Sometimes you can’t see someone’s race by looking at the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. I used to think that it was hard to fit in in America as an Asian, but I recently noticed that my difficulties as a Korean are nothing compared to those of biracial Asians.
I grew up with friends and family members who never felt accepted by any community or culture. As biracial Americans, they always felt too light or too dark, too Asian or too European. This is an experience familiar to many biracial Americans, who express that they feel out-of-place in the communities their heritage makes them a part of.
Biracial people struggle with cultural identity, and media helps them find a balance in their roots. Several teenagers and figures in the media industry have told me that they find solace in seeing minority faces on TV and online. They also voiced that not seeing enough minority representation in the industry pushes them to bring more attention to the Asian community.
12 years old
Half Korean, half Belizean
Even at his young age, Jessie Ozaeta notices that he doesn’t look like his mom’s side of the family. He describes his struggle to be accepted in Korean communities, saying that he feels weird about the way he looks.
“When I was in first grade, someone asked me why my mom looks so different, and I said that me and her look different because I look more like my dad,” he said.
Being biracial puts Ozaeta in uncomfortable situations since most people his age don’t understand why he does not look Korean.
“My friends think that it’s weird that my mom is Asian and my dad’s Hispanic because they look totally different, and I only look like my dad,” he said.
Korean TV dramas help Ozaeta learn about Korean culture and food with his family. He often asks his mom where the characters are or what food they are eating, and makes dream travel plans to experience the drama in real life.
“The culture is very interesting,” he said.
Ozaeta has also become educated on historical Korean events.
16 years old
Part Bengali and part British
Sushmoy Islam is used to people staring at him. His skin is lighter than most of the Bengali teenagers in his neighborhood in Koreatown. And they notice.
“When I would go to programs with my family, I would always stand out in a bad way. Every party, every program, someone would always stare,” Islam said. “They don’t say it to my face but little things they do give the idea that I’m an outcast. It might seem like the extra attention is good, but in reality I want to be treated like everyone else.”
After seeing that he is mixed, many people around Islam assume that he is not connected to his Bengali culture and can’t understand Bengali language, although he is well-versed in Bengali politics and history, and is fluent in Bengali, he said.
“I may not express it, but there’s more to me than meets the eye,” he said. “I just wish that Bengali people understood that.”
Music has taught Islam that regardless of someone’s background, they can connect with him and have the same experiences he has.
“Travis Scott is a African-American rapper, but I don’t care about his race. He’s an American hip-hop artist and I’m an American hip-hop fan,” he said.
Islam’s best friend is Korean, and he says that although they come from different backgrounds, he feels that his Korean friend understands him more than the Bengali community does.
16 years old
Half Chinese and half Jewish
With her dark hair and pale skin, Sydney Wess feels “stuck in the middle” of her Chinese and Jewish roots while living in Los Angeles.
“People are often curious about my ethnicity, so they come up and ask me. More often than not, they are surprised that I am white and Chinese,” Wess said. “What bothers me is that they often try to guess my race, like it’s a game.”
While she identifies with both races, Wess considers herself “more Asian than Caucasian” as she is more involved with Chinese culture and spends a lot of time with her mom’s family and friends.
“My mom and her family are from Hong Kong and we often take part in their holidays and traditions,” she said.
Wess has noticed how different races are treated in the American film industry.
”There are few minorities in entertainment, like movies and TV shows, and when there are, they are often stereotyped,” she said. This observation caused her to have an identity crisis when she was younger. “I used to wonder if it was ‘better’ to be white, since they were always the stars in films.”
She noticed as a child that the main characters in popular Disney movies like “Cinderella,” “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” were white.
“I found myself caught in between the two races and felt that I had to pick one,” she said.
Despite her difficult past, Wess has now accepted her cultures and says that others should as well.
“I think that it is important to embrace who you are, as being multiracial is so unique and interesting… It’s incredible to see the spread of diversity and the increase in people embracing their backgrounds,” she said. “I’m eager to see what the future holds in terms of heterogeneity and acceptance.”
Tatiana Paulino Darling
16 years old
Half Filipino and half African American
Tatiana Paulino Darling wishes her mom had taught her Tagalog. While living in a Filipino community in Los Angeles surrounded by friends and relatives who were fluent in Tagalog, Darling’s language barrier made her feel like an outsider. She gets especially frustrated at church, where if she wants to attend a Tagalog service with her friends, she needs an English-translation headset.
American media has helped Darling stay updated on trends in America but she hasn’t allowed it to change her personality or morals. She credits her knowledge of modern makeup and clothing trends to influencers on various social media platforms.
She was inspired to learn guitar and other instruments by Paramore, Panic! at the Disco and other 2000’s bands that she admires.
16 years old
Half Chinese, part Jewish and part Eastern European
Amelia Kleinsinger recalls a time when one of her close friends told her that it seemed like she was white.
Kleinsinger stated through email, “It just was surprisingly hurtful because I have a culture of Judaism and Chinese tradition, values that I hold so close and sacred to me, experiences that are so true to who I am (even if they are of many different origins), and when they said that, I just felt like I was punched.”
Kleinsinger embraces her biracial background and takes advantage of how she can see both sides of the culture, but she calls not being able to fully identify with a culture “lonely.” Kleinsinger and her family often felt alienated when they went to temple.
“No tangible or hard-set rule divided us in temple, but culturally we were different. We led different lives: I didn’t keep Kosher, I didn’t speak Hebrew at home, my mother didn’t dress like all of the other women did, and my dad didn’t force us to go to Temple beyond the age of 12,” she said.
Kleinsinger is happy with the way she has balanced her different cultures.
“So yes, I don’t keep Kosher and I didn’t have a Bat mitzvah where I read the entire Torah. Yes, I don’t know Chinese or attend all of the holiday festivals. And yet, these two races have managed to build what I value today,” she said.
Media greatly affects Kleinsinger as it brings to light what needs to be changed when it comes to minorities. She dislikes how both Chinese and Jewish people are portrayed as comedic figures on TV.
“More often than not, Hollywood and commercial productions are not blind casting, they are type-casting. The misrepresentation of my culture drives me to be more educated so I can show my culture to others more accurately,” she said.
Kleinsinger feels very proud of influencers like Wong Fu Productions on YouTube and the new Israeli Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, whom in her eyes have pushed the boundaries placed on minority artists.
“That spotlight on someone who is different, whether or not to some she is controversial because of Israel, was a turning point in my life,” Kleinsinger said. “Knowing that she grew up with people like me, with values like mine, it was euphoria.”
23 years old
Half Japanese, part Finnish and part Ukrainian
Content creator Lauren Riihimaki, better known as LaurDIY, did not think about the millions of Asian girls she would inspire when she began her YouTube channel.
Riihimaki grew up in Canada and went to a predominantly white high school but she did not notice people critiquing her for being biracial until she began her journey to fame as a YouTube and Instagram star.
Riihimaki explained over the phone, “Viewers expect you to be one or the other and not to be biracial. People set these weird stereotypes and expectations.”
Riihimaki feels that biracial people are under-represented in media, which motivates her to chase after opportunities in which she “can succeed and inspire other people of similar race that there are no race-related boundaries holding you back from following your dreams,” she said.
Being biracial has also worked to help Riihimaki on her mission and she uses it to move farther into the digital world.
“Most companies in 2017 are ensuring there is a variety of racial representation, so being biracial brings two-plus races to a campaign, video, project etcetera,” she said.
Riihimaki says that she thinks it is amazing that she can inspire biracial people and hopes her presence in the media industry shows younger generations that nothing can hold them back from reaching their goals.
“In the core, everyone is the same, so you shouldn’t feel like you can’t do something, or you shouldn’t do something, or it’s not acceptable to do something just because of the color of your skin,” she said.
26 years old
Half Filipino, part Irish and part Polish
From a very young age, content creator Megan Batoon embraced her Filipino background, especially the people and the food.
Batoon said over email, “Everyone is so affable and willing to feed you even if you’re not hungry– that’s how we show that we care. And it works out for me because I love food.”
Batoon emphasizes that her favorite Filipino foods are chicken adobo, pancit and lumpia.
As she grew older, Batoon saw that she had an advantage in the film and arts industry and gained attention for her roles in movies and videos on YouTube.
“Being mixed race gave me an edge that some people don’t have the privilege of having. I was able to connect with Filipino viewers from all around the world so I never feel alone,” she said.
According to Batoon, the Filipino community is supportive of people in the media with the same race and that she enjoys seeing these interactions.
“One time I filmed a cooking video on how to make Lumpia and it was covered on some Filipino news outlets and I had my Facebook and Twitter feeds blowing up with proud Filipino viewers congratulating me. That shows exactly how much we all support each other even if we’ll never meet the people we’re cheering on,” she said.
Constantly in the spotlight, Batoon inspires fans and viewers of all different backgrounds and situations, and she feels happy to be in that position.
“I feel extremely lucky to be someone who can make a dent in anyone’s lives, regardless of race. I think sometimes we get caught up in seeing people for what they look like on the outside, or what they post on social media, or what have you,” she said. “But really, the true reward is helping anyone around the world from miles away by just being myself and making jokes, sharing knowledge I think is worth knowing, anything that will add to a viewer’s life.”