Being multiracial in America.getty
National Loving Day happens on June 12, and is the anniversary of the historic 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia. In 1958, Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested for being married because they were an interracial couple living in Viriginia. Their case made it all the way to the Supreme Court and, nine years after their arrest, they won, striking down all state laws against interracial marriage in the United States.
Let’s put this in perspective: Only 54 years ago, it was illegal for one person to marry another person if they were of a different race in 17 States across America. Today multiracial Americans are growing at a rate of three times faster than the population as a whole, according to the Pew Research Center.
I spoke to some multiracial Americans on their experiences of growing up “mixed,” and their hopes for the next generation. This is a snapshot of personal stories, and, while not representative of all people of mixed race backgrounds as everyone’s story is unique, is a collection of first-person accounts of growing up multiracial in America. Here are their stories.
*These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Jennifer Kohl, Executive Director Integrated Media, VMLY&R
“In the Asian culture when you're half Asian, you're called ‘Hapa,’ which is Hawaiian for ‘half or part.’ In 2021, I could not be prouder to be mixed, to be Chinese, to be German. I love the fact that I have an interesting mix of races and cultures within me. But growing up, I would have to admit, it was hard. I realized I had buried a lot of those memories somewhere because they were painful. The truth is my parents had a mixed-race marriage that was not common for their time nor widely accepted.
Jennifer Kohl's father, who is German, and Mother, who is Chinese.Jennifer Kohl
They were stared at. The feeling when I showed up with my German dad to an event was different than when I showed up with my Chinese mom. Sometimes people were surprised, because my last name is German.
I remember being called a ‘chink’ and being made fun of for being different. I’m a Gen-Xer, and growing up, there wasn't as much awareness around bullying and racial slurs. I never denied being Chinese, but I definitely remember sometimes feeling as though I should hide it. It’s a sad thing to admit as an adult: I don't think it was embarrassment, but probably more about wanting to fit in. Being half white was easier, but the truth was that everyone knew I was something. Even now, sometimes if my hair is really curly or if I wear red lipstick or if I'm really tan, I get different comments. People ask if I’m Hawaiian, Eskimo, Mexican, Greek.
I think prior to 2020, I was living with my head down, working hard and still trying to blend in. Culturally, Asians are known for being hard workers, and not wanting to cause any trouble, which is also partially an immigrant mentality. We're not loud or very vocal by nature.
Today in 2021, my head is held much higher, my back is much straighter. I'm more open about my minority half to help make things better for me and for my kids. We're seeing a lot of Asians defend the community and fight to stop Asian hate from happening, because the conversation has been really hard this past year. I certainly want some bigger action in terms of preventing it and creating more awareness and education.
I have so much hope for our Gen-Z children. They’re much more inclusive in the way they talk. Their radar is up way quicker than mine ever was to say, ‘Hey, you can’t say that—that doesn’t sound right.’ I have way more conversations with my children about race, equality, and inclusion; certainly more conversations than my immigrant parents ever did with me as they tried to "not rock the boat." The boat is moving a little bit more; not necessarily rocking too hard, but it's rocking enough that it feels like there's some progress. I think it’s so important to keep having conversations with our kids and people in our networks in order to move forward.”
Mandy Bynum McLaughlin, CEO & Co-Founder, The Race Equ(al)ity Project
“I was born in the D.C. area, in Rockville, Maryland specifically. When I was seven years old, my family moved from Maryland to North Carolina. When we moved, I noticed the difference almost right away. We lived in a bigger house in a neighborhood that was one hundred percent white.
That was the first time I heard the N-word said to me. Most of the other Black kids lived in a completely different part of town, leaving my only Black friends being those I met at school. I think my parents had a much tougher time as well. My mom is from Syracuse and, although she didn't grow up around many Black people, racism wasn't quite as prevalent as it was in North Carolina. I think my Dad faced a lot more racism than he did in D.C. The hardest part for me personally was feeling like I didn't fit in, and having privilege at the same time.
I knew from a very early age that there was something different about me. It took me a while to get the language. My Black cousins would visit from D.C. and ask me why I acted like a white girl. My friends at school, who were white, would say things like, ‘I don't think of you as Black.’ While I didn't have the language, I had all the feelings of frustration, anger, and wanting to be someone I wasn't. Despite the tribulations of my childhood, the way I pay attention and empathize with people today is a direct result of knowing acutely what exclusion feels like.
We need to see people for everything they are. When we meet people, our first instinct is to identify them and put them into a box. A person’s racial identity is just one of many different parts of them. Whiteness and white supremacy culture tell us that to be white means to hold all the power, hold all the knowledge. It’s important to unlearn a lot of it and recognize experiences that are blended.
I love meeting other biracial people, because I feel they get the richness of our blended experience, and understand how we often feel like we have to choose one or the other [racial identity]. They know what it feels like when you can't always be all of yourself.”
David Ryan Barcega Castro-Harris, Founder, Amplify RJ
“I am African Filipino American. I’m the descendant of people from West Africa who were forced onto boats and brought to the land we now call the United States as property before any of us can remember. I am also the descendant of people who came here in the 1970s from the Philippines. My ethnicity is a large part of who I am, but other factors shape me. My father grew up in a Black community in Columbia, Maryland, just outside of D.C. My mom grew up all over because her father was in the U.S. Navy. They both came to Southern California for college and they've been here ever since.
David Ryan Barcega Castro-Harris with his wife, father, mother and brother on his wedding day.David Ryan Barcega Castro-Harris
Southern California can be called a melting pot as it’s fairly racially diverse, so it's a very different environment then the communities that they were born in. Growing up mixed meant I was around my Filipino American family a lot more because my mom's family was physically closer to us than my dad's family, who were still on the East coast. No Black experience or no Filipino American experience is monolithic. But because we lived in the suburbs and I went to a private school, I was not around a lot of Black people.
My dad tells this story. I don't remember it. I was three years old, and he took me to a Tumble Tots, this gymnastics place for kids. I did not want to go because there was nobody in the class who looked like me. I was able to recognize this as a three-year old. I don't remember if the kids were all white, or just other races, but it’s tough knowing you don't necessarily feel a sense of belonging in a racial group.
Mixed race people have to see both sides or multiple views of any situation, because that's just in our nature. I don't think being mixed raced is the entire reason that I'm doing restorative justice work. But when I think about doing restorative justice, a part of it is acknowledging that there are multiple truths and multiple perspectives to any story. That’s in my body. Of course, it's in everybody's body, but in my lived experience, the way that I look, who my parents are, who my extended family is, forces me to see that.”
Willow Hill, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder, Scout Lab
“I'm a mixed-race, Native American female founder. I grew up primarily in Arizona, on the border of a Native American reservation. Growing up, I experienced a lot of internalized racism just through the experience of being mixed race in a place where so many of the kids around me were either white or Native American.
When my teachers found out that I was part Native American, they held me back from recess, thinking maybe I wasn’t as up-to-speed academically as the other students because of my heritage. I also experienced teasing and bullying from other kids because of both my heritage and my name. At some point around the second grade, I internalized that racism and started telling kids I was Hawaiian, which wasn’t true. I learned about Hawaii in school and thought it might be a safe place to take refuge in. I hoped that saying I was Hawaiian and not Native American would help me avoid the pain and shaming I was experiencing from others. Unfortunately, I was correct. When I started lying the bullying subsided, which reinforced that my own identity did not feel like a safe place.
At age 13, my family moved to an area near Portland, Oregon. It was at that point I experienced a lot of different types of racism. People thought I was Asian American or Hispanic and made racial comments. Being someone who is mixed race, depending on where you are and what scenario you're in, it can be hard for people to place you. In that experience, I learned very quickly that wherever I was had an impact on what people perceived that I was. As a young person, I was asked ‘What are you?’ or‘ what kind of Asian are you?’ so often that I never even second-guessed or considered how problematic this question was. I did not recognize until adulthood that the act of asking someone 'what' they are is objectifying.
It took experiencing this wide range of racism directed toward a lot of different groups for me to recognize that that’s what my experience was, racism. As a child, it was easy for me to internalize these narratives and think that I was the problem, rather than connect it to a larger systemic issue.
Being biracial in America is a complex experience. As a young person, sometimes it can be hard to see a place where you fit in or find a place where you experience a sense of belonging.
This experience has given me the unique opportunity to turn something that once felt painful for me into empathy for others. When people ask ‘what are you?,’ the answer is first and foremost, ‘a human.’ That is what is at the center of everything. It’s important to understand that whatever that thing is that feels the hardest is actually something powerful about you. Your uniqueness is your gift and your voice is your power. Finding that sense of belonging starts with self-acceptance, and then you have the ability to offer that sense of belonging to others. And that is a truly beautiful thing.”