Being Half Invisible in America

Have you ever felt like part of you was invisible? That is how I feel every time I’m out and about. I feel as if only half of who I am is recognized and the other half is not.

When people look at me, they automatically perceive me to be a certain race based on the color of my skin, eyes, and hair. With these perceptions come the stereotypes that flicker through their minds. Without even saying a single word to me, I become The Asian One or The Exotic Looking One. I’ve been experiencing this all my life. You would think I would be used to it by now. You would think that I wouldn’t care and that I shouldn’t let it get to me. But it does.

What people don’t realize when they look at me is that I am more than what they think. There is another ‘half’ that I still proudly claim. There is another half of me that I desperately want people to recognize. People fail to see me as who I truly am because they are ruled by judgements and assumptions. I look a certain way with a certain coloring; therefore, I must be this.

But everything is not always black or white. Everything must not always be judged by its cover. In order for us not to be ruled by judgements and assumptions, we must be willing to look closely at the minute details. We must be willing to not just look at the coloring, but the shape of the nose, the tilt of the chin, or the shape of the mouth.

My entire life, for as long as I can remember, I have always been told that I look more like my white father. And yet, people look at me and say that I am Asian. These two things contradict each other in my mind. How can I look like my white father and yet still look more Asian? How is that even possible? What does that even mean?

I grew up in the Deep South where there aren’t a lot of Asians or even half Asians. When people see me, they automatically brand me from what they’ve seen in the media. If I had grown up in a more Hapa-dominated community, then people would probably brand me as a Hapa. When I visited Korea a decade ago, I was able to seamlessly fit in, because people assumed that I was one of them. It is definitely all about perspective.

So, what is it like to be half Asian and half white? It feels the same way as being half Asian and half invisible. I feel like my white half is hidden from view. I feel like it’s lurking deep inside of me, only coming out when I reveal my utter ignorance in K-dramas or K-pops, or my inability to read Korean. It reveals itself when I need to google a word in Korean or google a Korean recipe.

I love being half Asian and half white. I wouldn’t have it any other way, mostly because this is all I know. I don’t know what it’s like to be full Asian or full white. And yet, people treat me as if I am. They expect me to behave as if I am. But that’s not who I am.

I am a person who is the product of two different races and cultures. I am a mixture of both, but not one or the other. I am my own person, someone who is slowly coming to terms with who I am despite the societal assumptions that weighs heavily on me.

But most of all, half-invisible or not, I am me.

5 Best Things About Being Half Korean

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Being half Korean, half Caucasian is completely different from being just Korean or just white. Being biracial feels as if you’ve got one foot in each “world.” You aren’t just one, but part of two whole entities, as well as one you. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be mixed, unless if you’re mixed yourself.

Today, I will talk about the five best things about being half Korean.

1–The Language

Growing up, I spoke Korean at home with my mom. One of my earliest memories is of her reminding, even gently warning, me to never stop speaking Korean. She knew that when you stop speaking or using a language, then you are more likely to forget it. She didn’t want that to happen to me. She wanted me to be able to speak Korean so that I can communicate with the relatives in Korea.

It was really cool being able to speak two languages at home. The best thing about speaking another language is that you can speak that language in public and no one knows what you just said. And Korean isn’t as widely spoken as Spanish or French, especially in the south. It’s definitely like your own special language.

2–The Food

I remember many mornings waking up to find my grandmother or my mother in the kitchen, sitting on the newspaper covered floor, and making kimchi. I loved to see them making kimchi. I was the unofficial “taste tester.”

I would often sit across from them and dip my finger into the spicy, red kimchi sauce. I would shiver in delight as the spice ran through my body. The expectation of soon seeing a huge, fresh new jar of kimchi made me giddy with excitement. Of course, I didn’t like to think that I would still have to wait at least one week to eat the kimchi. Because older kimchi tastes so much better than new, freshly made kimchi.

Besides kimchi, there are so many other Korean dishes that are so delicious. I love to eat a bowl of white rice with some banchan, or side dishes, such as seaweed, little anchovies, braised eggs, omelets, bean sprouts, and more. I love the stews and soups, such as kimchi jigae and bean sprout soup. I love to eat noodles with gochujang (hot pepper paste) and sliced cucumbers. I love to eat melon bars (ice cream made out of Korean melons). I love kimchi pancakes. There’s just so much. Maybe I’ll do a separate blog post on some of my favorite Korean foods.

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3–The Clothes

When I was younger, my grandmother would bring us — my parents and I — hanboks from Korea. If you don’t know, hanboks are the national clothing of Korea. They are made of very fine, delicate, almost silky material. I always felt so special, wealthy, and like a princess whenever I wore my hanbok. I’ve never worn another even close to a hanbok before.

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4–The Privilege

When you are half Korean, you do have a certain amount of privilege. I remember growing up and everyone in my mother’s side of the family praising my looks. They always remarked at how beautiful I was because I have certain western features that are considered to be very attractive in the eastern world. They often praised my double eyelids, long eyelashes, long, thin nose, and thick eyebrows. As a result, I grew up with an overinflated self esteem, believing myself to be beautiful, all because I was mixed.

I also feel like I have a certain amount of privilege being half Korean, half Caucasian. Asians are often thought of as the model minority. You very rarely see an Asian in the news for doing something terrible. Asians have the stereotype of being smart and rich. I have benefited from this throughout my life. Because of my race, many people look at me and assume that I must be very smart. I have never been scared to walk alone at night. I have never been scared of going into a store and being followed by the sales people.

So, in regards to that, I feel like I am doubly privileged. I am doubly privileged because of the way I look and how I am treated within this country.

5–The Freedom of Choice

One thing I loved about being biracial is that I get to choose more than one race on college and job applications. If I want, I can choose white. If I want, I can choose Asian. If I want, I can choose both or neither or even other (whatever that is).

I can choose whatever I want. When you are biracial, then you have the freedom and the luxury to choose what you want to be identified as. No one has the right to make that choice for you. I love that I can choose all of my races.

But most of all, being Hapa has given me the opportunity to experience both worlds. And for that, I am doubly thankful.

What is the best thing about your life?

Why I Am Scared About Having a Multiracial Vice President

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Let me clarify: I am not scared about having a multiracial woman as Vice President of the United States. But, I am fraught with anxiety over how people may react. Despite how amazing America is, America is definitely not without fault. There is a dark side to America and one of these is the racism that still exists in this country.

As a person who identifies as Hapa, I have faced my own share of discrimination. When you are standing with one foot across two very different racial boundaries, you struggle to fit in. But, you usually can’t because you find that both of your sides are perpetually at war against each other. You also have people who tell you that you aren’t white enough, or black enough, or Asian enough. You also have people who still go by the old-fashioned one-drop rule, which states that if you have even one-drop of African ancestry, then you are black.

I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to identify however they wish. If they choose to identify as one ethnicity, that is their prerogative. If they choose to identify as both, then that is their choice.

If they choose to identify as just American, then that should be OK. It should be OK for anyone to identify as nationally and even ethnically as American. After all, many of us were born here and many of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, were Americans. But it isn’t OK for some people.

For some people, they believe, either out of ignorance or background, that someone who looks “exotic” has got to be from a different country. They believe that those “exotic” looking people can’t possibly be Americans.

They have this view in their minds that an American has to have a certain hair color or eye color or even skin color. But that is so far from the truth. America is a melting pot, comprised of people of different colors and religion. This is not a monoethnic society. This is a multiracial society. We are made stronger because we live in such a society filled with so many wonderful people who have different experiences and backgrounds.

One day, I’d love to live in a country that identifies a person not by who their ancestors or parents were, but by where they are from: America. Where you are from shouldn’t be determined by the origin of your parents or grandparents. Where you are from should be determined exclusively by the place that you were born or raised.

And then, that should be enough. It shouldn’t matter so much what color or race someone is. It shouldn’t matter where they were born: in America or elsewhere. What should really matter is what kind of person they are. What should really matter is how kind someone is to another. What should really matter is who someone is on the inside.

I love that the next vice president of the United States of America could very well be a person of color. I love that the next vice president could be not only the first black and first Asian vice president, but also the first multiracial vice president. That is such an amazing feat for this country. And I am so proud. But I am still scared of how people will react.

I am so scared of what people will say. I am so scared of the expectations that would be put on their shoulders. The entire expectations of the black, Asian, and multiracial communities are on their shoulders. That’s such a heavy burden, and yet, probably a necessary one. Because America needs this.

And yet, we shouldn’t vote or choose a vice president based on a person’s race. What the vice president looks like should have no bearing on the outcome of the race. Instead, what should matter is what kind of character that person has. What should matter is how kind that person is. What should matter is what that person does — and will do — to make this amazing country truly great again.

Race should no longer be on the table in America. But, sadly, it is. Racism still exists in America. People still get judged and discriminated against for looking a certain way. People still get killed for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only way that America can truly be great is if there was no more racism. The only way that America can be great is if we accepted everyone for who they are and not what they look like.

That is my greatest wish: for people to accept everyone for who they are. I long to see a day when multiracial people aren’t judged or labeled. I long to see a day when multiracial people are free to just be.

How do you feel about the current Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States?

Five Things You Should Never Tell a Half Asian

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OK, I am multiracial — biracial — eurasian — amerasian, or quite simply Hapa. As a mixed race person, I’ve been told things that have been downright offensive. Other things that I have been told have caused me to simply shake my head. So, without further ado, here are five things that you should never tell a multiracial person.

1–So, where are you really from anyway?

If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been asked this question, I would have probably be able to pay off my student loans. This is the one question that is not only so annoying but reveals the complete ignorance of that person. It’s annoying. Why do they want to know where I am from or where my parents are from? Also, is it really relevant to the subject? Does knowing where I’m from from detract from getting to know me as a person?

People ask this question because they are curious. But at the same time, they wouldn’t ask a white or black person this question, unless they had a foreign accent. But they do ask Asians or half Asians this question because they look different from the “typical” American.

When people ask me this question now, I just tell them that I’m from here, America. They often look at me as if I’m being funny, not serious, or not understanding the question. But I am from here. I was born here. I grew up here.

And yet, they oftentimes don’t believe me.

2–Are you Chinese?

The number of times I’ve been asked this when I was younger is just one too many. Kids — even kids I didn’t even know — would walk up to me and ask “Are you Chinese?” I would pause, taken aback, and shake my head. “No, I’m not.” And then, they would ask “Well, what are you?”

This is another question that reveals the complete ignorance of a person. China is such a big, amazing, wonderful country. There are so many people who live there and benefit from its rich culture. But at the same time, there are so many other countries in Asia, from Japan to India to Iraq to India. To call all Asians — particularly east Asians — Chinese is downright offensive. China is so different from the other wonderful Asian countries. They all speak a different language, observe different cultures and belief systems, and eat different foods.

Please don’t ever ask a half Asian if they are Chinese.

3–Can you speak English?

Oftentimes when I go out in public and speak Korean, people often assume that I can’t speak English. It’s as if people assume that most people only know one language. Well that might be true in some parts of America, but not in the rest of the world. There are so many amazing, beautiful languages out there. And there are so many people who can speak three, four, even five languages fluently. Being able to speak so many languages is a benefit because you can cross the cultural boundaries easily and communicate with so many different people in the world.

4–You definitely don’t look like an American Girl.

Believe it or not, but I’ve actually been told this once when I was in middle school. A girl (who was white) looked at me and said “she doesn’t look like an American.” Which hurt a lot. Who was she to tell me that I didn’t look like an American. What did an American look like? What made someone can American? What did American mean?

America is supposed to be a country that brought people from different countries, religions, and ethnic groups together. Often times these people were escaping religious prosecution or poverty. America is a melting pot of the result of different types of people who have come together in unity.

I would think that a person who is multiracial, or biracial, is even more of an American than someone who isn’t. We have the privilege of being from multiple cultural and racial backgrounds. Isn’t that what being an American is all about?

5–You are Asian, so you must be good at math.

This is such a stereotypical statement. Not all people of Asian descent are good at math. Ethnicity or race doesn’t dictate that. I am actually not so good at math. I’ve always been better at English and reading. I don’t like dealing with numbers. I prefer the written word.

So, there you have it. These are five things that I think you should never tell a half-Asian. What do you think? Do you agree? Is there anything else you should never tell someone who is half-Asian? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to get to know you better!

In the meantime, here are some books about the half-Asian experience:

What It’s Like Being Hapa in America–Part Two

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What are you?

I’m Hapa.

What’s that?

Labels are great. I loved the moment when I discovered that I could self-identify as a Hapa. I am not just white. I am not just Asian. I am Hapa. I am a mix of both worlds and cultures. I am of two races, but at the same time, I belong to a race that is separate from the white and the Asian worlds.

But, in my experience, whenever I’ve told people that I am Hapa, people often look at me with a confused expression. What is that?

What follows next is a short explanation of what a Hapa is. It’s just not as mainstream as the racial terms black or white or Hispanic or Asian. But that’s OK. I like it. I like calling myself Hapa.

Being Hapa — having a label that perfectly fits me — gives me a great sense of joy and pride. This is who I am. I am part of an amazing community of Hapas. I am part of a community of people who have faced similar experiences, both positive and negative.

This is why the #BlackLivesMatterMovement and any other civil rights movement is so important. It is important that people need to have a voice. People need to join together and fight for what they think is right. People need to treat everyone the same, no matter the color of their skin. Also, people should stop making judgments on someone just based on the color of their skin.

The color of a person’s skin is probably the least important thing about a person. It is one thing that we have no control over. No one chose to be white or black or Asian. But we can all choose to give each other respect and love.

If we stop judging people based on the color of a person’s skin and if we stop putting people in these racial categories, then maybe the world might just be a better place.

What It’s Like Being Hapa in America: Part One

My daughter and I. My daughter is part Asian and I am half Asian.

For as long as I can remember, my mom described America similar to how most foreigners of her generation did: as a place where people can go to achieve their dreams. America is a place where people of many different races live together. In theory, this is great. But practically, this is far from the truth. Particularly if you are Hapa.

I was born to a white father and a Korean mother. The ambiguity of my “race” has always been something that I’ve had to embrace and try to accept from a young age. In fact, one of my first memories in America was my parents telling me that my mom was Asian and my dad was American. They said that made me Asian American. 

I was six or seven years old when they told me this. 

I just nodded obediently, hardly caring. At that point, the only differences I noticed between my parents was that my mom had dark hair and dark eyes and my dad had brown hair and green eyes. I didn’t understand why my parents were telling me what I should identify as. What did it matter? I was a girl, I was happy, and at that time, that was enough for me.

It should have been enough. But I was forced to face the issue of my race at my elementary school. I remember the kids at school looking at me asking me “where are you from?” I remember they didn’t ask the other kids. Only me

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know what they meant. What do you mean? Where am I from? I’m from America. I was born in Texas. But they kept asking me. I told them I was born in Texas but they didn’t seem satisfied. Because it wasn’t the answer that they were looking for.

Obviously, they were asking me for my ethnicity, my heritage, my parents’ nationality. They looked at me and automatically branded me as a certain race. They were the same age I was.  Already they were asking me where I was from. Already I was different. I wasn’t like them.

I wasn’t like them because I wasn’t able to fit into one box. Here in America, you have to “pick” what race you are on college and job applications. If your parents or even grandparents are of different races, then how can you choose just one race? Choosing one race or ethnicity is almost like denying part of who you are. Part of what makes you you.

It took me the better part of my teenage years as I struggled to figure out who I was. Of course, this is normal for a teenager. Teenagers are in a constant search to find themselves, To figure out who they are. For some that is easy. For others, it is harder. I didn’t just have to figure out who I am and who I want to be, but I had to figure out which race I was. Was I white? Was I Asian? I was American and that should have been good enough for everyone but in this country, it’s not enough. You are not just American, but also white American, or black American, or Asian American. You are something-American. We are defined by the color of our skin and the place(s) that are ancestors came from. And that’s not right.

Eventually, I learned about the word hapa. Hapa is a Hawaiian word which originally referred to someone who is half white and half Hawaiian. Now, however, it refers to anyone who is half-Asian. They could be half-Asian, half black or half-Asian, half-Hispanic, and they would be Hapa.

I soon discovered that there is an entire community of people who identify as Hapa. I finally found where I belong. I belong in this community. I am a Hapa. I am half-white, half-Asian. That is my race. My ethnicity. That is who I am.

I am so proud to be a Hapa.

Here are some books about the Hapa/multiracial experience.

What does racism mean to me?

In light of George Floyd and other recent events, this has been a hot topic lately. So, let’s discuss racism but more specifically what it means to me. To me, racism is what happens when people judge and make assumptions. Racism is when people just look at the color of your skin and make judgments on a person’s character based on preconceived stereotypes.

In this country at least, people are so fixed on putting people into a certain category of race. Well, not everyone fits neatly into a particular category. Some people, myself included, are mixed. We can identify as more than one race, or no races, or just multiracial.

As a multiracial person — someone of white and Asian descent — I’ve spent the vast majority of my life having people call me really derogatory names. I’ve had people make fun of me for the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, or even the way I talk. Having grown up in the deep south only made it worse and succeeded at accentuating my differences from the people around me.

Being different from other people can cause misunderstandings, hatred, and prejudices. These racial differences are what is separating us in American society. The quicker that we can come together as one race, as one nationality — Americans — the better off we will be. Why are people called African American, Asian American, white American? What can’t we simply be American? We were all born here, we grew up here, so we are all American. We shouldn’t just be defined by the places that our ancestors were from.

We should be defined by who we are on the inside. We shouldn’t be judged every time we walk out our front doors. We shouldn’t be scared to call the police. We should simply be. We are Americans. Together, we can achieve much greatness, but only if we are united. After all, this country is called the United States. For as long as we are united, we will be great.

Here are some books about race that I really enjoyed:

The Biracial Experience

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Being biracial in today’s society brings a certain amount of responsibility. The society of today expects you to be able to fit neatly into a certain box. But what happens if you can’t?  What happens if you find that you can fit into both boxes, but at the same time, neither one?

When that happens, a certain conflict rises within the biracial individual. Imagine a person who has a white mother and a black father, making him half and half. Who is he? What is he? Is he black because his complexion is dark brown, like his father? Is he white because he was raised by mother?Society would naturally want to identify him as ‘black’ because it is easy and simple. And let’s face it, society likes things that are easy and simple.

But sometimes choosing something that is both easy and simple might not be the right thing to do. Imagine that very same person choosing to identify as black because that’s what society says he is. Even though he does not know what that means, never having known his father. Even though he was raised by his white mother and grew up knowing and loving his relatives from that side of the family. So, should he continue to identify as black because of society? Or should he identify as white? Or, should he identify as biracial?

I am bringing up this hypothetical example because I don’t believe that it is right to label someone based on the color of their skin or their appearance. I believe that what a person chooses to identify as is solely his or her responsibility. No one else’s.

And yet, too often, many of us in going about our daily lives will see someone and we automatically cast them as ‘belonging’ to a certain race. Is that right? Is it right to quickly judge someone? And then, once you do, there are a certain amount of misconceptions and stereotypes that arise. Sometimes we focus too much on the outer appearance that we hardly give consideration for what’s on the inside, on the core. And yet, we still choose to label because it is what is easy and simple. But as we know, what is easy and simple is not always right.

As someone who identifies as biracial, this is a matter that is ultimately very close to my heart. Having grown up with two parents, a white American father and a South Korean mother, this issue is something that I have always carried inside me. I have always had this conflict inside me. The constant questions about who I was that were undoubtedly fueled even harder by society wanting to put me in one box.

But, I can be pretty stubborn so I resisted. I refused to let society label me. I refuse to answer strangers’ questions such as ‘where are you from?’ or ‘what are you?’ As far as I’m concerned, I consider those questions incredibly disrespectful and impolite. By asking those questions, they are simply asking me to choose between those two sides. By asking those questions, all they see is my outer appearance and nothing more.

It is certainly interesting that it is only when we start maturing into adults do we start to question who we are and where we fit into society. In the context of the biracial experience, I did not identify myself, or even my parents, as belonging to a particular race. To me, they were just my mother and my father.

But as I entered middle school and then high school, I was forced to question this more heavily, primarily because of what my peers, my teachers and even what strangers have said. Do you know what it feels like to have someone look at you as if you are exotic and strange and different and even unamerican? Do you know what it feels like to have strangers look at you with one of your parents and think that you must be adopted or how could you be their child? Or do you know what it feels like to have your neighbor think that you are a spouse of your opposite sex parent simply because of the differing skin color?

Well, I have and it’s not fun. It’s actually even downright hurtful. The natural human tendency is for us to belong to something, to anything. And when we are told from a young age that we don’t quite belong, it wakens all sorts of issues that are probably better off lying dormant within you.

Because of that, I have had to ask myself questions that your ordinary adolescent or young adult wouldn’t normally ask. I have had to wonder would things be different if my parents were the same race? Yes, things would be different.

But if my parents were the same race, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow up bilingual – English & Korean – and even bicultural. I wouldn’t have grown up eating scrambled eggs and toast and grits for breakfast and then kimchi for lunch and dinner. I would have had a totally different perspective on life. And if I hadn’t been biracial, I probably would have made the very same judgments that people have made about me.

I can’t change who I am. Nor do I want to. The only thing that I can do is to move forward, proud and confident about who I am and how I came to be the person I am. I have both my mother and my father, as well as two very strong cultural backgrounds, to thank for that. And for that, I should be grateful.

By embracing both cultures and heritages, I ultimately fight against all the labels and judgments that I feel are aimed at me.  By focusing inward, I become the person that I was meant to be all along. Yes, I am biracial. But I am more than that. And that is what makes all the difference.

(Thoughts? Please comment below!)