Two Sides to a Coin: Growing Up Biracial Extended Version
Name: Ryan David Tan Jarvis
Class Standing: Senior
Major: Business Administration, Pre-Medicine
Tell me more about your parents. What are they racially and/or ethnically?
My father is Black-Canadian and my mother is Filipino.
Growing up, did you ever feel like there was one aspect of you that you identified more with?
It really depends where I am. In high school and middle school I identified more with being Black-Canadian and at church I identified more with the Filipino culture. Even then, I still knew that I was mixed; I wasn’t fully one or the other, but I always felt like I belonged.
Are there times when you feel rejected by either culture, and do you feel like you have to try harder to fit in with a specific culture?
I guess it depends on the time in my life. There were times when I’ve felt like I'm at the borderbetween both, especially during my time at Crawford (Adventist Academy). I went to a school that was mostly black and to a church that was mostly Filipino. I felt like my biraciality was more accepted by the school I went to. When I was smaller, because I wasn't full Filipino, there were times that I had to try a little harder to fit into the culture. There were definitely times I felt displaced, but I think as I grew up it just depended on the environment I was in—like at Andrews, where everyone is multicultural, it's such a diverse group that my biraciality isn’t anything novel or surprising.
Do you feel that biracial people have a culture of their own?
I think biracial people have a culture within themselves and they are a part of the cultures they are combined with. They might not experience all the same things but I do feel they have the same culture.
Do you feel that there are any stigmas or lack of visibility concerning biracial people?
Sometimes I feel like there are opinions regarding biracial people that because they’re not fully one ethnicity or race they can’t or don’t experience and understand what that group goes through. Specifically, one time I overheard someone talking saying something along the lines of, “If you’re half-black then you’re not really black,” and that upset me; I mean who were they to tell me my identity? And while I fully won’t understand each culture, I don’t think that makes me any less of each.
Do you encounter the negative stereotypes associated with the part of your cultures like the anti-black or anti-Asian, etc. ?
That is definitely a very sensitive topic. I do identify with being Black, but because of the color of my skin and the way I look, I do not necessarily go through the same prejudice that people who are 100% Black go through. I can identify with the food culture and the family culture; however, when it comes to racism I don't feel that I am exposed to it to the full extent others are. In terms of being Asian, it depends on the type of stereotype. I've gotten the “You're smart because you're Asian one,” I guess because of the way I look. It is not necessarily deemed bad nor does it have me dead on the street because of a cop.
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Now, I’m full-blooded Filipino, born and raised and I speak the language yet I sometimes feel I’m not as connected to my culture even if I have all these things that I can identify with. As someone who is mixed do you ever feel disconnected or distant from one or both aspects of your ethnic heritages?
Sometimes I wish I could speak the language better, but I feel that because I can understand both of the cultures to the extent I do, it solidifies who I am. I still feel very much a part of both cultures; I can act one way with the Filipino community and another way with the Black community and still feel like a whole person—while my identity is solid it definitely allows me to be fluid in how I interact with others.
Growing up was it hard for your parents to find balance between cultures?
Absolutely. My mom was raised one way in the Philippines and my dad was raised in another in Canada. Usually when two people of similar race marry each other, the culture that they grow up might not be the same, but it is similar enough that there can be easier understanding between them. That, obviously, wasn’t the case for my parents. Black people and Filipinos have their own ways of rearing up children, so for my parents to come together, it really caused them to butt heads multiple times.
I know that Filipinos (at least older generations) tend to have prejudices against Black culture. When your mom married your dad, was there any pushback?
When my parents got married, it was no issue for my grandma or my grandpa. For them it was more a matter of whether or not they were letting their daughter marry someone who was loving, trustworthy,and God-fearing. Given that it is easier to give your daughter away to someone whose culture you already know, they definitely did prefer that my mom married someone who was either White or Filipino—I think it had to do with the strong cultural belief at the time that marrying into American/Canadian Whiteness would be a great accomplishment for a Filipino.
Do you feel there is something about being a mixed or biracial person that is unique or difficult? Is there something you wish more people could understand about the experience of others like you?
What’s unique about my experience growing up mixed is my exposure to a variety of cultures. I get the benefits of that mix like the community and food; I can go home to awesome Filipino food like adobo chicken and then go to my friend’s house for some jerk chicken right after. However, I feel like my mixed culture makes me harder to relate to and vice-versa. There was never I time I wished I was more one than the other, but there was definitely a desire for belonging—something I feel a lot of people tend to overlook when looking at mixed-race kids.