Exploring mixed heritage
Not sure what I'll get from this, but maybe anyone who could relate?
I want to know the experiences of people who are mixed but were raised with only the white side of their family. I am at a point where I am curious about my heritage and background, but feel 1) like an imposter, and 2) like it would hurt the family that raised me. I know my family, being white Australians, don't see "why it matters" that I know, but to not know what my background was until I was 17 while the world around me hid nothing of their guesses and assumptions, weighed on me for several years.
My sibling (raised with them, it was assumed I knew we were half but my childish naiveté didn't pick up on it until high school despite being visibly different ethnicities) told me how a peer at university approached them to join the students-of-colour board, and this was the first time it struck them the rest of the world didn't perceive them as white.
I wish I knew the language, but I could never learn the correct dialect. I feel I have no claim to the history, I have no right to call myself the grandchild of immigrants when I didn't know this fact until I was 18. How could I make contact with extended family when I have no cultural connection to them? I don't have access to medical history. I was (sometimes still instinctually am) insecure about my appearance, and have to check myself - when I instinctually resent my nose shape or my flat eyelashes, or dark hair, I have to remind myself that I am comparing myself to an anglo standard that I always felt I was failing before I realised I was mixed.
When strangers asked me if I was [insert background/nationality], or saw my birth name and called me exotic, or told me that "blood is blood" and I should be "proud of my sexy Latina background", accused me of fake tanning every summer because I turned yellow instead of pink, said I wasn't "fiery/curvy" enough to be Latina, assumed my sibling was a baby-sitter, said I was "choosing to be white" so had no right to talk about race, how am I supposed to feel? Embracing the culture feels wrong, I can't fight the feeling that I would be spiting my family given the complicated family situation. I also don't want to know the parent themselves, maybe my extended family - also complicated and not for right now. Would learning Spanish be over stepping?
Thank you for sharing and creating an amazing post. You share some quite deep thoughts on heritage and cultural identity. I am also of mixed asian/european heritage and especially when I was younger would find isolated and between two worlds because of this.
I don't think learning Spanish would be inappropriate. In fact I would highly recommend learning any language. You have every right to celebrate any culture you chose to identify with and should have no shame that you didn't learn of your background until adulthood. I'm sorry to hear that your family situation is complilcated and don't really have much experience in reaching out to extended family members you haven't met yet. But I would advise you do what you feel is best for your personal growth. You also never know, maybe engaging in your cultural background might alleviate some of the isolation you feel.
Keep us updated on how you go. And if you ever need to talk to someone over the phone or through online chat, please feel free to contact one of the counsellors at beyond blue here: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/talk-to-a-counsellor
Thanks for your kind response.
I think I'll just take the leap and learn a language. It'll be good for my brain anyhow. Now to find somewhere to do it for free...
I still don't think I'm in a place of celebrating the culture as my own. I feel gross about it sometimes, if I sit with the thought for too long I get stuck in a hole of thoughts and questions that need family to be answered, and then sadness that I'm not in a place that I could comfortably approach my family with the questions. The situation has always been shrouded in shame, even when I was a child - hence why I never asked questions and opted not to think about it aloud until adulthood.
I think I'll just try to trust my gut for a while. No use regressing into childhood shame - especially when I am able to comfortably grapple with it verbally these days. Maybe I'm just a lapsed catholic, but shame is truly the greatest hurdle in personal growth.
Again, thanks 🙂
Thank you for your heartwarming update. It is great to hear that you will take the step to learn a new language. This is a great skill to have regardless of whether you are of the same background. In the past, I have heard of people trying apps like duolingo for a range of languages, which I believe is free but am not sure.
You make beautiful statements about shame. It is not something that can be overcome overnight and as you mentioned, something that one can wrestle with. But it is definitely worth the fight, in my experience, and simply in trying I think you will find yourself becoming a stronger version of yourself.
Thank you again for the update, it is truly great to hear from you. Feel free to post any further developments here also. 🙂 💙
I'm mixed too, and was raised with both parents. However I didn't get to associate with either side of my extended family very much. It is natural to want to know the ethnicities and culture of your birth family. There are important connections there. As for family members trying to tell you not to do it, I'm afraid to say, that is a failure of imagination and empathy on their part. I think you should explore your heritage. Learning another language seems like a pretty innocent, even wholesome, way of exploring your heritage.
Unfortunately, the hispanic side of my family is estranged (including the parent). The situation to have caused this was messy and drawn out, though I was a baby for the worst of it. The shame of my heritage is related mostly to the traumas of my family members who actually remember all of these events. This is the particular detail that I think really stirs up the guilt.
I had some sort of repressed memory situation, and the only reliable knowledge I had of this situation was that my family was uncomfortable remembering or even discussing it, and tried to protect me from it all as it had been extremely distressing for me as a child. This is why I didn't know my ethnic background until I was 17, though by that point it had been on my mind for several years, once I realised that literally everyone in my household was a slightly different ethnicity (it's baffling how I literally didn't notice, I just picked up on enough comments from adults around me to piece it together).
When I was 12 a school friend innocently repeated something her father said at home about my sibling's father - she heard her dad say "the prince of [country] had to return to his throne" and was amazed that we had royalty in the family (now knowing the truth of the situation, this comment was unbelievably rude coming from a family friend). This was unfortunately how I learned my sibling's racial background, and situations like this happened over and over for the picture to really begin to emerge.
I've begun rambling now, so TLDR, the shame is linked specifically to estrangement.
Ah, thankyou for the explanation. I have similar issues. You are not to blame for your birth family's behaviour. Indeed, you are not blame for any adult's behaviour when you are a child. And wanting to explore their culture does not mean that you endorse your birth father's and his family's behaviour. There are many secrets in my family as well, and frankly, I'm over it. You seem younger than me and possibly it would help to start opening up conversations with your family about how you don't fully understand what went on, that you are not to blame for it and you would like to explore your ethnicity and identity. It is not fair for them to not openly communicate about your history and identity when you want to know about it. Frankly, I think you might be holding their shame about the situation. It is not your shame to hold and its unfair that this was projected onto you. It is everyone's right to explore who they are. If they don't understand it, well, that's their problem.
Of course facing all of this can be painful and hard work and if you are not up to it, I would recommend setting it aside to work on yourself first. But, in short, you have a right to know who you are and who your family are. You have a right to an authentic identity. I am constantly amazed how people think that its OK to play pretendsies and vaguesies with their kids well into adulthood. Its corrosive.
I'm 21, so yeah still young - though I've been out of home for a while now and honestly that's what's given me space to want to explore this. I've been wondering all year where my line for contact lies, but even knowing my family is still in my life brings it all up again. I do love my family, but the disfunction and vagueness and shame take such a toll on our relationships. Communication is not their forte.
But knowing the stories, I know why we're like this. On the one hand, they shouldn't have hidden things - though they initially did so on professional recommendation, waiting until I brought it up first. However, I didn't remember things I should have, and frankly the aftermath was more traumatic and I was a weird little kid who was way too empathetic for my own good. I had a host of issues that people didn't really notice because I decided speaking was overwhelming, I never brought it up first.
Out of home I have a different sort of capacity, and I can think about these things without reacting viscerally. I started learning some Spanish btw, though I only know how to offer people apples so far.
What a fascinating thread and personal stories. I really hope you can continue to explore and find a good way to balance the various parts of your heritage and identity. Hopefully beyond just offering some apples, though I imagine that could come in handy if you decide to become an apple farmer!
I'm saddened to hear that some of the angst about learning more and exploring more actually comes from family, though I understand there are reasons for this and the family carries some trauma. That must be so tough on everyone and I hope time can help heal some of that.
Please do feel free to come back and post more as you like. Culture and heritage is such a confusing and messy part of our identity, it is no wonder you are struggling to make sense of it all, but also curious to figure it out.