Looking like dinosaurs, the baby sunflowers have started emerging from the soil. Which means, I have more work about my identity to establish, more particularly, my mixed identity.
Do you ever feel guilty as a halfie/person of mixed race when someone asks a question about one of your countries and you can’t really answer?
Let me give you some examples.
- Going to a Chinese restaurant in Belgium, I’d feel self-conscious when it came to ordering. The waiter or waitress would walk up and a lot of the times, ask in Dutch if I and whoever I was with were ready to order. The friend I’m with, Chinese or not, would look at me expectantly to reply in Mandarin, which is something of an internal struggle for me. Should I just reply in Dutch and skip the hassle? Or should I reply in Mandarin, have a short conversation with the waiter about where I’m from, and then order what I wanted with fake confidence, while I’m secretly hoping that I don’t pronounce the words wrong when I’m reading off the menu? And when the waiter leaves with my order, to feel slightly embarrassed because why am I pretending to be authentically Chinese when I’m not?
- I’d go to parties in Belgium, sing and dance my heart out to all the party songs I know, and even to the Dutch hip hop songs I’ve gotten acquainted with during my teenage years. But suddenly, “Vriendschapsband”, a Belgian song by Xink is playing and everyone at the party is going wild with nostalgia, hands to their chests and eyes closed, swaying with passion and remembering the moments in which they’ve heard this song as little kids. Even though I know the lyrics long by now, I’d just sway awkwardly to the music and hope the next song will come soon. I didn’t grow up listening to this song, unlike all the other Belgians in this room. The first time I heard it was 8 years ago, and back then everyone was as nostalgic as 16-year-old teenagers as they are now as people in their mid-twenties. And I still feel just as detached.
Growing up mixed means that you never are 100% integrated in the customs or cultures. At least, this was how it was for me. People from both my countries would ask, “What’s your favorite Chinese song?” “What Belgian kid’s shows did you watch growing up?” I’d shake my head and smile awkwardly, feeling like a failure at being both Belgian and Chinese, and tell them I didn’t actually watch Belgian kid’s shows, and that I listened to music in English my entire life. “I’m a fake Chinese/Belgian” I’d say, jokingly, to whoever asked me a genuine question about China or Belgium I was unable to answer. Inside however, I’d experience a small identity crisis for my lack of knowledge.
Even though I want to be accepted by the Belgian/Chinese population, I feel like I don’t have enough knowledge and experiences to represent either one of my countries. “Please take my answer with a grain of salt”, I’d say apologetically when answering a culture-related question, “my answer to this question might be completely different than that of someone who is fully and authentically Belgian/Chinese.”
Recently, my perspective changed when I had a conversation with a friend who is also mixed race. We were sharing our similar experiences when she told me that she, like me, doesn’t feel like she can represent either one of her countries. “And why should I?”, she said, “I am not responsible for representing a country of which I am only half of, I don’t have to choose one of my two cultures. I am me and that’s it. It’s as simple as that!”
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation. True, why do I feel like a failure just because I don’t know everything about my 2 countries? That’s twice as many countries that most people know! Twice as much knowledge, twice as many cultures, twice as many languages. Isn’t it normal that I don’t know everything about China, normal that I didn’t grow up with every Belgian song, normal that I struggle with reading books in Mandarin? Why do I have to feel guilty about it, explain myself to everyone, feel like a phony?
Even though a lot of research states how national identity is important for many people, not everyone has that. A lack of national identity often leads to or is the beginning of an identity crisis, at least, that’s the consensus I see in the mixed race/halfie community. What I need to realise more, is that there are other things in which people find their identity in, such as hobbies, passions, likes and dislikes, personality… I’m planning to find a stronger sense of identity in these things.
Until then, I am me.
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