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QUESTION: How is multiraciality changing the way Asian Americans view themselves?
SHERYL: For most Asian Americans, myself included, it's an issue of self-identification. If you're mixed and you identify as such, then in one respect it's empowering to know that being multi-racial is "something" and not something that you're just making up. When I first began identifying as mixed in my undergraduate years, I experienced a lot of resistance because it wasn't one of those predefined racial categories and therefore was not legitimate.
On the other hand, multi-racial is a label like all racial categories. These labels are self-confining and problematic because they work within a system that legitimizes racial strata and differences. It's still the same game. But perhaps the idea and inclusion of multi-racial has helped some people break out of the mindset that race is immutable and unchanging, rather than a construction of political or social beliefs.
I also believe that there are different levels to identity. Identifying as mixed Asian and white, I understand the restrictions of this label, which is why on another level I identify as Asian American and as a woman of color, so that I can draw larger, more inclusive circles around myself. Part of the purpose of identity is to place yourself within a community and have those communities draw ties to other communities.
I don't believe that mixed-race people will resolve the racism of the United States. I believe those issues will remain, and new racial classifications will arrive reflecting different hierarchies, like in Brazil, until we break out of this cycle.
QUANG: This is certainly becoming an issue of the 21st century. What's interesting to see is that children who are of mixed race were deeply discriminated against back in their homelands. Yet if you follow what's happening in terms of popular media and fashion, especially in Southeast Asia, Asians who have a white parent have an enormous cachet and value. Over here in the States that discrimination has lessened in a way. And this presents a new challenge and complexity. Part of the power of race is trying to get ethnic origins to become this incredibly complicated game. I mean, it is no longer easy to explain, especially in cities like Manhattan, where someone is from. So I just hope that it contributes to much greater cultural literacy and broadens the way that we look at race and ethnicity.
HELEN: I also hope that it adds to a greater understanding and sophistication around looking at identity. Within the Asian American community, I've read that the proportion of multiracial people among Asian Americans continues to grow. I think lots of families have at least a family member or somebody close who is multi-racial Asian American. I have several nieces and nephews who are multi-racial Asian, white/ Asian, Chinese/other Asian, and in my extended family, Asian/Black. It really pushes the older generation to be more accepting. I think that's a positive. I wouldn't go as far as to say - okay, we're all going to get together and sing Kumbaiya, I don't think that's true. It's much more complex than that.
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