Growing up as hapa — meaning "mixed race" in Hawaii and half-Asian, half-white in my circles — comes with its own set of problems. I'm not just talking about when I had to check "other" under the race box during standardized tests: I'm talking about beauty problems. There are many misconceptions when it comes to being hapa, and I'm here to set the record straight. A little background: my father is Chinese, and my mother is Irish, and I've found it difficult to find the balance between being too white and too Asian. There were only about five Asians in my entire graduating high school class, and because of the lack of diversity, I thought you had to be blond and Caucasian to be beautiful. When I got to college, Asian students made up about 40 percent of the student population. Although it was great to see more diversity on campus, I didn't feel like I fit in with that cultural group either. After a lot of soul and family-tree searching, I really started to embrace being biracial.
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When it comes to identity, I can frame myself two radically different ways: I am a gay person of color on a large amount of financial aid, and I am a white male legacy student at Duke. Both descriptions are technically accurate, but fail to illustrate the nuances of my competing identities. I feel like I fluctuate between being white and Korean depending on the scenario or group of people I am around. In college, we are often engaged in discussions about identity and privilege, and I have struggled to pinpoint my place in such conversations.
Growing up in Vancouver, WA a predominantly white area , I remember feeling a discomfort toward my features. This adjective was supposedly meant as a compliment, but the meaning of that word is "introduced from another country, not native to the place where found. We are not anchored in the same way, making it easy for us to lose our identities or feel lost trying to navigate the intersection between our cultures.
She was tall and freckled, with long, dark hair — and we stood out in the same way. As I leaned in to say hi, she yelled over the din, "You're hapa, aren't you? What am I? This is what they're really asking here: What is the particular racial mix that created you? Because YOU don't fit into a single box in my mind, and that confuses me. I'm half Korean and half white, and it's usually easier to just leave it there. If I were to volunteer my identity though, I would tell you I'm hapa.