Start from the Roots

Now that I have planted the seeds of the sunflower, it’s time to start exploring the roots, which have just started growing.

So, what are my roots?

As you probably already know, I’m half-Belgian and half-Chinese, and I live in Belgium. “Halfie” is the unofficial official name for people like me, people who have a mother from one race and a father from another. “Wasian” would be a more specific name, referring to people who have a white parent and an Asian parent.

Most halfies I know struggle with fitting in either one of their countries. We’re not Chinese enough for China, and not Belgian enough for Belgium, for example. Contradictorily, we’re too Chinese for Belgium and too Belgian for China. Where I live in Belgium, it has happened countless times when Belgians meet me, they’d ask me immediately if I’m Chinese. I’d always nod my head dejectedly, knowing that the only reason they ‘guessed’ right is because of the ignorant assumption that all people with Asian features are Chinese. If I’m unlucky enough, they proceed to bring their fingers to their eyes and pull them in the offensive slanted way that I’m sure many of my fellow Asians have had to encounter. “You have eyes like this”, they’d say, proud of their oh-so-original discovery. 

What does one even reply to something like that? Or to the loud “Ni haos” one gets from laughing men on sidewalks who think they’re terribly funny and charming?

In China, contradictorily, people tell me I am pretty and many times it’s followed up with “you have big eyes, where are you from?”. I’ve realized how often beauty is associated with race, at least in general settings. Western beauty standards simply dominate many parts of the world. In China, people tell me that I’m pretty because I have Western features, and in Belgium people think I’m less because I have Asian features. I think you can imagine how growing up in settings like this made me want to reject my Chinese side. In Belgium, I wanted to fit in, I hated the reminder that I look different, that people treated me differently. When people in Belgium tell me I look completely Chinese, I’d actually feel offended because, in my mind, I am only half and I’d rather hear that I looked Thai, or Iranian, or even Indian, rather than that I look 100% Chinese. And can you even blame me for feeling offended, when most of the time people mean their “Chinese” comments negatively, derogatorily? I’d tell them and myself, I don’t look Chinese, I have other features than Chinese people. I have lighter hair, different eyes, a higher nose bridge. I know I don’t look Belgian and I accepted that, but how could I look Chinese, when the Chinese don’t even think I look Chinese!

I’d secretly enjoy every comment when people told me I don’t look Chinese. I listened with satisfaction when I heard I looked Afghani, Spanish, Brazilian, even American. I was pushed back into reality when a few years ago on an exchange semester, I was discussing the differences between Europe and China with a friend from China. During the conversation, she told me in all earnestness: “I don’t think you look very mixed, you look quite Chinese. I’ve seen other mixed people who look way more Western than you.” I was shocked when I heard that, never have I had a Chinese person tell me that!  That was a turning point for me. And she wasn’t complimenting or insulting me, just stating it as a fact of her perception. I realized I didn’t like hearing it, and I didn’t want to believe it, even though I tried my best not to show my feelings. 

Why did I not want to be called Chinese? If I accept that I don’t look Belgian, but I dislike it when people say I look Chinese, what does that make me? What would I be?

Looking back, I realized that I was inherently pushing myself away from both my cultures, making myself an alien to my roots. I was being internally racist towards myself. After all, I am 50% Chinese. I have a beautiful mother who is Chinese. Obviously, certainly, definitely, I have Chinese features. Why did I try to deny them? I had convinced myself that the reason I didn’t like being called Chinese was because I have different features than most Chinese people, not because I actually believed that being Chinese was something to be ashamed of. I embraced my Chinese culture, but I didn’t embrace my Chinese features. I have darker skin, and I have my mother’s face structure. I have black eyes. All the small and big comments about race I received all my life have influenced me after all. Being complimented on my Western features in China and the discrimination I faced because of my Chinese features in Belgium made me instinctively believe that looking Chinese was a bad thing.

But how could it be a bad thing? How could I let corrupt beauty standards and ignorant comments influence the way I see myself? 

Recognizing my own internal racism was a big step for me. It sits deep, and getting rid of it is not an easy task. It’s hard to shut out your surroundings concerning China and listen to yourself and your own community. Eventually, I’ve realized that my citizenship as a Belgian will never be accepted without a grain of doubt or an ignorant comment from other people because of my appearance. I need to not let outside influences sway me, and I can only grow and become proud of my Chinese features.

My nationality is Belgian, but I navigate the Western world as an Asian woman. One of my parents is Chinese, the other is Belgian. I am a mixture of both cultures. There are many other mixed people like me, maybe with the same experience. This is a fact and now I just need to get accustomed to accepting that this is who I am and this is how I look like. These are my roots. 

It’s time to focus on my identity with how I experience it.

(P.S: I would love to hear if anyone has the same experience, or the complete opposite. You can DM me on Instagram @mixedsunflowerseeds, and I would really appreciate it if you give it a follow 🙂 )

You can find my next blog post here:

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