am offended by the comments that come from pure ignorance. Either way, I have never disliked that I am biracial. In my day-to-day life it does not affect me. I don’t make friends based on my race, and I don’t make all of my decisions based on my race. I enjoy being biracial and enjoy having it as a characteristic that makes me different than others. I have never felt extremely targeted against; I have just been made aware. Race and ethnicity do not define a person, but they add to the identity of who a person is.
Sophie Haugen is a IV Form day student from Southborough, MA. She runs cross country, coxes on the crew team, and loves to travel with her family.