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May 23, 2023

“You know that I’m half Chinese, right?”

It’s a constant remark I’ve had to make throughout my life. It’s frequently met with astonishment and surprised faces. And it makes complete sense. It’s hard to imagine someone with the last name “Hopkins” having any Asian ancestry. A quick glance at me could suggest that I’m white with my brown hair and fair complexion, even though in reality, I am both white and Asian. 

Whenever I have to clarify to someone that I am half Chinese, their perception of me changes. Being met with the perpetual “but, you don’t really look that Asian” or hearing the “you’re pretty whitewashed” leaves me with a persistent exasperation. Why did I have to look Asian to be Asian? Who are you to decide what I have to look like or not? How am I whitewashed just because I’m half Chinese? These questions fill my mind, but I never let it get to me. It’s not worth it to remain in a state of skepticism– especially over my race. At times, I even take the shocked expressions as a joke. 

My Asian background exists as an essential component of who I am. However, from a young age I always struggled with viewing it as a vital part of my identity. In elementary school, I often forced myself to be around asian people just to validate myself. There was this underlying fear that if I wasn’t around other Asians, I couldn’t call myself Asian. 

As I grew up, I realized how stupid this sounded. There was nobody who could take away my identity. I had created this false reality where I had to fit in with a certain group. If I had fit in, I’d be normal. But because I was so young, my definition of normal was so distorted because of my little experience in the world. 

There’s this feeling of belonging– a sense of pride and security you feel within yourself in a group. I’ve felt it in other places throughout my life. However, it’s always lacked in my cultural individuality. Although my middle name 王 (Wong) indicates otherwise, I experience this invisible wall between the Chinese side of my family and me. 

When around my Chinese family, I enter this new world full of unfamiliar foods, expectations, and languages. I’m well aware of most of the traditional values in the Chinese culture. While growing up I’ve questioned my Chinese mother about the story of my grandparents’ immigration to the United States and about cultural customs. Yet, there exists a lack of knowledge of my Chinese identity. As much as I’d like to extend my knowledge, thousands of miles between myself and my Chinese family separate me. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll be able to connect with them and my cultural identity.

While the journey between my cultural individuality continues, I am certain in my racial identity. A stranger’s push to determining my race is not a conclusion to what I am. Dealing with the uncertainty and ambiguity has opened my eyes to a wider view of the world. It has expanded the way I interact with others and motivates me to experience different things. As I grow, I am discovering the balance between two different worlds, but more significantly, I am discovering a world where I belong.

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