Special Coverage — Race and Ethnicity: Personal Stories Online Extension

Compiled by Staff Writers

In an effort to feature individual experiences with race, the Smoke Signal asked the MSJ Community to share stories about racial identity. Student and alumni responses were taken from a survey via Facebook from February 10 to 17.

“I feel very fortunate to say that being mixed has always been part of my identity that I have been taught to embrace since I was young. My mother is Vietnamese, and my dad is a whole hodgepodge of European descent, making family gatherings quite culturally diverse. My parents decided to raise their children in Hawaii, as it was a place that is not only beautiful but also filled with racial diversity. I remember growing up, my father would always refer to my siblings and me as ‘hapa,’ meaning a mix of Asian and white descent. It made me feel special and unique to have a word that was catered specifically to my race, which is something I haven’t always had the easiest time describing to people. My parents would always tell me to ‘embrace the hapa’ because the word held a special place in their hearts; they loved Hawaiian culture and being able to expose their children to so many different, wonderful cultures.” — Laura Savio, 10

“As a professional cook with over five minutes of experience, I’ve created more fires in my kitchen than actual meals. There are two things I’ve learned from my experiences. The first thing is that I should be kept far away from kitchen equipment. The second thing is to never pour water on an oil fire… Pouring water on an oil fire is like pouring oil into a regular fire. Oil fires are a lot like racism. And I don’t just say that because both of them involve flaming. I say that because both of those scenarios involve opposites bringing each other out instead of opposites cancelling each other out. From my own personal experiences and from events happening nationwide right now, I’ve learned that racism does have a good side. Racism in itself is a horrible thing, but its effects are much less so. As someone who has been affected by racism, I’ve seen the compassion that racist acts bring about for the victims. There are often many witnesses that react to racism with sympathy, understanding, and acceptance. Those are things that might not be as visible without racism.” — Arbaaz Muslim, 11

“Being Korean and Filipino, it’s hard for me to properly identify with both races. My parents were born in their respective countries, but they both grew up in the US. My dad doesn’t speak Korean at home, and my mom doesn’t speak Ilonggo. Our parents never taught my brothers or me these languages because they’re both fluent in English, so there was no need to. Not being able to speak either of these languages distances myself from the two cultures even further. Communicating with my grandma on my dad’s side is difficult, since she knows English but doesn’t speak it well. Unfortunately, this language barrier makes me feel less Korean. I know that languages I can or cannot speak don’t define who I am, but then again, language is a huge part of culture and can give you a sense of belonging, wherever you are. Visiting my dad’s side of the family, I never felt isolated, but I never felt like I truly belonged. I’m still juggling with these ideas in my head, but I’m fortunate to where I feel accepted in both my family and community.” — Isabel Suh, 9

“In my past 18 years, I’ve lived in four different countries, 13 different houses, and attended seven different schools. People always ask me where I’m from, but I can never give a clean-cut answer. When I give them the long, honest answer, it’s always followed by another question: which country do you like the most? Honestly, I can’t give a clean-cut answer for this one too — I really love all of them! I find myself cheering for four different countries in the Olympics, and I stay up until midnight to call my friend who lives in a different time zone. I always encounter unique scenarios — for example, when I visited Malaysia three years ago, I ate Indian food with my friends who are Korean, South African, and Singaporean. At times, I find it hard to define my identity or my true home. Although I seemingly fit in many different cultures on the outside, I often struggle on the inside, knowing that I’m slightly different from everyone else. Still, I’m thankful that I’ve been exposed to so many different cultures. In the end, I always have more stories to talk about.” — Jumi Yoon, 11

“As a little kid, I don’t think I really distinguished people by race until I started attending the schools in this area. I saw different skin colors and I knew people spoke different languages, but to me, that never meant that any of us were not simply people. When I started kindergarten in Fremont, I noticed that a lot of the other kids were Asian, and most were Chinese like me. However, I think this was notable mostly because I was the only Chinese kid who couldn’t speak Chinese. I never really thought of myself as just Chinese; I have always identified as American. So to realize that the people around me spoke a language that I didn’t, yet they usually expected me to understand because of my heritage, really stood out for me. Although I often feel disconnected from my heritage, I am grateful that living here has given me opportunities to become better acquainted with my own culture, as well as those of other ethnicities. I think living in a diverse area for so long has really helped me grow to be accepting of all people, regardless of their different cultures.” — Emeline Tu, 10

If I’m being completely honest, racial identity isn’t something that I think about most of the time. Maybe it’s attributed to living in the bubble that is Silicon Valley. But even when I travel to areas that are 40 percent, 25 percent, even 5 percent Asian, I’m hardly ever conscious of my race. I think this is mostly attributed to the fact that my family hardly ever celebrates our race apart from the odd Chinese holiday now and then. We’ve become pretty separated from our traditional Chinese heritage; we very much hold to our American identity now. Oddly enough, I became the most conscious of my own race, of my own heritage, when I first went back to China. The discrepancy between American culture and Chinese culture was almost too much to take in all at once. Even now, after visiting China multiple times, I still have difficulty assimilating to the culture, values, and traditions. Maybe it’s a little bit strange, but I feel more out of place in somewhere that’s 100 percent Asian than somewhere that’s 10 percent Asian. I think at the end of the day racial identity is more than just about the color of your skin. It’s about a sense of belonging, a sense of shared culture, of shared heritage and shared values. Stereotypes and racism exist, no doubt, but I think it’s really important to take it upon ourselves to bridge that gap and really show that we share so much more in common than what meets the eye. ” — Wenhan Fang, 11

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