actor ⦁ writer ⦁ director ⦁ activist
I’m mixed race, but I’m three generations mixed race, which means: I’m mixed race, my mother is mixed race, and her parents are both mixed race. My mother is from Singapore, it’s a tiny country in Asia, and my father is from Jersey – white as white can be. Growing up, I didn’t have anyone else to model myself after because Singapore has such a niche culture within Asia, and Eurasian culture from Singapore is so niche within that as well. I didn’t have any sort of representation, racially, that could help me reflect my own identity. Since I was so confused, and didn’t know how to explain my racial identity and culture, it seemed other people felt it was their place to fill in the blanks. Questions I got a lot growing up, and still get to this day, were, “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” or sometimes just flat out, “What are you?” These questions made it clear in my head that I didn’t fit in with the white kids. Then when I would try to explain my identity, other people would even correct me. I remember so clearly being in third grade and telling this girl that I was Asian, and she said to me, “Well, you’re not a real Asian because you aren’t Chinese.” I looked ambiguous to people because most had never seen anyone who looked like me. We were all growing up in a society focused on racially categorizing in these very specific boxes and none of them really fit me, so I would get grouped into the “most common denominator,” which has often been Latina. I started to naturally gravitate to the latinx kids in my schools, often being adopted as an “honorary Latina,” but even then, I was always aware that I never truly belonged to the latinx community either.
And then I get to high school, a really formative time in my life where I’m starting to inform and understand my own opinions on myself and the world around me. I was chosen as a leader for our Students of Color group on campus, created because I went to a predominately white high school. I felt that there was a lot of pressure on me, because I was leading this group post-Ferguson, so the school environment was emotionally chaotic – students felt uneasy, and the students of color felt outnumbered and unsafe. I was balancing other peoples’ struggles with my own internal battle of, “Who am I?” At this time, I was also consuming race theory books and articles, latching on to authors who were talking about their own stories, because these were what helped me start to reflect on my identity. It takes a lot of scouring the internet on my own time to access mixed race writers, let alone mixed-race writers who reflect my mix, which is very specific in the broader scope of mixed race. I found, thank God, an article about a talk that Junot Diáz gave to a bunch of students at Rutgers. In the interview, he says that being a person of color is like being a vampire because both people of color and vampires are unable to see their own reflections. He says, “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” That really struck me, because I saw how this relationship between people of color and culture related to the arts, and how it translated a key experience I had been feeling my entire life. Almost like I’m not real, that I exist in a liminal space, racially, since I felt like I didn’t belong to any one group – like I was a perpetual outsider.
I’ve used this quote from Junot so many times, and I often source it as the main inspiration for the work that I do, because it left me with the understanding that I can take these art forms that I love and give me so much nourishment as a person, and I can marry them to reflect my own experiences. My art helps me navigate my world, and I also hope to leave my work behind for other mixed race people so that they can look at it and feel less alone and inspired to share their own niche narratives too.