Being Biracial Doesn’t Mean Choosing Between Two Heritages

What am I? Well, I’ve never really considered myself white, and I’ve never considered myself Hispanic either. I’m biracial. But growing up, I didn’t always feel that way.

When you’re of mixed race like I am, you’re constantly asked, “What are you?” Between standardized testing and grad school applications, I’m constantly encouraged to select one race over another. Otherwise, I’m “other.” I don’t want to be defined by my otherness. I’m an individual. I’m a feminist. I’m a writer. I’m biracial. But I am not “other.”

Growing up biracial, I always felt the need to “pick a side.” Inadvertently, society prefers for those of us with mixed race to embrace one cultural heritage over another because surely we must feel more connected to one, almost as though it is completely inconceivable that we could feel a sense of belonging to more than one racial identity.

There is no problem with persons of mixed race referring to themselves as the part of their heritage they feel most connected with. That is their decision: to engage the cultures that surround them and to establish their sense of self. But that is not my prerogative for I choose to identify with both of racial backgrounds, and not just one.

I remember when I was six years old and attended a family reunion in a Mexican border town. All of my distant cousins who were my age only spoke Spanish. They ran around the yard playing and screaming, and of course, hitting a piñata. I observed as an outsider not just because I didn’t speak their language, but because I didn’t feel as though I belonged. I had light brown hair and spoke English. My skin was significantly lighter than theirs. I didn’t fit in.

When I was 14 years old, I attended a funeral for my grandmother on the white side of the family in Tennessee. This side of the family was of English decent, tracing back to the Revolutionary War. Even though I spoke their language, my skin and eyes were darker than theirs. An elderly relative approached me. Without knowing my name or whose daughter I was, she immediately asked, “Honey, is your momma a Mexican?” I froze. Thankfully, my graceful mother chimed in, “Hi, nice to meet you. And yes I am.” The conversation was over, but I still didn’t fit in.

Why didn’t I fit in to either of these cultural groups? Because I always felt the need to choose one, and I couldn’t. I loved singing “Noche de Paz” in Spanish with my Mexican grandfather, and I loved chasing the chickens at my father’s cousin’s house in east Tennessee. I am who I am because of how both cultures have influenced me, and I refuse to let societal norms dictate my identity.

I do question the reasons a mixed race person might prefer to refer to themselves as a singular racial identity. Our society praises oneness as evidenced from census inquiries or online dating questionnaires. Choose one race, or choose “other.” For the right reasons, I applaud those who identify so strongly with one racial background over another. But when it’s done so out of pressure or societal inconvenience, then it is a problem we need to address.

The most recent United States Census allowed me to select more than one race. Thanks for the gesture, once every 10 years. However, the questionnaire modified Hispanic identification when it required me to select either “non-Hispanic white” or “Hispanic white.” If you want to get technical, I’m half “non-Hispanic white” and half “Hispanic-white.” But here, again, I had no choice but to select the resounding “other.”

Social pressure dictates that being mixed race is not a valid identity. I’ve always felt the need to constantly justify my identity across varying groups of people. As if my own race cannot be justified without a thorough expedition into each side of my family’s history. It’s a lack of acceptance many multiracial people face that seduces us to identify as a single race.

Our monoracial society cannot tell a multiracial person how they should or should not identify. Self-identity is a personal journey and each and every multiracial person will experience their odysseys differently. However you choose to identify is fine, and we should not be made to fight ourselves for the sake of another person’s sense of privilege or comfort.

What am I? I’m a biracial in a sea of millions, and every day we fight the stigma that our cultural identity is less than that of a monoracial person.

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