Upon meeting someone, we tend to make small talk regarding our school, work, hobbies, and of course race. We are obsessed with race. We often hear phrases like, “So, what’s your ethnicity?”, “What’s your background?” I’ve even heard “So, what are you?” which is hilarious and I really want to reply with some sort of alien.
I do sort of feel like an alien sometimes. Having a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a white Canadian father caused me to grow up feeling a bit alienated from both cultures. But hey, it’s 2011, and I’m not alone. According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, research showed that mixed-race children are one of the fastest growing populations in Canada. Vancouver is the culprit, as it has the largest percentage of mixed-race couples at 8.5%.
With a higher representation of hybrid individuals in Canada, there is often public confusion with mixed-race identities when someone doesn’t look like where they’re supposed to be from. I’ve been called anything from Russian to Native to “a white girl with weird features”, all of which reflect this common exercise of categorizing race. I always tell people I’m half-Chinese, which is also interesting in itself seeing as I never say I’m half-white, which tends to be assumed.
People often tell me I could pass for Eastern European or full-white. This brings up the question of whether or not I would be treated differently if I purposely ‘passed’ for another race. The whole notion of ‘passing’ for something reflects the associations we have with certain ethnicities. These associations have developed over time and even if we try to ignore race altogether, we are still forming thoughts and assumptions about people according to their race or what we think their race is. I love ordering in Cantonese at Chinese restaurants in Vancouver but often get a blank stare or gasp from the waitress. I was only trying to identify myself with that part of my culture and obtain a sense of belonging. Sometimes I don’t do that, and just order in English but then I get treated like I don’t belong to the Chinese culture at all, and get offered water and a fork instead of tea and chopsticks. Though the world is mixing because of diaspora, etc., I think the categorization of race is still prevalent and the notion of ‘racial passing’ is growing.
The term’ pheneticization,’ coined by local Vancouver poet Wayde Compton, was created to replace the term ‘racial passing’ and to shift the focus from the mixed-race individual (the viewed) to the viewer, meaning that it is what the viewer is doing that is producing the notion of racial passing, not the viewed. Mixed-race individuals now commonly identify with and turn to terms like hapa, halfer, and Eurasian to describe themselves. “I don’t like that people refer to themselves as half because we’re not broken, we don’t need fixing,” said Jeff Stearns to Vancouver Sun’s Vivian Luk. “I’ve grown to understand that we’re still 100-per-cent whole, we’re Canadian.” Stearns even suggested to Luk that maybe we shouldn’t celebrate multiculturalism anymore, but the idea that we’re blending and mixing. Perhaps the confusion and annoyance I’ve experienced while growing up will disappear as more and more youth are being born out of mixed-race marriages. The whole notion and questions about race are going to change.
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