Notes from the Bi-Squad

Last night, I caught my friend Shannon Gibney’s reading at Patrick’s Cabaret, along with fellow poet and writer Lori Young-Williams. Their show, Notes from the Bi-Squad, included readings and activities on the theme of being bi-racial (both have one black parent and one white parent).

Lori recalls that growing up in a suburb with no diversity other
than their own family was incredibly difficult, and shared that she
used to dream about having friends someday who share her experiences.

I could relate to that. Like bi-racial individuals, I have also had
to try and navigate those spaces betwixt and between. I feel I only
really came of age once I found a community of other transracial

I am very invested in learning about and understanding the
experiences of bi-racial individuals because my kids are biracial and
these will be their experiences.

But, it would be a huge mistake to assume that my children will have
the “same” experiences of race and discrimination that I have had.
Theirs will be different.

Yes, they will also need to arm themselves with knowledge of race
and racism, about the oppression and discrimination by the dominant
population, because they will likely be the recipients of these acts
and beliefs. My children do not look "white" and they will never "pass"
and it is important to me that they understand what these concepts mean
both intellectually and emotionally.

And, they will also be constantly questioned as to their
“authenticity” in the two communities from which their biological,
cultural and social roots originate.

They will likely feel the pull to “choose” between the two
communities that may inevitably want to claim them. This would be
tragic; by identifying solely as one, it means they would have to get
rid of the other.

Unlike me, though, they will have a more difficult time answering
the question, “What are you?” because they are so many different
things. From an outsider’s perspective, when I walk down the street I
am perceived as Asian. What kind of Asian, most won’t know. Often people guess that I’m Chinese, Japanese or Hmong.

But looking at my kids without the context of me standing next to
them, people want to categorize them. They don’t “look” like a typical
Asian phenotype (not that there is one) and yet they are obviously not
“white” either.

In addition to listening to the experiences of my friends, I keep my
eyes and ears out for other experiences of mixed-race persons. I read
the Mixed Media Watch blog. I check out MAVIN. I look for books and art that explore this issue. I was in the mega-chain book retailer and saw the book of photographs by Kip Fulbeck, which accompanied his art exhibit, the hapa project.

My daughter is often mistaken for being Latina. She would like to be
less racially ambiguous, because both her parents are easily identified
as "Asian" or "white." Most of the time she patiently explains that she
is Korean and white, but like many of us, gets tired of having to
provide explanations to justify someone else’s curiosity.

One of the things I am wistful about is that I have very little
“Korean” to pass on culturally. I often feel that I can only provide my
kids with token, folk-based stereotypes of “Korean” culture to them,
because I don’t know it internally myself. This is similar to what I
see adoptive parents attempting to do, in the name of being “culturally

That is why next summer we are going to Korea as a family for the
first time. I want to expose my kids to what I hope will be the first
of many more trips to my birth country. J. and I have even talked about
moving there for a year or two when the kids are a little older. I want
to expose them to the other side, the one that gave them the
physical features that set them apart – almond shaped eyes and dark
hair and skin tone; but I want them to experience Korea as more than
just the place where Mom was born and the genetic contributions to
their physical make-up.

My hope is that my children will be able to be proud of mixed and
won’t feel the need to choose one over the other. From a young age, we
talked to them a lot about the fact that they are bi-racial and what
that means.

Coincidentally, many of my friends are in multi-racial relationships
and/or have multi-racial children. My daughter’s two best friends are
African American/Korean and Kenyan/White. My son’s best friend is
Filipino/white. We socialize with such a diverse group of friends that
it’s more rare for my kids to play with single-race children than
mixed-race kids.

I have no idea what my kids will think about their experiences as a
mixed race individual. I am sure there will be some hard times ahead. I
only hope that I can expose them to role models like Shannon and Lori
and Kip – others who have gone before them and dropped breadcrumbs
along the way.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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