What Are You? by Samantha Marcel

I've been thinking about my parents. Namely, if they ever talked about how big of a deal it would be to have a biracial child. I'm guessing they didn't, that they just wanted to have a child together. But sometimes I try to think about what knowledge, if any, they could have given me to go through life as a mixed-race child.
 
When I was younger, they imparted a colorblind view of the world that told me "all people are equal."? It was good back then. My parents exposed my brother and me to both of our cultures, and I became a schoolyard defender and shit-caller of children's racial bigotries. However, they could never talk to me about being hapa, one who is part-Asian.
 
Hapa is a strange label that is at once comforting and even more confusing than no label at all. We are not a race, we have no native land, we have no distinct culture, we have no singular mythology. It is our constant struggle to identify with each of our different races, and it is an even greater struggle to identify with both races at the same time.
 
I feel like a fraud if I gather with other Finns, and I feel like a fraud if I gather with other Filipinos. There is always that haunting question in the back of my mind: How do you read me? It never goes away. It is never satisfied with any answer. I employ staggering amounts of restraint in not asking every new person I meet, "Do I look white to you? Asian? Italian? Native? What?!"?
 
Being hapa means always questioning. It means being exposed to two, or more, cultures and histories, but never quite knowing where you fit in with either, or if you fit in at all. It means feeling disjointed and, at times, suspicious and lonely. Being hapa is not seeing your face represented in any media, or it not being identified as a hapa face. It means being a race chameleon: Asian when it suits, white when it suits, whether you mean to or not. It means hearing the comments, "What are you?"? and "Just pick one."? It means facing questions of white privilege in a different way than full white people. And it never stops. I see everything and everyone through a filter of how they see me.
 
I love this part of me, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. In the past, I went through a phase of irritation that my parents never prepared me for this. They never sat me down and said, "This is what you will go through when you become older, when guys at the bus stop leer at you and ask if you are Chinese. This is what you say when people ask, "What are you?"
 
But they couldn't have told me that, because they have no idea. I'm the one who knows what it's like. I have to tell them what it's like. The best they could have done was to be there for me, to teach me about both of my cultures, and to show me that being biracial is confusing and difficult, but that it's a major part of who I am and I should be proud of it.
 
And for that, I thank them.
 
Samantha Marcel is a writer and zinemaker from western Canada. She eats her rice with a spoon.