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By10 percent of all babies had parents who were different races from each other, and the is only growing : In a Pew study, nearly half of all multiracial Americans were under 18 years old. But inherent to their vision was a kind of multiracial utopia free of racial strife.
This is a popular modern understanding of mixed-race identity. But what about the experiences of those who are actually multiracial? As Black Lives Matter protests swept the country inthe issue of race came to the forefront of the national conversation. Everywhere, Americans engaged in deep discussions around the experience of Black and other non-white people in our country, including how race impacts the daily lives of all Americans in unequal ways. Last year, Vox asked people of mixed descent to tell us how they felt about race and if the language about their identities had shifted over time.
Among the 70 responses submitted, we read stories of people with vastly different experiences depending on their racial makeup, how their parents raised them, where they lived and where they wound up living, and, perhaps most importantly, how they look.
But over and over again, we heard from respondents that they frequently felt isolated, confused about their identity, and frustrated when others attempted to dole them out into specific boxes. But I also feel a kind of obligation not to let the complex mix of identities I inherited from my mother disappear into the whiteness inherited from my father.
My mom went to great lengths to make sure that I could succeed in the US. When I was still quite little, my Spanish skills were actually developing at a better pace than my English ones. This really spurred her to take serious action. She read countless books to me every night in English until I was a bookworm who sounded as Midwestern as the rest of my neighbors. But I would be remiss if I did not mention the efforts of my mother to teach me about her and my identity, homeland, and culture, too.
She always taught me to be fiercely proud of my blended heritage, and to never be afraid to share it with others. At times it was pretty easy how well I had adjusted to suburban Ohio. The shift away from that started in college, which was a much more progressive environment. I was sort of encouraged to explore that identity.
We had a Latinx affinity group on campus and I think at times it was a little bit difficult for me to relate to others in the group.
The experience of being a Salvadoran American who is brown and grew up in, say, San Francisco with a pretty solid Latino community around them felt so wildly different from a white-passing, half-Colombian, half-American person growing up in suburban Ohio.
But I suppose the only one that really felt like it needed exploring was my Colombian side, because I was always within the dominant side of mainstream American culture. I think that at times it almost felt easier, like everyone encourages you to kind of fall into that mainstream culture and assimilate. Right now, and this may change, I identify as a mixed-race Black person. But initially, I identified as bi-racial. I felt like growing up in the environment that I was in, in Cleveland, it was very clear to me that I was Black and I was mixed, but when I moved to New York, that dramatically changed.
I got a lot of people not really being able to recognize me on sight.
So I had to figure out the language that I wanted to use to describe myself. But also, my family was so white and, frankly, for as much as I love my mother, racist. My grandfather would not be in the same room with her the entire nine months she was pregnant.
And I remember putting, like, baby powder on my skin and like trying to convince myself for whatever reason that I would not be as in trouble if I looked more like my mom. I also felt this struggle to feel connected with Black people when I was growing up. I felt often like a conditional Black person, and I think there are some mixed-race Black folks that have a lot of anger about that.
When I was younger, I did. So this reclamation of what it means to be Black is a byproduct of racism. I am lighter-skinned. I might not be white-passing, but I can pass as something else.
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I think that that has really made me embrace this idea of I am Black. I identify as multiracial. I think the change in identity from when I was younger is that I actually have the language to describe who I am, which I lacked back then. Being thought of as Asian was definitely foisted onto me. Later I realized that, well, my race has absolutely nothing to do with how I perform in school.
They were creating this entire persona and this cruel game out of where my grandmother came from. Toward the end of high school, there was just this resentment of that part of myself. Not necessarily that I wanted to stop being mixed race, but that I just kind of wanted being treated differently to go away.
Going to college in Washington, DC, gave me that opportunity. Hardly anyone could tell that I was like anything but white. And so for a couple of years there, I got to experience the world without micro-aggressions and the casual racism that I had growing up.
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I was just able to coast by on whiteness, which was, coming from where I was, a bit of a relief. There was a substantial difference from my rural, more middle-class upbringing as opposed to the white wealthy upbringing many of my peers had. Even being white, it was a different kind of white. My father identifies as a person of color, but his response to it, especially as he had children, was to sort of push it to the side. I think my parents operated to try and raise us to have a better and easier life.
But there is that constant vigilance to not, you know, slip into comfortable. As a masculine, white-passing person, life would probably go by fine for me. I consider myself to be Chicana and Black. And then my mom is a Black woman who was adopted and raised by a white woman when she was In New Mexico, Chicana culture is such a big thing there, I think that most people in New Mexico identify with it to some extent.
When I was in college, I went to Howard, and that really changed the way that I was able to identify with the Black part of me. I had never been in a place where there were so many Black people that looked so many different ways. There were so many mixes, and with so many different countries, so many different socioeconomic backgrounds.
I really felt really accepted and loved for the first time. I think I kind of really grew up as a chameleon and I learned how to code switch and communicate with a lot of different people when I was really young. But I think it does come with a cost. I am a mix of Brazilian and Lebanese descent. I think my identity is very much like a Venn diagram, where I keep moving around those various circles and the overlap keeps changing all the time.
The one thing I have kept constant is some sense of mixedness. If I have to put myself in a commonly recognized box, it would be Latino. I grew up in inner-city Philly, in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood. I very much connected to those communities and those cultures and tried to do everything to highlight my Latino-ness — from clothes to manner of speech. My father being Lebanese, I think he experienced some prejudices when he moved to the country, given the long history with our region, and was never eager for me to play up that part of my heritage and culture.
As I got older and progressed into the engineering world, I sort of shifted. That was probably the first time I was in a very white-dominant setting.
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I did a lot of stuff to play my Latinoness down until I left for the social impact field where I thought I could sort of reconnect with the Latino pieces of me. Like you want to be comfortable with me in a certain box. It makes me feel like a blank slate sometimes. I identify proudly as a multiracial woman and as a woman of color.
This is because the world sees me as a woman of color.