The Biracial Identity Crisis

How being biracial and being split between different races has led to struggles with my mental health.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When I was young, my grandparents would drag me to Burmese and Chinese temples. I never understood the syllables coming out of their mouths, and I hated the way Burmese made their jaws curve while speaking. I hated when my grandparents would make me show off my limited Chinese. Everyone was impressed that the “white girl” could speak a language that did not belong to her. Half of my race was my entire identity; I was nothing more than my father’s ethnicity.

I also remember the Christian gatherings I attended in Madison, Connecticut. From the moment my family stepped into my paternal grandparents’ house, I felt unwelcome. Thousands of eyes would follow us as if we were “exotic.” Even at church, a place of sanctuary and where my grandfather was the minister, visitors questioned why my Asian mother was there. In Madison, we were nothing more than a source of entertainment: the Asian family that didn’t belong.

I have always felt more connected to my mother’s family because of how often I visit them, but cultural expectations are still imposed on me from both sides. My Burmese and Chinese relatives value education and respect for religion, but they don’t expect the same from me as a mixed child. On the other hand, my European grandfather has devoted his life to God and to helping people in his community, but I can hear his veiled disappointment in me when he talks about Confirmation and praises my Christian cousins.

Because of these expectations, I often feel pushed to be perfect. When I visit my European grandparents, I try harder than any of my cousins to make sure that my appearance, attitude, and personality are more social and outspoken. I have to wear a smile on my face that makes my mouth itch; I need to wear respectful clothes so I show my grandparents that I value them. I remember while visiting them one year, I wanted to wear an oversized sweater and shorts because of the warm weather, but my father demanded I change because I wasn’t showing them the same level of “respect” that he and his parents deserved. I never understood why each of my other cousins could wear their own styles of clothing, but I was robbed of my choice.

When I’m around the Asian side of my family, I make sure to smile and show off my accomplishments to further the envy that often circulates in my Asian family. Everyone constantly brags about their children in an effort to prove that they are superior. The constant pressure to impress them has made me self-conscious about my body image.

When I first started to panic about eating certain foods and not exercising enough, it was because of a fear that my family would dislike my appearance. I felt constantly burnt out and exhausted because of how desperately I tried to make everyone proud of me. My white relatives wanted me to look presentable so they wouldn’t have to shy away whenever we were seen together. Similarly, my Asian grandparents have always loved and supported me, but their culture unfairly values being skinny and tall. I felt that if I changed my body image to fit these standards, they could love me more. As a young child, I defied those expectations, but as I grew through middle school, I felt that if I didn’t move my body and control everything I ate, I would immediately disappoint my grandparents.

Yet as I’ve grown, I have realized that my family will accept me despite my being biracial. Despite my insecurities, my family noticed that I was starving myself and picked up on the little details. They eased my recovery and constantly reassured me that they didn’t care what I looked like or what I chose to wear but rather valued me as an individual. My family has shown me the joys of both cultures and allowed me to be the union of two opposing views. I have found ways to appreciate the view of different cultures and realize the universal values of respect, appreciation, and empathy are repeated on both sides.

Many people experience this tear between different races, views, and values. One does not even have to be biracial to experience this; the feeling of being pulled from two sides and the pressure to please both is universal. But no one should have to change who they are to impress the people they respect. People should celebrate the overlap between ideas and appreciate being surrounded by different values.