Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Being Bi-Racial

Looking at these pictures makes me miss warm weather. It wasn't too long ago--but now we already have had snow. These are the only pictures I've seen from that photo shoot so far--I hope the others show a more happy Willow. She looks pretty concerned in some of the pictures. 

One correction regarding my first post about Willow's little modeling adventure (which you can find here). I mentioned that bi-racial is termed as 'half-blood' in Mandarin (which makes me think of the half blood prince in Harry Potter). I've since learned that I was wrong and wanted to amend the error. The term is actually translated as 'mixed-blood'

I'm not sure how mixed blood, bi-racial, or half-blood rank in the hierarchy of political correctness. When I think about it, they all carry potential degrees of inherent offense--at least to me. Why I find them all offensive is that  Growing up as a mixed child, I quickly came to the belief that it doesn't matter if your parents look alike or not. Their outward appearance has nothing to do with their inward compatibility. 

I dislike thinking about the issue in terms of blood. Why are people convinced that those with different ethnic backgrounds have such 'different' blood? I mean, on the genetic level, of course there are minute differences. But really, we're all people, and the thought pattern that our blood is different based on culture or region has always seemed wrong to me. It's not like my dad was an apple and my mom was an orange. They're both apples. 

In America, people accepted my bi-racial background for the most part. In America, I'm an "American". I did not experience out right discrimination, and was blessed to have many bi-racial friends. To me, be an American is to be bi-racial. Or something like that anyway.....it's common to see different cultures joining in marriage and starting families. I think it's part of God's desire for the world too. To love others, not just those who look like you. 

In China, things are a little different for me. 

To our Korean students and friends here, I am note a pure breed. For the most part, I know they accept me, but it's hard not to feel judged. Because I know they do it. They have a scale by which they measure all Koreans: "How Korean Are You?" It's part of the culture--they've had to survive invasion after invasion; and maintaining their definition of true-Korean is the reason they have been able to keep their national identity so strong....and pure.....I don't blame them. 

To Chinese--I'm a novelty. Especially because my mom is white. Although, I was doing some fact checking, and apparently Korean men more often marry Caucasian women, compared to Caucasian men marrying Korean women. Still....they find it unusual here. They are also really appreciative towards mixed blood children. They think they are beautiful and intelligent--all because the blood is ethnically diverse.  

 Being bi-racial means that you will never completely fit in with any one people group, except other bi-racial individuals. You are neither this nor that. You are somewhere in between. 

Sometimes, I'm like, 'what the heck, everyone is mixed.' Most people I know don't even realize their complete heritage--but if they do it's like, "i'm 1/16 this, and 1/8 this, and I have lots of English, Irish, French, German in me too". And I've heard lots of, "Oh, I'm a mutt". 

It's crazy to think that until 1967, it was still illegal for Asians to marry Caucasians in many, many US states. 

It didn't take long to get tired of the frequent question. If my life were a website, I would definitely include a FAQ about my ethnic background. That would be so much nicer than having to reiterate the same answers over and over again. 

Many of my earliest memories involve conversations about my race. When I moved to China, I thought, "good, now the questions will end". I can blend in with other Asians and actually fit in for once." Sorry! Wrong again. The questions have only intensified. I have to talk about my heritage everyday in China.  After living in an area that was mostly-Caucasian demographically, I thought the reason people asked all the time was because I didn't look Caucasian. After living in Asia for 4 years, I've learned that I don't look Asian either.  

American [polite] Version of Ethnic Background Check
"If you don't mind me asking, what are you?" 
"Excuse me?"
"Where are your parents from?" 
"No, I mean, really where are they from?"
"My mom is from Minnesota and my dad grew up in Chicago"
"No, I mean, you look so interesting, what is your culture?" 
"Um....probably would call it mid-western American"
"Ok, I"m not trying to be rude, but I'm just curious. What is your ethnic heritage?" 
"Oh...that...I'm half-Norwegian, basically".
"No, I'm talking about the other half" 
"Oh, you mean the Korean half" 
"Korean! That makes sense. I would never have guessed that." 
"I know" 

 Chinese Version of Ethnic Background Check
[strange look, usually involved double or triple takes] "You are not Chinese" 
"Where are you from?"
"No....where are you from?" 
"My mom is American and my dad is Korean"
"Oh, your mom is American and your dad is Korean?! That is unusual" 
"I know" 

[by the way, this conversation happens all the time. It's one of the first things I asked my tutor to teach me how to communicate. With taxi drivers, water delivery guys, street sweepers....everyone asks]
I am proud of who I am. I'm proud of my parents too (just so you two don't feel like I'm mad at you) for being counter-cultural (especially within the Korean culture). But it is exhausting to constantly be reminded of it. I would like to live my life not obsessed with how my face is not fully Asian yet Korean at the same time. I want to think of myself in other terms. Not half-this-half-that combinations. To my siblings: do you feel the same way? I never asked you before.....

I've been asked every possible way. Some people are timid. Many are bold. Others are rude. But mostly people are just curious. My least favorite is when complete strangers (or those I have just met), come up to me and ask, "So, what are you?" I want to replay, "A person". Not a thing. Not a novelty. Not an abomination. There are definitely more polite ways to approach a person about their ethnic background.  Can you blame me for being exhausted of the same conversation?  I would never approach a complete stranger to ask them 'what' they are--but maybe that's because it's happens to me a lot. 

I do not feel like a white American. But I can't identify completely with Koreans or Chinese because of culture, language, and even prejudice. I neither look Caucasian nor enjoy tofu. It has only served to remind me that I was not made for this world. We were not created to find superficial fulfillment in fitting in. We were meant for something far greater; a home where acceptance is unconditional and not based on human notions of blood or the alleged 'mixing' of it. Right now, I'm a half-Korean, living in China, and am not fully plugged in with America...... 

It can be confusing---but I like it that way. 

It helps me to remember that although I've yet to arrive, heaven is my true home. 

Ok, this half-baked post has not gone the direction that I wanted to go. I had planned on talking about the weather. I know. So exciting.

Obviously, there's no scientific research here. 

I'm just spewing out a lifetime of opinions. 

Sometimes I wonder how Willow will be different from me. She has a different story. She's a lot of European and a little Korean. But she doesn't look European. And she doesn't look Korean. People already ask the questions about her. Instead of just explaining about Adam and I, people also want to know about her grandparents. She will have a lot more questions to answer in the future. 

 Willow's China Version
"That girl is cute. Is she your daughter?" 
"Really?! She doesn't look like you. What nationality is her father?"
"An American"
"And what are you?"
"No you aren't" 
"Yes, I'm American. But my dad is Korean"
"Oh....Korean! So, she is 1/4 Korean." 
"Yes, she's American"

It wont be long before she starts to realize what we're talking about. I'm sure she'll be tired of the topic by the time she's five years old. I know I was. I hope she learns a lot from her heritage and all her inspiring grandparents, great grandparents, and so forth. 

I hope she is not embittered or hindered because of it. 
I hope she learns to appreciate the questions, just as much as the answer---just as I am learning to. 


  1. This was so beautifully written, Julie. I had to smile while reading this, though, because I've never thought about "what" you've looked like, only that you're so gorgeous! And you have a beautiful spirit as well, which makes you an even more lovely person! I think with such a wise momma, Willow will do just fine in this area of life.

  2. Cool post, Julie. You're so beautiful with a VERY beautiful daughter. Miss you, friend. Glad you're doing well, and thanks for the thoughts! Blessings to you and Happy Thanksgiving--I know it's different outside of the States, but hopefully it will still be special for you.

  3. Obviously I've never had to deal with this, but I know Jameson will since he's half Chinese, and half Caucasian. Not only that, but he's also a dual citizen, so he is American AND British. I kind of thought he'd come out looking more Chinese than he actually does, but he's pretty much a mix right down the middle. It will be interesting to see how he handles this, and it's something that I am continually praying for wisdom about.
    I do love that, living in America, it's just a lot more accepted and not such a big deal. People are interested, but it's because they think it's cool--America has always been the great Melting Pot, and I've always had friends of different races (one of my best friends is half-black, half-white). When Daveo and I got married, and then got pregnant, I loved the idea of mixing all of our cultures and races together, but I also know that there are certain people who do not understand it and don't support it either.
    Anyway, this is ramble-y, but I just wanted you to know that I appreciate this post a lot and I loved your insight into it all.

  4. This was such a lovely post! Thank you for sharing! :)

  5. I love the pictures. I think Willow looks great!