why I'm not using the phrase 'half Asian' anymore

My (white) roommate was surprised when I told her that it’s not uncommon for people, especially people I’ve just met, to ask me the question, “What are you?”

This question takes many forms, of course; the ‘what are you?’ version being one of the less tactful of the options. It also sometimes sounds like, “where are you from?”, “where’s your family from?”, and “what’s your ethnicity?”, among others.

And what people are really asking, most of the time, is “why do you look different?” - “different” meaning: different than me, different than the majority of people around here, different than any of the categories of people I know of. You are other, and I’m having trouble categorizing your otherness.

]Well, my very existence defies your categories.

Sometimes, I’ll answer with sarcasm and passive aggression: ‘Human.’ Sometimes, I’ll tell them the sound bite of how I came to be: “My mom’s a Vietnamese war refugee, and my dad’s from Connecticut with mixed European heritage.” And sometimes, I’ll just answer what they’re asking with the shortcut: “I’m half Asian, and half white.”

And I’m not going to do that anymore.

Instead, I’ll invite the world to ask better questions. Of course, the way I look impacts the way people treat me and the way I move through the world. But ask me about that, instead. Ask me about the environment I grew up in, what cultural traditions feel like home to me, how I view myself in the context of my family, and my family in the context of society. Ask me about my struggles and my dreams.

Ask these questions to people that look like you, or fit in any category, too.

Because I’m tired of feeling neither “Asian enough” nor “white enough.” I’m not half of anything. I’m a whole and complete human. I am Asian AND white, AND a million more complexities that can’t be expressed in two-dimensional language like “half race.”

And so I’m dropping that phrase in favor of more meaningful conversations. And I’ll invite you to drop that phrase from your vocabulary, too. Let’s stop putting people in boxes. Let’s defy categories and lay claim to all of our beautiful complexities.