Illustration by me (@alecchanillustrations on Instagram) of myself in 2012, age 13
Like many other children, I grew up not “fitting in”. This was especially true given that both of the towns that I lived in (both my birth town where I lived until the summer before the second grade and my current town where I’ve lived ever since) were and are still almost exclusively White populations. As a result, I naturally gravitated towards the handful of non-White students at my school, of whom were mostly Asian and/or Latino. Being biracial (or in my case “hapa”, as many family friends would refer to me and my sisters) was and is an interesting and confusing dynamic when navigating spaces that are fairly homogeneous (and White), given you don’t necessarily fit neatly into the rigid racial categories laid out by social institutions. As a result, it can be hard to find a community that treats you as their own. I often found myself performing Whiteness in order to fit in more with my middle school and high school peers, and I would eventually distance myself completely from my Chinese side in an attempt to garner any sort of power over the people that called me a “chink”, “ching chong”, “dog eater”, etc. throughout middle and high school. I lost myself.
Luckily, this changed when I left and went to college.
Although the institution I ended up attending was still largely White, I found a much greater access to Asian clubs and politics programs as well as made new friends almost weekly (due mainly to the institution being large and having a substantial Asian population, as well). Seeing all of my friends love me and tell me who I am is valid was what led me to begin embracing the Chinese half of me, and likewise is what gave me the confidence and self-esteem I never knew I’d be able to have/achieve. It was the community of love, honesty, openness, and accountability that led me to dismantle the White-centered beliefs I held up until I arrived at college. Clearly and importantly, however, is that we also acknowledge and discuss the White privilege that comes alongside being a half-Asian and half-white person in the context of higher education, but nonetheless, I hope that others like me will understand that you shouldn’t need to perform a certain social image in order to appeal to others. You shouldn’t need to show a certain side of yourself in order to earn the respect of others.
In the same vein, just because you may not understand the systemic realities and struggles of certain communities does NOT mean that you cannot advocate for them and raise awareness for the problems they face. Use the resources at your disposal to fight for others to the best of your ability. DO NOT speak over communities of color, especially Black and Indigenous communities (and PARTICULARLY queer and trans-Black and Indigenous communities), but rather focus on spreading and amplifying voices of their experiences and needs when applicable. Continue to call out the people in power that benefit from their oppression. Continue to resist White supremacist, cissexist, classist, colonialist, heteronormative, patriarchal, and neurotypical-centered (among many others) policies and beliefs.
Like I said before, I may not have grown up “fitting in” and I may still not “fit in”, but that doesn’t stop me from resisting. It shouldn’t stop you either.
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