Free to be Me: Growing Up Multiracial in America

“What are you exactly?”

Ahh. The all too familiar question I receive either from complete strangers or from friends who finally feel like they’ve known me long enough to ask. To answer that exact question, I’m just like everyone else. I’m human! But I’ve learned that when someone asks me this, I should assume they are asking about my ethnic background. And even though most don’t mean anything offensive by that poor choice of wording, it still makes me feel like I’m the other or that they’re trying to fit me in one box. To answer the intended question, my mom is part Mexican and part Spaniard while my dad is Khmer (Cambodian) and Chinese.

As if growing up wasn’t confusing enough, I was also constantly battling how I identified myself. There would be phases of my childhood when I was ashamed to be Hispanic and fully embraced my Asian side. Then there were times when I despised the Asian side of me and claimed only the Hispanic part. It’s alright feeling like you identify as one more than the other(s), but that wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I was always hating part of who I knew I already was.  As someone who moved to a small town in Minnesota with a predominantly white population from a diverse area of Houston, Texas, I faced different challenges depending on where I was.

When growing up in Houston, it was always the struggle of being enough of my ethnicities. I was either not a real Mexican because I wasn’t a full one or because I didn’t speak Spanish. I would go home and watch a lot of Mexican novelas on Univision just so I could fit in and prove I was Mexican to my classmates. And sometimes I was told I wasn’t Asian enough because I didn’t speak Khmer or get the top grade in math. No matter where I was or who I was with, I was an outsider.

When I moved with my mother and older sister to rural Minnesota, it was a different situation. This time instead of trying to be enough Hispanic or enough Asian, I was spending all my energy to abandon both identities and be white. In my mind, to be white in small town, Minnesota was to be accepted. It seemed to be working because I was getting invited to sleepovers, parties, and people were even coming to mybirthday parties. But it was still there. The racial remarks were still there. Although not directed at me, they could sometimes tell that it made me uncomfortable. They would then turn to me and say “Oh, but you’re not a fullAsian (or Hispanic), so it doesn’t apply to you!”

So I resorted to smiling and laughing along with them. I chose not to make a scene out of fear of rejection and I just took it. I felt the intense need to fit in. And it wasn’t long until being multiracial was used against me. When I got the top score in the grade for the state writing test, I was told that an Asian must have graded my paper. I was laughed at when I brought homemade salsa and fresh tamales to a potluck because my “Hispanic side was coming out.” No matter how hard I tried to be white, I was always reminded that I wasn’t. I was different. In a small school with the majority being white, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Soon enough, I started getting tired of hiding who I was. I realized that I was only fooling myself and I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. I started taking pride in standing out. I am different and that is a good thing. Sure, I won’t always have the most pleasant experience when my race is brought up in conversations, but that’s not my problem. Other times people are just genuinely curious and want to learn more about something they’ve never known about before. Instead of trying to cover who I am or putting too much effort in being something instead of the other, I’ve learned to embrace who I am and share it with other people – regardless of how they choose to take it.

As I was discovering my inner feminist during junior year of high school, I was also finding joy in myself and the importance of intersectionality in feminism. The moment I chose to embrace every aspect of myself, I felt free. I’m not some quiet, submissive Asian you heard about on TV or lazy Hispanic. I’m not a pile of stereotypes. I’m unique.  I no longer felt the need to hide the fact that I am Asian or Hispanic. I finally felt free to watch anime without being ashamed, eat tamales every Christmas, talk Spanglish at random times, grab the chopsticks instead of a fork, listen to Marco Antonio Solis or RBD, get good grades, talk obnoxiously loud, not be ashamed whenever my mom is talking in Spanish in public (or dad talking in Khmer), and let my dark, thick, curly hair flow freely. I’m grateful because I am free to be me. I was always free to be me.

Photo: http://aas340olspring2013.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-identity-crisis-of-multiracial.html 

Mardon Ellen SoMardon Ellen So is a third year undergraduate student. She is majoring in Sociology and is on a Pre-Physical Therapy track. Mardon enjoys talking about social justice, intersectional feminism, health, running, and life itself. When she’s not studying or working Mardon can be found running, listening to music, singing confidently bad in the shower, reading articles and books, volunteering, or eating. She’s essentially a human being just being. 

Taking a Look at Trump’s Anti-Woman Cabinet

Anyone breathing knows that the current administration has already and is poised to continue to work against the safety, well-being, and interests of many marginalized groups, including women.

Today we would like to highlight a small number of examples when the members of this cabinet have acted against women in the past as a way to anticipate their actions during the next four years, in this article. Here is a small quote:

The Violence Against Women Act, which protects women from domestic and sexual violence, passed with bipartisan support in 1994 and was reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since. Yet four Trump nominees who served in Congress when it was reauthorized in 2013 voted against it. Several of these men are slated to lead agencies charged with helping enforce or implement this essential law.

This conversation covers topics central to many women’s lives including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), reproductive rights, workplace fairness, and sexual violence. It is by no means a complete analysis of the many issues touched by these lawmaker’s and enforcer’s decisions, nor an in-depth conversation about these four issues themselves.

It is, however, a great place to begin a conversation about what is at stake. We must have these conversations together and learn the many ways we are each affected by the actions of this administration.

Have anything to say? Comment below!

On Queering Valentine’s Day

Our staff found this Feministing.com article today.  It is critically important to think about how holidays affect people who are marginalized within society.

Tell us what you think about Katie Barnes’ idea that Valentines Day is “super heteronormative and kinda sexist.”

What other kinds of holidays do you see following these same patterns?

 

Open Letter

By Jo Benson

Mom,

You were right.

Those words are a big moment for you and me. You told me when I was four, five, eight, twelve and three times when I was eighteen, that one day I would know what you meant, and I would say, “You were right.”

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to have you as a mother and mentor who teaches not through lessons, but by example.         Patience is one of the many things you’ve taught me. Patience has allowed me to take time to reflect and understand our relationship. It has allowed me to see you as a human being, even though you might not be ready for that yet.

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Without Kids

By Andrea Broekemeier

I am a woman who doesn’t want kids. For as long as I can remember I haven’t wanted them. To be honest, babies kind of gross me out. Pregnancy bellies even more so. Something about the thought of a tiny living thing being inside someone else that’s on the verge of exploding from that someone’s fun parts just rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it’s a beautiful thing and the miracle of birth and all that cute stuff, but I can’t stop thinking about the reality of it. Blood. Pain. Poop for god’s sake. I’ll pass.

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That Takes Ovaries

Welcome to Spring Semester 2016!

This spring the Women’s Center will be presenting the play That Takes Ovaries, which “celebrates Gutsy women around the globe, because courage is contagious.”

We would love to invite our blog community to take part in this wonderful presentation.  Take a look at the flyer below to find dates and times for auditions!  We look forward to seeing you!

Plus, take a look at the website http://www.thattakesovaries.org/ to see the great work that this organization does.TTO Audition Flyer

Semester Break

Thank you to all of our contributors, editors, staff, and readers for making Collective Feminism a success during our first semester launch period.
 
Because our blog is student lead, we will be taking a content break until January 12.
 
In the meantime, consider whether you have something to say on Collective Feminism. Have a poem that needs writing? A story? Want to analyze that weird thing a relative said over the holiday? See connection to course content outside the classroom? Write it out and send it over to collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu
 
We’ll see you in 2016 with more feminist analysis, creative work, and commentary.

The Story of Starfish

By Bao Lee

We leave campus, drive over the Mississippi and arrive at St. Benedict’s Senior Community Center in less than five minutes. The entrance doors are wide and swing open for us. A woman sits behind a round welcome desk and she points us to our right. As I walk in the appointed direction, I see our Hall Director, Garrett, standing by a table just inside another room. He is dressed less formally than students normally see him, decked out in khakis and a green shirt. Beyond Garrett, the room is strung with long fake grass, beach balls up front by the sound system, with beach umbrellas. Just past the dance floor are tables that hold paper pineapples and little palm trees as center pieces. Garrett offers us leis. I grab a handful, take a deep breath, and head over to the tables that are occupied with senior citizens, our intended dance partners for the evening’s Senior Prom.

Senior Prom is not quite the same as high school prom, and by quite, I mean not at all. This event is an opportunity for college students to mingle and dance with senior residents from St. Benedict’s Senior Community Center. There is no obsessive dress shopping, or worries about tickets or corsages, or trying to match a bow tie with the color of high heels, or sweaty hands while asking a girl to be prom date. But there are other reasons the Shoemaker Hall students might be nervous.

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Minnesota Nice?

By Melissa Anne Frank

Diversity has the power to make communities stronger.  But in order for that strength to exist, there needs to be an integration between people.  Our community has been divided for too long.  After attending the Mizzou rally on campus, I was reminded of the fact that our entire community is missing this significant aspect in our lives.

I often ride my bike through downtown St. Cloud on my way to campus.  I bike past people and say “good morning,” because that is the kind of person that I am.  I was raised in this state, and I was taught that people in this state are nice.  We say good morning to our neighbors, we are there for each other, and we create safe spaces for those around us…at least that’s what I was taught.

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