Irish | Filipino/American
I would describe myself as British as well as Irish, Filipino and American. I would also identify myself as mixed-race; half Asian, Hapa and a Londoner. My Dad is Irish, and my Mum is Filipino-American. My Dad was visiting America when they met, and they kept in touch via letters (pre-Internet times!).
I’ve always known that I am Filipino and Irish, but I first encountered what that meant to the world at primary school. One kid told me to go back to China and I’ve experienced random kids taunting me with ‘ching chang chong’. I’ve also been called ‘exotic’ or ‘oriental’ and many people just assume that I’m Chinese because apparently there’s only one brand of Asian ‘Otherness.’ I suppose race is something I have been forced to consider more than other aspects of my identity just because of other people making it a thing. Of course, I am very proud to be mixed-race, but I also believe it is something that I should be allowed to contend with on my own terms. My ethnic mix is not for someone else’s consumption.
I grew up in London. I feel profoundly lucky that I was raised in a diverse environment where my mixed heritage did not preclude any sense of belonging. This was definitely helped by my diverse group of friends, the majority of which are either non-White or have non-British parents. Whilst I have experienced microaggressions, I could never begin to understand the racism and discrimination that so many people of colour encounter on a daily basis.
I see myself primarily as British but also Irish, Filipino and American. The diversity, heritage and eccentricity of the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony embodies my vision of Britishness and was definitely a turning point in defining my own identity. For me, Britishness isn’t about race, where your parents are from and it certainly isn’t the only identity you can hold. I am British because I grew up here, but I am simultaneously three other nationalities. How can I be a ‘citizen of nowhere’ when I literally have three passports?! That being said, East and South-East Asians are totally absent in British public life. Who is there, maybe Gemma Chan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alexa Chung (who I all love!)? I’ve found many more representations of mixed and Asian identity through engaging with my Asian-American heritage.
A few years ago, whilst visiting New York, I discovered a beautiful book called the Hapa Project, a photo series of mixed Asian individuals (similar to this!). I was so empowered to find such a positive depiction of mixed heritage as well as a named community I could safely identify with. America has a richer discourse around Asian Americanness and race in general and it has helped me built a really positive image of Filipino empowerment. I am very passionate about representation. I am proud to see a Filipino actor take on a leading role in the American television show, The Good Place and I champion films and television shows that give voices to people who have traditionally been denied one.
For a while, I think my Irish-ness was the hardest part of my identity to square. At least with Britain, I had the accent but my Irishness was invisible to most people. I remember attending a family event in Ireland and a cousin remarking that it was so strange that we were related, supposedly because of the way I looked. Ireland’s Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar is half Indian and also openly gay. He shows that there is no contradiction in being Irish and being mixed race and that makes me feel like I belong.
I think being mixed-race gives you a privileged angle on racial issues that a white person might not necessarily have. I see the way my Filipino family are treated differently, and I feel I can empathise with broader racial struggles and movements when I draw on these experiences. Of course, we should all be sensitive to racism regardless of our position in society, but it definitely helps when you experience racism firsthand.
Coming from London, I was surprised by the lack of racial diversity at Oxford. For example, I am the only non-White person in my subject year. I have definitely felt more ‘foreign’ in Oxford than I ever did in London, yet I didn’t feel like I could engage with national societies at Oxford because I was raised in this country and not fully anything. Oxford Mixed Heritage Society makes me feel represented in Oxford’s racial discourse. The society has started a nuanced conversation about race and identity in Oxford and I feel very lucky to have been here for it. I think it is really beautiful when mixed-race people build communities of belonging and I hope it is something we will see more of in the future.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasis that there is a place for everyone at Oxford. According to last year’s admissions data, 700 Oxford undergraduates identify as mixed. In 2016, BAME students accounted for 15.9% of the undergraduate intake. Oxford is diversifying, albeit slowly. We hope to empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories.