by Marco Ovies, Features Editor
In 1993, Time Magazine published a special issue titled The New Face of America with a computer-rendered image of a person mixed with many different races as the cover. This was supposed to be a “remarkable preview” of how “immigrants are shaping the first multicultural society.” Fast forward nearly 30 years, and race is as large of an issue as ever. The world has really started to pay attention to our treatment of BIPOC in our country — specifically, how they’re impacted by racism in their everyday lives. But where do mixed people fit in?
Time Magazine may have predicted correctly as more and more mixed babies enter the world, with about 15% of all children being born mixed in Canada. Their vision of this mixed-race utopia without racial strife, however, is misleading.
Conversations around being “white-passing” or not embracing one’s race enough pop up all the time. This is even something the United States’ new vice president Kamala Harris has to deal with. For multiracial people, defining one’s racial identity can be complicated because of others’ assumptions and expectations, and these assumptions show we still have a long way to go.
I’m actually mixed myself. My dad immigrated from Mexico and met my mom who had immigrated from Germany. Within my family, I have basically zero connection to my Mexican heritage, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s to do with me not being seen as “Mexican” enough. I have more of a connection to my German side, but not by much. Instead of accommodating the fact that I live in Canada and speak English as my first language, conversations with extended family from both sides are rarely in English despite both groups knowing how to speak it. I sit awkwardly at family gatherings, never being included and knowing full well I don’t belong.
So where do I fit in? Because I’m not entirely “white,” but I look like it. Since I am white-passing, people’s assumptions of me change the way I am treated and exclude me from Mexican-dominated spaces. Upon the discovery I am not white, I have been dismissed from white-dominated spaces as well. So I ask again, where do I fit in?
This even pops up in dating, when I get asked both by family or my peers to date within my own race. I get called out for being interested in someone white because I’m ignoring my Mexican culture, but I also get called out for being interested in anyone Mexican because I’m white-passing. If I date outside of my own race, I also get told to date within my own race. And so the cycle continues. Trust me, I am as confused as you are.
I can’t dismiss the fact that being white-passing has definitely given me tremendous advantages in life and has ultimately led to where I am today. But I forever feel like I exist in this liminal space between races, and no one group will ever truly accept me. I don’t mind being called white (and I joke about it all the time), but it still doesn’t feel like the proper terminology to describe me. I’m not Canadian enough to be Canadian, but not German or Mexican enough to be considered either of those, either.
The term “mixed” is what I feel most comfortable using, but it feels unsatisfying. Identifying as a person of colour feels wrong, but I also don’t want to dismiss my Mexican heritage on account of the whiteness I inherited from my mother.
As a child, I didn’t spend much time worrying about my race or where I fit in. I lived in Newton, where 58% of the population is South Asian. There, I attended a private elementary school where I was one of a handful of “white” kids. It was easier to dismiss my identity as just being “white” rather than going through the lengths of explaining my cultural heritage — only to be told I was “white” by other people, anyway. So gradually I began to lose parts of my cultural identity as I mixed into the cultural melting pot Canada is so proud of.
Being forced to choose between which race you identify as exemplifies the binary way of thinking that monoracial people use to identify others. By neatly putting you into one category, whether that be white, Black, Asian, etc., they are able to assign stereotypes to you based on their understanding of that specific race. If you’re more than one race, that confuses things. It’s easier for people to just place you into the category they think suits you the best. In reality, shouldn’t it be individuals that define themselves? Just because I have pale skin does not make me any less Mexican than I am. I still grew up with a Mexican parent and even lived in Mexico during my childhood. My race is not for other people to decide. It is my decision and mine alone.
I wish there was a tidy way to end this article and come to some sort of groundbreaking revolution about my identity, but that’s just not the reality of it. And this is the truth for mixed people everywhere. Maybe one day we will arrive at that utopia Time Magazine envisioned, but we still have a ways to go. The first step: accepting how people identify themselves without questioning them.