Biracial baby blues

The Sidebar

Every couple months, it seems like some news channel runs a story about how white people aren’t going to be the majority in America anymore. In a few decades, interracial marriages are going to turn the country into a nation of vaguely ethnic-looking kids, and then all the old white people watching TV will freak out.

Well, I’m that vaguely ethnic-looking kid. Yes, I’m the racially ambiguous future baby that is going to take over America by 2050, and let me tell you: It’s not that cool.

To clarify, I’m biracial — half Mexican and half white. Now, if you look at my column photo, you might be shocked to find out that I am not, in fact, Asian. Apparently, my brown Mexican dad plus my pale ginger mom equals an Asian-ish looking baby? I’m not sure how the math checks out on that one.

And I promise I’m really not Asian at all. I’m not sure why people are so insistent that I am. Why would I lie about this?

Still, my whole life has been this same conversation over and over again. A person once asked me which of my parents was “the Korean.” Someone messaged me on social media asking what “kind of Asian” I was.

The most oddly specific example of this was when a check-out lady at a Vons asked if I was “a quarter Japanese, just like my granddaughter’s sister.”

It’s weird that this total stranger has no problem asking me about my ethnic background. It’s even weirder that she said “granddaughter’s sister.”  Wouldn’t that just be your granddaughter?

When I was trying to tell my mom about the grocery store incident, she didn’t understand why the interaction stood out to me. I tried to articulate why the experience of being put under a microscope by some rando made me uncomfortable, but she just told me to “drop it”. Even she doesn’t see how my biracial identity is a big part of my life, which is really depressing. If my own mom doesn’t get it, who will?

I have the similar kind of “not Mexican or white enough” angst that most mixed kids experience, but that’s further complicated by the whole “fake Asian” assumption. To further complicate things, I don’t feel especially connected to my Latinx identity and background.

Growing up, I wasn’t that in touch with my Mexican heritage. Even though my dad was born in Mexico, he moved to Hawaii when he was a kid. By the time I was born, we lived hours away from all of my extended family. Just as much as I was raised with sopa de fideo and getting hit with shoes, I was also raised with saimin and taking my shoes off at the door. I was eating poke when most of the white kids in my class were still too scared to eat California rolls.

Although my last name is clearly Hispanic, I didn’t have the most “Mexican” upbringing. And, to the chagrin of all my tías, I don’t speak any Spanish either.

To be honest, I don’t feel like I fit in in Latinx/Chicanx spaces. Not because people aren’t welcoming or supportive, but because I feel like I don’t belong there.

Part of it stems from how I was raised, but a lot of it is because I don’t face the same kind of anti-Latinx racism because I don’t “look” Latinx.

Now, I just want to clarify that there’s no one way to “look” like an ethnic group. But I don’t experience anti-Latinx racism, even with my Mexican background, because of my appearance. I’m privileged because I am half-white and white-passing, but the discrimination I do face is from people who assume I’m East Asian.

The labels “Latinx” or “Asian” are broad categories that exist only because America seems to group diverse ethnicities together in a systematically racist system that puts “white” against “nonwhite” appearing groups. So it makes sense why I sometimes feel that I have more in common with the Asian American community than the Latinx one. Apparently, I look “more Asian,” and that’s how people treat me.

But I’m not actually Asian, and even if people in Asian spaces assume that I am, I know that I’m not. In fact, I feel guilty that people assume that until I explicitly say otherwise. It’s as if I’m somehow tricking people and taking up space that I’m not entitled to. Obviously, I’m not lying, and I can’t help what my face looks like. And I don’t want to walk around shouting, “I’m Mexican American!” to every confused person staring at me.

Sometimes, I don’t feel like I should claim a Latinx identity because I don’t face the same kind of discrimination. I can’t claim a white identity because being “white” in America is an “all-or-nothing” kind of situation, and I’m not Asian.

You know what, I’ll make my own club. If anyone wants to join the “Biracial Latinx but Often Mistaken for Hapa Student Union” club, we meet Tuesdays. Snacks will be provided.

KD Mireles writes the Friday column on the ambiguity of categories. Contact them at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @kdillonm.