Does the quarter count?


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Claire Hadley ’24 and Natalie Schermer ’24 share their unique stories about how they’ve struggled with and learned to accept all aspects of their ethnicity. Their personal testimonies reframe the common beliefs about ethnicity and can be relatable for readers who find themselves in a similar situation.

Claire Hadley

A tall, blonde, green-eyed, Norwegian-looking girl doesn’t exactly fit into any box that can be checked off as Asian. For my entire existence, I’ve brushed off of the quarter of myself that doesn’t fall into the box as white. Yes, my grandma was full Filipino and my mom is half, but does my quarter really count? I’ll never get glanced at across the room for my skin color, I’ll never be able to talk about all of the Filipino cultural events I’ve spent with family and, in a way, I’ll never feel like this is my culture.

For the first nine years of my life, being Filipino was just another adjective that I could casually throw around—it had no meaning to me other than a word. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what culture in general meant. My first trip to the Philippines forever changed me and my understanding of what it truly means to be part of an ethnic group. It taught me that if you don’t look like your ethnicity, people will constantly ponder how you could belong to that ethnicity.

My grandma’s home village of Borongan in Eastern Samar was a whole new world. It was full of starving children, stray dogs, people dancing in the streets at any hour just for the fun of it, the smell of amazing food at every street corner, people who had radiant smiles with the warmest welcomes and a large margin of eyes who would stare at me for what seemed like eternity. 

While staying at my mother’s great-aunt’s house, people would come from all parts of the neighborhood to see “the walking barbie doll,” a name that I was called by even my family members. I remember girls from down the street walking to the house we were staying in just so that they could play with and braid my hair. My sister has reddish hair, but it wasn’t as exciting as my hair that was then as gleaming as a Norwegian’s hair during the peak of summer. No matter how much I tried to blend in and ignore the stares, the eyes were always directed at me. When we went to see the local high school marching band, the high schoolers ran into each other, dropping their instruments at the sight of my family’s pale figures: many of these children had never seen a white person before their eyes. I could tell my family loved me, but they found every way to make me an outcast, whether it was offering me only white food for dinner, bringing me special gifts or only looking at me in a room full of people. I was just a white girl to everyone in the Philippines, just like I am a full white girl to everyone in America; no words or blood test could change that.

In some ways I understand why they disregard my Asian heritage. I’m as white as can be; I could name off more Indian dishes and holidays than Filipino ones from having an abundance of friends with Indian heritage; I don’t get the cultural references at Filipino family and friends’ houses; I can’t murmur a word of Tagalog besides “salamat po;” and I rarely seize the opportunity to embrace the fact that I am Filipino.  

When friends or people at my school discover that I’m part Filipina, I get laughs followed by “no you’re not!” or “you’re white, how could you be Filipina?” or “I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years.” More often than not, I am mocked for admitting to belonging to this ethnic group.

From my visit to the Philippines, to the mockery of cruel kids and realizing that you have to look a certain way to be part of ethnic group, I shielded the fact that I am one-fourth Asian. 

But the truth is, I’m done—done hiding the fact that I am not just white.

I am proud to be mixed. I’m proud to say that some of my ancestors lived on the thousands of islands east of Vietnam and others resided in northern Europe. I am proud to say that I have a family living on multiple continents with a variety of skin tones. Lastly, I am proud to identify as a Filipina, and as a white American.

Sure, I don’t look the part or have to face racial discrimination, but does this mean that I can’t identify with my heritage and find a love for what it means to be mixed? The millions of people who are mixed in this world shouldn’t feel ashamed of who they are or what they want to be identified as. As a world, we need to accept what people want to be known by: whether it’s multiple ethnicities, a specific religious affiliation or a different name or pronouns, we all deserve to be respected. 

Natalie Schermer

I’ve never quite known exactly where I fit when it comes to ethnicity. Take one look at me and all you see is another white girl; that’s only part of the truth. I’m Jewish from both sides of my family and I’m a quarter Latina. When it comes to my ethnic identity, I am proud of who I am, but knowing who I am has always been in question for me. I can explain Jewish traditions to friends of other cultures, but I am unable to relate to friends who have had Bat Mitzvahs and know more Hebrew than the classic Hanukkah blessing. I listen in on my family speaking Spanish, but only understanding about 60% of what they’re saying. I get identified as white, then get identified as mixed less than a week later. I’ve always felt as though I fit somewhere in-between mixed and white and in-between Jewish and atheist. I’m not completely one or the other; I’m Jewish; I’m mixed-ish

This past weekend, I went to see Everything Everywhere All at Once with my mom and Abuelito, and on the drive home from the theater my mom pointed out a five-second clip from the movie. She described a scene in which a woman, Joy, and a man are fighting, while their outfits continuously change until they land on what is supposed to be Latin dance attire. She talked about the man’s outfit being that of Carmen Miranda, while Joy’s was that of a Cuban band leader. But throughout their dance/fight, Mexican Mariachi music burst through the speakers—a clear example of cultural misappropriation, she said. I could not have told you any of this. She continued to say how our culture needs to be represented correctly and how disrespectful the lack of research was. I couldn’t agree with her more, but one part of that sentence stuck out to me. Our culture. You mean the one where I can’t have a conversation with someone belonging to that culture?

I remember being little and proudly telling my friends I was part-Mexican; every time, their jaws dropped. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “You’re Mexican?” I used to love the attention, it made me feel special, but as I got older it bothered me. Explaining over and over how my Abuelito moved from Mexico, how my mom is half-Mexican, which makes me a quarter Mexican. I was annoyed that people couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that being mixed doesn’t mean being half-and-half. I was annoyed that my friends laughed when I said “Abuelito.” After years of seeing gaping mouths and raised eyebrows, it inevitably got me thinking. Maybe they weren’t wrong to be so surprised, I know I look white. Maybe I had no claim to my Mexican heritage. I couldn’t tell you about Mexican food any more than an average white American, I know almost no Mexican history and I can’t speak Spanish. I decided they were right: I’m not Mexican, I’m hardly mixed. I’ve felt a disconnect from the culture; do I even have a place in the culture?

All of this confusion and isolation has lived in a comfortable home in my mind for years now. But talking with friends in similar situations, and thinking and writing about it has made me come to some critical conclusions. There are infinite ways to be mixed. Or Mexican. Or Filipino. Maybe I forget the Hebrew New Year’s greeting. Maybe I can’t speak Spanish (yet). There is so much about myself that doesn’t fit the stereotypes, but that’s exactly how I like it. That’s the harm stereotypes have—they make you feel like there’s a box that you have to fit into, and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. My sense of culture may not be that strong, and that used to disappoint me because I felt as though there was this community that a large portion of my family was a part of and I wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter anymore because I have community in my family. I love spending time with my crazy, incredible, fun and fiercely-loving family. I love the memories of dancing for hours with them during our Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. I love making all kinds of food, whether it’s an old family recipe or something we found on the internet. I love that we’re not a “typical” family. I’m okay with the fact that I might not be your “typical” mixed girl because I’ve realized there’s no such thing as typical when it comes to identity.

What do you think?