in her home state of Indiana in the summer of 1976, a 22-year-old
woman sat talking to her mother at a family wedding reception.
She was holding her one-year-old baby girl in her arms, and felt
proud as her family and friends doted on her. Then a man approached
the table and, pointing to the little girl, asked, "How
did you get her?"
My mom realized with that question
what I and any future children of theirs would face growing up.
The stranger had taken one look at my mom, her blonde hair and
hazel eyes, and at me, her black-haired, brown-eyed, Chinese baby,
and wondered how we had come to be together. "Well, the normal
way," was my mom's confused and slightly agitated response.
What other answer was there?
I don't remember the first time Mom
told me that story. I know that I was young, and I remember not
understanding what the man meant. Why would he say that? What
was different about me? I wondered. Those are questions I've continued
to ponder all my life.
Matter of Perception
Part of the problem of growing up multiracial
(that's the "official" term, I guess) is that people
immediately make assumptions based solely on appearance, names
and other details that do not reveal a true person. For instance,
some people look at me and know that I'm Chinese. As proud
as that makes me, it also hurts because it seems to nullify my
German heritage, which is just as much a part of me as my Chinese
The most difficult part about being
multiracial is not the challenge of accepting yourself for all
that you are, but in figuring out how the next person is going
to perceive you. In my 21 years, I have had people ask me where
I was from, if I was born in this country and even what I am.
Being asked what I am made me very angry. I wanted to shout, I'm
a human being! What are you?
It's actually quite amazing how different
people see me. I've had friends who didn't realize I was anything
other than Caucasian. I've had friends who suspected there was
something non-white in my background, but didn't know if it was
Native American or Asian or Latin American. Most, however, realized
from the start that I have an Asian heritage. It's hard to know
what to expect from a first meeting with someone when so many
people have different reactions. I never know what people are
going to see when they look into my eyes.
Looking Asian has created problems
of acceptance and understanding for my dad, who is full-blooded
Chinese, and my two younger brothers and I, who are half. We never
felt particularly Asian because we grew up white.
My paternal grandparents immigrated to this country from China
early in this century and all of their 12 children were born in
the United States. My dad was the youngest. Both of his parents
died in his early teen years. When they died, most of the Chinese
traditions died too.
But I didn't grow up without a Chinese
influence. I have fond memories of celebrating the Chinese New
Year, the most celebrated of holidays in China, which falls between
January 10 and February 19 according to lunar cycles. On New Year's
Day, my brothers and I would wake up with a tangerine next to
our heads and a red envelope filled with money under our pillows.
I also remember my aunt trying to teach me to eat with chopsticks
when I was little (I still can't do it, even now). I recall the
little Buddha statues adorning my relatives' houses and the Chinese
newspapers my uncle used to read. And of course, my life would
not have been so delightful if not for those family recipes of
Chinese dishes, especially the wonton soup.
My maternal grandparents are the only
grandparents I have ever known. They have lived on the same farm
and in the same German, Catholic community in Indiana all my life.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of days on the farm.
I remember playing with my aunt and cousins in the three upstairs
bedrooms of the house. I remember climbing trees, feeding chickens
and picking berries. I remember Thanksgiving turkeys and family
gathered around the tree at Christmas.
People, Familiar Place
My mom's side of the family has been
instrumental in helping me come to terms with the identity questions
I've faced as a result of being multiracial. They didn't sit down
and give me advice about how to look at life, or how to perceive
myself. It was more subtle. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and
cousins never seemed to care
that I looked "different." If they did, it
didn't show. I have always been one of them. I was Stacie--granddaughter,
niece, cousin. I always felt loved, always comfortable.
My mom's youngest sister, who is only
three years older than I, recently told me that she never knew
I was multiracial until she grew up and society told her that
I was. Of course, it
didn't matter and it still doesn't. We
are close because we grew up together and admire each other, and
be that way if I was multiracial or not.
I have always rejoiced in both sides
of my family, even though the differences between them were striking.
It seemed amazing to be able to fit into two totally different
worlds. I feel so much a part of each family. The ability to feel
comfortable in each situation may be one of the best aspects of
My two worlds do occasionally come
together. It happened once in May 1995. I had just returned home
from my sophomore year in college, and my mom's sister was staying
with us to recover after having surgery. One night while she was
there, my family went through the exciting process of making wonton
soup. After my Dad chopped up the meat and added all the necessary
ingredients, it was time to crack a couple of eggs and wrap the
meat inside the square noodles. It's a messy job, but it's something
my family has always done together.
My aunt was amazed! She had never seen
a sight such as that (it requires reaching into a huge bowl of
meat and getting egg on your fingers), but she enjoyed herself
and our Chinese tradition. I remember feeling great that we were
able to share it with her.
The Church, too, has always been a
place where I felt free to be myself completely and where I was
accepted as I was. My family has belonged to the same parish since
I was a little girl. I feel as if I have grown up in the Church,
and with the Church.
I made my first Communion in a little
room that was part of an office complex, which served as our church
building until funds were available to build one of our own in
1985. In 1989, I was confirmed in the new building, with the same
familiar people. St. John Neumann Church in Cincinnati is a place
as comfortable to me as home.
My mom is a cantor and sings in the
choir, and her beautiful voice has always helped to bring home
the message of the Mass. The familiar faces that I see every Sunday
are comforting, even if I don't know them personally. The people
of the parish are, in a very real way, my family, too. Midnight
Mass on Christmas Eve has been very special the past two years
as my grandma and aunt have come to hear my mom sing and my youngest
brother play the clarinet. Faith and family come together at church.
I have always known, largely because
of my mom's example, how much God loves me, and how important
it is to have faith. I have often heard her say that she doesn't
know how some people survive without faith. I don't know, either.
Jesus has been a source of great help
and support as I was trying to figure out who I was. Regardless
of how many reassurances I got from my family or friends when
I was struggling, it was the knowledge that I was created in God's
image and that Jesus loved me unconditionally that most comforted
I figured God made me multiracial for
a reason--and who was I to question divine reasoning? My faith
sustained me when being multiracial was difficult.
I wasn't teased a lot because of my
Asian appearance while in elementary school, but it did happen.
Mostly the kids would pull their eyes back and imitate being Chinese
or would try to karate-chop me, figuring I could karate-chop them
back. Mostly they would try to imitate the Chinese language as
I passed by them.
In the beginning, I didn't understand
why they were doing that to me. It hurt me, not just because they
were being mean, but because I didn't see myself as different
from them. I don't recall ever getting upset or crying over being
teased. Maybe I did, but I remember more trying to get even. I
pretended it didn't hurt or I denied what they were saying about
me. I'd try to find something equally mean to say back to them.
It never seemed fair that I was being
teased for something that I could neither control nor recognize
Questions often bothered me more than
being teased. For instance, once while standing with my mom in
line for something, a woman asked if I was adopted. That made
me so angry. My mom was my mom! That's all there was to
it. Who was this woman to deny our biological bond?
In his book Where the Body Meets
Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity, Japanese-American
writer David Mura writes about how uncomfortable it makes his
Caucasian wife to be asked how she got their daughter. "For
Susie, the encounters were a challenge to her position as Samantha's
biological mother, a negation of an arduous pregnancy and the
labor of birth and motherhood." Questions like those are
what make going through life multiracial the hardest.
Being teased ended for the most part
after junior high school. In high school I did a lot of soul-searching.
I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and what
kind of person I wanted to be.
I remember wanting to look like some
of the beautiful white actresses on television, to live lives
like theirs. I spent a great deal of time looking for inspiration
in the wrong places.
I am not sure why I was so concerned
with deciding what kind of woman I wanted to be, especially when
my friends didn't seem to care anything about it. Perhaps it was
partly because for years I had been termed and labeled by everyone
but me. I was made fun of for something I didn't feel I was. I
looked different, but didn't feel different.
I remember looking in the mirror and
trying to see what they saw. I stared at my own reflection and
looked deep into my own eyes. I tried to see something Chinese--I
couldn't. I couldn't find anything German, either. I was simply
Once the teasing stopped, I figured
that I would finally have some peace. I thought that I had somehow
grown out of my multiracial appearance and that people would start
looking at me the way I saw myself--just like them.
Fortunately for me, God had a different
plan. Being multiracial didn't go away and I hadn't outgrown it.
In fact, I was growing into it as faith helped me to come
to some definite conclusions. Faith in God, in family, in America
and in myself helped me to come to a greater understanding of
myself and of my place in this world.
I can't pinpoint the beginning of this
greater understanding. I think it began around the time that I
chose history as a minor in college. Studying the history of America
somehow brought me closer to a greater understanding of myself.
I had always been interested in the American West and the Civil
War, but it wasn't until I actually studied the way that people
lived back then that I realized the human condition: the sorrows,
joys, trials and tribulations that all human beings share.
I don't know why I didn't immediately
recognize that commonality in this century, except that I always
related to the apparent simplicity of life and the faith that
the communities seemed to share in the past. History prompted
me to go beyond what I had previously thought and made me see
people as individuals who were shaped by their heritages, but
weren't defined by them.
Immigrating to America changed our
ancestors' lives. They forged new identities, based not on where
they came from but on where they were going. I related to the
pioneer spirit and developed one of my own.
I started to think of myself as if
on a journey, as both German and Chinese, but even more as American.
I started to define myself by what I felt in my heart and what
I knew because of my Catholic faith to be true, that God was watching
over me. I am aware that having a Chinese heritage and being Catholic
back in earlier centuries would not have been very popular, but
that serves to remind me of the importance of the journey I've
chosen to undertake.
The Supreme Court decision in the Plessy
v. Ferguson case of 1896 made it clear that if a person is
just one eighth of a nonwhite race, then that is what the person
is considered to be. I have never really been able to accept that.
One challenge I persistently face is what to mark on forms which
ask about race. If I mark white, which is more of what
I feel, then I'm actually contradicting the Supreme Court decision.
If I mark Asian, I don't feel that I am acknowledging my
entire background. And marking other makes me feel less
than a person.
History of My Own
Multiracial Americans and their parents
are currently lobbying in Washington to get the word multiracial
put on U.S. Census forms. In U.S. News and World Report
(April 8, 1996), Susan Graham, mother of a multiracial child,
said, "The government doesn't have the right to act as the
racial police and tell my child he has to choose one of his parents
or else be an other." I wholeheartedly support her
and those like her. A decision on the issue by the U.S. Census
Bureau is expected this year.
Probably the most disturbing words
I can hear from someone are generalizations about race or a certain
group of people. I can feel my body tense when I hear people demeaning
an entire race of human beings based on their experiences with
one person. It seems incredibly unfair.
The advantage of being multiracial
is in the unique perspective I get on life. It's often easier
to empathize with those who are like you. Being multiracial I
feel a bit like everyone. I can understand the challenges that
people of other races face. I relate to their distress at not
fitting in or feeling that society sees them as different or as
a lesser people. As sincere as some people may be in trying to
understand, it is impossible to come to a complete understanding
of the lives of nonwhite or multiracial Americans without really
I can see, more clearly because I am
partly of a nonwhite race, that everyone in this world has feelings.
Everyone is important. The saying that a smile means the same
in any language is so true. Human dignity is valued highly in
the Catholic Church, and it seems wrong to treat or speak about
people with anything less than the utmost dignity.
Many people in this country can appropriately
be called multiracial; very few people are completely one specific
race. The difference for me, and others like me, is that when
skin color or appearance is not characteristically Caucasian,
it becomes more apparent.
David Mura spoke frankly about Asian
stereotypes in his book. His children are white and Japanese,
and he fears for their future. "The women are exotic, sensual
and submissive; the men are houseboys or Chinatown punks...."
As interesting as his narrative was,
I must say that I have never faced the Asian stereotype of being
exotic and submissive. His book, written about his own life, just
confirmed my belief that experiences differ, that everyone, regardless
of race, is unique. My experience is bound to be different from
that of other people-multiracial or not.
I am proud of who I am and where I
came from, and I attribute that to my parents. They never raised
my brothers and me to be different. My mom and dad love each other
and the three of us children and we have always known that. Since
we were little, we have been told that we were beautiful and talented.
But they didn't raise us just with
their hearts. They also made decisions about their lives that
would make ours easier. For instance, once they were married they
decided to move out of the rural community where my mom grew up
and settle in Cincinnati, figuring the city would be more open
to us. I believe they were right.
My dad used to tell me that no one but he and my mom could have
made me. He said that to make me feel like a special person, and
it worked. To be a part of two such extraordinary people is a
gift from God, and so is being multiracial. So now when I wonder
what people see when they look into my eyes, I realize that it
doesn't matter so much because only in my heart can the real me
Being multiracial puts a different spin on things, makes me look
at life through different-colored glasses. In some aspects, it
makes living a bit more difficult, and oftentimes painful. But
more than that, it gives me the opportunity to experience more
of the world. I feel like the embodiment of America--I come with
a German history, an Asian history and a collective American history,
which is full of mystery, questions and wonder. Because of my
faith in Christ, I have a greater faith in the knowledge of who
I am, and in living my own life.
Stacie R. Yee is a senior journalism
major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She will graduate in
May 1997. She was
St. Anthony Messenger's summer 1996 intern.