Imagine that you’re having a conversation with someone you just met. Two minutes into this conversation, they look at you and ask, “What are you?”
Now imagine that this happens almost every time you meet someone new. Because I’m half Chinese, a quarter Italian and a quarter German, people get confused about my ethnicity all the time, especially at a school like Lehigh, where the majority of people are Caucasian.
Growing up, I did not really realize that there was something different about my parents, my siblings and me. We were just a family that lived in central New Jersey and did the same things as everyone else. It was not until about fifth grade, when my twin sister and I started playing baseball, that I started to realize that there was something different about me. My mom was keeping the scorebook for that game, and between innings, she had gone over to the other team’s bench to make sure that they had matching scores. On her way back, the umpire stopped her and asked her if she had adopted us at the same time. Since my mother is Italian and German, I guess it seemed impossible that she had two daughters who looked like they were Chinese.
Since then, it has become a common theme in my life, but it has also been something that I have struggled with. When I was in high school, people were finally starting to understand that there were more biracial people in the world.
That being said, when I filled out any ethnographic information up until this point, the form still listed a few ethnicities, like Caucasian, Asian, Pacific Islander, etc. Then, at the bottom of the list, there was a box where I could check “Other.” Let me tell you, having to check the “Other” box is not something that I felt described who I am and was, in fact, a little bit insulting to me. I never understood why I had to be labeled as “Other.”
When people find out that you are half Asian and half Caucasian, they stereotype you like you are purely one ethnicity. People will come up and say, “Oh, your dad’s Chinese — are you really good at math?” I actually despise math. It is just not something that I enjoy doing.
People will also come up and say, “Oh, so your mom is white — she must be why you play sports.” This is actually not the case. I play sports because my parents gave my sister, brother and me the opportunity to do what we wanted. We had to be well-rounded and play an instrument, as well, but outside of that, we had the freedom to do whatever we pleased, sports or otherwise. All three of us ended up playing sports because we are good at them.
I guess what I am trying to say is that everyone is different. That may sound super cliché, but it is true. I am not the same person as my twin sister. My sister is not the same person as her teammates in college. I am not the same person as someone else who is half-Chinese.
Everyone should be a little bit more open-minded about others’ ethnicities. Maybe next time you meet someone who does not look like they are completely Caucasian, say “So, what ethnicity are you?” and definitely do not say, “What are you?” because recently, whenever someone has asked me that, I am tempted to tell them that I am an alien.