One person with two identities, am I a fraud?

By Nina Figurelli, Assistant Editor

Everyone goes through different phases when they are growing up: trying different sports, clothing styles, music and more. My two phases were trying to be white and trying to be Korean. 

For most of my life, my identity has been one big question mark. It used to be hard for me to embrace both parts of who I am because, either way, I felt like a phony. I am half-Italian and half-Korean, but for as long as I can remember, I have always felt like an outcast. Having to constantly juggle my two identities was exhausting.

Even though I love both of my cultures now, I have always felt out of place. And I hate to say it, but I was ashamed of my mixed identity. I never seemed to fit in with either “side.” For Korean people I was white washed and for white people I was too Asian.

I was constantly trying to change myself to fit into one of those groups, but at the end of the day it just made me feel more excluded, because I was still a fraud.

Everyone always says it’s what’s on the inside that matters. Yet I often find myself confused if I should identify myself based on my “passing race” or how I was culturally raised.

I grew up with my Korean immigrant grandparents, and many of my values were taught to me by the Korean side of my family. I’m not saying that I didn’t learn anything from my Italian side, but I was always immersed in Korean culture, from the food to the traditions and I think that’s why I am more naturally drawn to identify with my Korean culture.

Especially in terms of my appearance, I always had a complicated relationship with my cultures. To some people I look white, to some people I look Asian and other people have no clue what I am. I still identify more closely with my Korean culture despite the fact that I don’t necessarily look Korean. 

Zoe Townsend, Div. 369, told me how her appearance plays a significant role when it comes to identifying with either Guatemalan, white or Black.

I feel more inclined to be Guatemalan because I don’t look Black and I don’t look white. I look Hispanic. So based on looks alone I feel like I should identify more with my Guatemalan heritage especially because it is half of my identity,” Townsend said.

Here lies the root of the problem. Why should I have to make a choice? Why can’t I be both?

Throughout my entire life I have struggled with my hyphenated identity. It also didn’t help that I rarely grew up seeing people who looked like me. Although some of the TV shows and movies I watched as a kid included multiracial families, I never felt that I related to or resonated with these characters. 

For instance, when I first watched the film series “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” I was excited to see the portrayal of a mixed family. Yet, the movies barely touched on the culturally conflicting aspects of being biracial.

Shanti Edouard, Div. 360, spoke on the confusing message that is sent by the media, and how oftentimes television shows and movies reinforce stereotypes about multiracial people and their family dynamics.

“There is this really inaccurate representation of what mixed people represent and what they’re supposed to look like,” Edouard said. “Also, the whole mixed family is not really represented [in shows] well because there are a lot of gender roles and stuff.”

Not only that, but there isn’t enough discussion on how isolating and confusing it can be to come from a multiracial background. Oftentimes mixed people are romanticized or fetishsized, which completely disregards the struggles that multicultural people face. 

I have heard many people say that they “love mixed-race babies,” which is both creepy and dehumanizing. Reducing a person to their race can create an unhealthy self image, and this language can actually contribute to the identity conflicts of biracial people.

Amaia Ward, Div. 369, shared how detached she feels from both of her identities.

I think it just depends on the area I’m in and the people I am around,” Ward said. “I never feel Black enough or I never feel Latina enough, unless I’m around people who understand exactly what it means to be mixed.”

Being mixed comes with a whole different set of internalized and externalized strife. 

Townsend also noted how there are many disconnects with different parts of her family due to various cultural and linguistic barriers.

“A lot of the time, mostly from my Guatemalan side, I will get dirty looks because I am white so they see me as a white-washed Hispanic-American. Especially because I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t have a Spanish accent,” Townsend said.

It’s also difficult, if not nearly impossible, to characterize all mixed people into one experience. Every biracial person has a different story, especially because we all come from a plethora of backgrounds and upbringings. 

Nonetheless, many mixed people struggle with coming to terms with both parts of their identity. Far too many people have made me feel excluded and unwanted for not “choosing a side.” The fact that I let those words get to me is one of my biggest regrets because for a long time I wasn’t being myself — I was playing a role of what I thought I should be. 

I have fully embraced both sides of who I am now, but I am always going to be faced with internalized conflict. The truth is that I can’t just be Korean or Italian — I need to accept the fact that I am both, and no one else has the right to tell me otherwise.