Being biracial always used to be something that felt so weird for me. It has been difficult to really “fit” in on either side, and the most common question is always, “What do you feel you are more of?”
Well, I am both Vietnamese and Mexican.
As I grew up, I knew that being Asian American and Latina was something that was so crazy for people to wrap their minds around. I mean don’t get me wrong, the way both my parents made it work without knowing each other’s language is astonishing to me, and on top of that even their English was broken.
I always marvel at the fact that they overcame that language barrier and even taught their kids this language they did not know. Their effort to integrate was tough. It is a beautiful love story that took place in 1991 during a night out with friends in Los Angeles and a year later they were married.
Surely, seeing them together 30 years ago was odd, but why is it still so foreign in 2022? Mexicans and Vietnamese have been in America for so long, it’s still puzzling to think people are so taken back when I say I’m both.
I grew up in an area that was predominantly white, and experienced plenty of racism by friends and classmates for being Asian. Typical things like stretching their eyes from the corners, calling me a “ch..k” and saying I eat dogs and cats.
The unfortunate thing is, I thought it was funny because I was not exposed to people who were like me. I thought it was normal, and so did they. Thinking about it now, I was a bit ashamed to be Asian. Being mixed wasn’t accepted. Always hearing things along the lines of, “You must be good at math, oh wait, you’re also Mexican! So, not THAT good.”
I recall another time when I used to work in a restaurant and one of the chef’s said to me, “You’re so cool because you’re, like, exotic.” Exotic?! I was born in America. I do speak Spanish, but so did he and half the world. These are the types of situations that made my self identity confusing. In the beginning it was difficult to fully embrace my ethnicities because I was not fully one or the other. I felt like I wasn’t really part of any at all.
I eat mostly Asian food. I speak almost fluent Spanish. I’ve grown up in America. I slowly started to realize that it is okay to be a little bit of all that I am made up of and that is what being biracial/mixed race is about.
What rule book says I have to be more than the other? There is none! This was a well needed revelation, and when I broke through that wall I was able to come to a deeper understanding of myself.
Moving to Orange County was a culture shock, even if it was only two hours away from where I grew up, there is so much diversity. I was amazed seeing so many Asian and Latino kids, authentic Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants, and meeting people who are mixed, just like me.
The statistics on Hispanic Asians helps to explain some of the inequality I faced. Hispanic Asians make 3% of the Asian population, according to Pew Research.
Taking ethnic studies courses helped me learn about microaggressions, and what I went through when I was younger shouldn’t be accepted.
Education and exposure are so important because without it I would have grown up in a different mentality and not been able to embrace all that I am. It starts with changing the way generations think of races/ethnicities that are not theirs. Breaking stigmas and stereotypes is a tremendous step forward in allowing the multiracial community to identify themselves and be proud of it.
Linda Mai is a bilingual journalism student at California State University, Long Beach.