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Multiracial in a ‘this’ or ‘that’ world

Posted November 17th, 2011 by UHDS News

As a Student of Color I have given much thought to the topic of racial identity. However, as a self-identified Chicano/Latino I admit I have not challenged myself to reflect on bi-racial or multi-racial identities. In high school I thought of race as what you would check on the identity box when taking the SAT’s, or any other state testing. Only recently have these identification forms allowed you to check more than one “racial box” or to state that you are multiracial. Like these forms I, too, had a binary way of thinking about race; in my mind you were either “this” or “that.”

During spring term of 2011 I decided to take a philosophy class titled “Ethics of Diversity”, which really sparked my interest in learning more about many topics around social justice.  This class talked about many issues like race, oppression, sexism, LGBT identities, etc. Towards the end of the term we began to discuss bi-racial and multi-racial identities. During this class the professor hosted a panel of students who identified as being bi-racial or multi-racial to speak on their experiences. When I got home that afternoon I saw an email from a student who was part of the panel. With his consent, I will share the email he sent to the class:

 

I would like to preface my statement by clarifying that it is not my intention to dismiss anyone or to attack them for their thoughts. These views come from my experiences and should not be used as a generalization for everyone.

I left the panel yesterday feeling very angry and resentful. Walking through campus, I could not pinpoint the center of my uneasy feelings, unable to locate the reason for which I was so unsettled by what happened. The issues discussed very well described what it meant to be bi- or multi-racial; but only a portion of what goes on. I felt as if the class was left with the idea that being multi-racial/ bi-racial meant being able to pick and choose which side we wanted to present: to be one, the other, or both when convenient.

It means a lot more.

  • For some it means to be both always, forced with the inability to escape duality.
  • It means not being able to pass completely for one or the other.
  • It means to be Mexican and White at all times, for better or for worse, and to understand this and accept the consequences.
  • It means to be mad at the world when you are rejected for one side, and then mad at yourself when you fail to speak up for the other.
  • It means to be told that you are both the oppressor and the oppressed.
  • It means to always be a minority, regardless of who you are with.
  • It means to be admired for your ability to seamlessly cross between two worlds, and then hated for the same reason.
  • It means to bottle up all your hurt for lack of anyone who understands you.
  • It means that when you are unable to represent both cultures fully, you are seen as culturally ignorant instead of culturally unaware.
  • It means to constantly try to acculturate to both sides and always be seen as assimilating.
  • It is like your different sides staring at each other through a two-way mirror, screaming and banging and shaking to break free and join each other in a society that keeps them separated.
  • But it also means to not only have to the power to “check” multiple boxes, but have the opportunity to embrace and express the cultures that you check.
  • It means you can speak Spanish at one home and English at the other.
  • It means you can share in the sorrows and happiness of two worlds.
  • It means you are blessed with a curse and cursed with a blessing.
  • It means you can find meaning in double the things.
  • It means you see life from many different eyes.
  • It means you can build bridges.

Thank You for your Time,

Agustin Vega-Peters

The class discussion and Agustin’s email were very insightful; it completely changed my way of viewing race. I began to reflect on the complexity of the concept of race. I was awakened to no longer see race as being “this” or “that” in an exclusionary manner. I now understood why my bi- and multiracial friends had a hard time when I asked, “what race do you relate to more?” or “which one of the two races do you identify as?” These questions assumed that they can separate their lives into imaginary compartments. I realized that my lack of awareness may have made my friends uncomfortable and my questions could have even been hurtful. Becoming more aware of this issue allowed me to think of how I can become an ally and be more inclusive to people who identify as bi-and multiracial. I actively remind myself to embrace and appreciate the whole individual for who they are and what they represent, rather than breaking down an individual into distinct characteristics that have no connection. I encourage you to reflect on your understanding of bi- and multiracial identities. How can you help create a more inclusive living environment in your residence hall for people who identify as bi- and multiracial?

If you wish to learn more about identity and other related topics, contact your Community Relations Facilitator (CRF) or participate in facilitations offered by CRFs in your residence hall.

Thank you for reading,

Miguel Arellano, Community Relations Facilitator

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