Japanese/British | Bengali
I identify as mixed Asian, and heterosexual. My mother, who is half Japanese, half White, was born in Sakai, Osaka. She was the child of a sexual assault. My father was born in Syhlet, Bangladesh. They met in Osaka, when my father and his father went over to review business prospects. They dated after meeting, and both families immigrated over to London, where they had my siblings and I.
Although I was born in Cambridge, they moved all over the UK due to problems with employment and a very prejudiced society. I recall living in 4 different cities and attending 4 different schools before settling in London.
I don’t think I ever truly recognized my status as a mixed-race person until I was around 6 or 7, and an awful group of kids would name-call by yelling ‘half-cast girl’. I went home and asked my father what it meant and spent a long time insecure in my own identity since I hadn’t realised I was two halves, and not a whole.
My mother ultimately left when I was very young, so I was raised entirely in Bengali culture until my mother’s mother immigrated and moved in with us. Both sides of my family being Asian meant they were very similar in values and traditions, and I never felt as if I had two distinct cultures being fed to me; it was always just ‘an Asian’ upbringing.
To this day I still feel hesitant identifying as a Bengali/Japanese woman. I don’t look like either of these races, and as trivial as it sounds, looking the part really plays a huge role. I don’t have the dark, glossy skin of the Bengalis, nor the hooded mono-lids of the Japanese. Outside of my immediate family, I’m not really accepted by those communities. There has been a huge increase in cultural appropriation, to the point where people claim to be of an ethnic descent when they’re anything but, and I’ve been attacked online before for posing as an Asian, which makes me hesitant to state what I am. For many, simply looking the part is what defines you as an ethnic person, and this narrative excludes all the mixed races and those who don’t fit the standardised image of whatever ethnic group.
I tend to date Asians I’ve realised. I have had bad experiences with English guys, and there was a lot of subtle internalized racism that came to the fore in those relationship. Nothing crippled my self-esteem like being told ‘[you] are the wrong type of Asian’. Since then, I’ve gravitated towards Asians.
There are some strange attitudes towards mixed-race people. For example, (in my experience) people tend to assume mixed-race refers to Black/White mixes. You don’t really exist as a mixed Asian. There’s also the awful exclusion you face when you don’t visually fit in. If being a person of colour places you on an ‘exotic, foreign’ pedestal, being mixed-race amps that up by a thousand.
I’m fluent in both languages, though I can’t read and write them (I’m learning though!). I’m eternally grateful my grandparents insisted we be raised multi-lingual; I feel that language is the biggest connector of a mixed-race person to their heritage. I struggle to separate the two different cultures in me; to me it’s just ‘me’. It’s very Asian and that’s what I connect with. I’m so proudly and loudly Asian, referring to both South and East Asia.
I think every mixed person has heard ‘where are you really from? the single most frustrating question to exist. I simply tell people I’m Asian, and if they really press it, I’ll tell them I’m Bengali/Japanese.
There’s so much more culture out there that is mine because I’m mixed race. There’s a whole other world of tradition and values for me to soak up and incorporate into my life- it’s remarkable and I am so fortunate. On the other hand, you are seen by your own people as a ‘distilled, watered-down’ version of them, and you are considered a half citizen. If you don’t look the part, it’s unlikely anyone bar your family will consider you a part of the community. When you’re excluded from the white British community, and ostracised within your own, it’s a painfully isolating existence you lead.
Mixed-race people are still seen as an exotic fetish in society, I think. You are the product of the tantalizing taboo of race-mixing, and you don’t belong to any group of people. You are simultaneously ostracized for being different, whilst being thrown into the cesspit of race fetishization. It’s a huge price you pay for the privilege of having multiple cultures.
I really wish I could say that if I were to be reborn, I wouldn’t change anything, but ultimately being mixed-race in my experience has been so crippling that I’m still undecided on that.