Multiracial Me: A Love Story
“Being multiethnic allows me to see things that others cannot. I often make connections between ideas that do not traditionally go together. I find delight in tearing down artificial boundaries, breaking the rules, and building rapport with all kinds of people. It’s almost like a superpower. My parents say that I have had this belief system since I was little. Their acts of love for one another, and resistance to cultural expectations, allowed my siblings and I to come into the world. I am a product of their defiance. My favorite word is courage.
Common to the immigrant experience, my parents migrated from Taiwan and Colombia with aspirations to excel in college and make good money. When they settled in the United States, they did not intend to seek partnership outside of their cultures or ethnicities, but as fate would have it, they did.
Both of my parents learned English as their second language, but it became the primary language in our household. When they felt we were ready to learn their native tongues, we rejected learning them. It was too late — we had been attacked by dominant culture and the impacts of internalized racism. I grew up knowing my heritage was uncommon but I didn’t have the capacity to understand how or why. I just knew that it was normal for us to eat patacones and black beans with egg rolls and chow fun for Thanksgiving. But could not find anyone on TV who looked like me, except Disney characters, Jasmine and Mulan. And in my teenage years, I fully embraced those who found me “exotic” without examining how this made me feel or the implications behind these messages.
The college years were a time of exploration, curiosity, agitation and healing. I took courses in a few mixed heritage courses in Asian American studies and Sociology. Those professors also became mentors and guides to help me better understand myself and the mixed race experience. I began to better accept both sides of my family who would make comments about not being “Chinese” enough or with a matriarch who opposed my parent’s union until I was born. My identity, and the way I felt about myself became more clear as I came into consciousness of our history, policies of exclusion, and theories of inclusion, racism, and white supremacy. Because of these opportunities I am able to comfortably identify as Asian-Latina American, not part this or that — and aware that the way I choose to identify may change based on my environment or time in my life. And this is my right.
This first awakening to embracing myself more fully came at the perfect time. This process of exploration and loving myself continues. Now that I have children of my own I think about what they may experience growing up. It pains me to think that they will have to find their way just like I did. But I share my story in hopes of creating awareness and stronger communities that will be able to hold them and all their complexities more holistically.
Bio: Charlene Martinez currently serves as an Assistant Director for Intercultural Student Services focusing on Integrated Learning for Social Change programs and is affiliated with the School of Language, Culture, and Society at OSU. She received her master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in Multicultural Counseling and a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Barbara in Global Studies. Her office is located at 245 Snell and email address is Charlene.Martinez@oregonstate.edu. Feel free to contact her if you want to get involved or meet up for a chat.”