Late last year I joined the Facebook group “Subtle Asian Traits”, started by a group of Asian Australian students from Melbourne. As a mixed raced person and like many other occasions in my life, I felt my imposter syndrome taking over.
Am I Asian enough to be in this group? I questioned myself. I was raised eating the food cooked and traditions celebrated by my Malaysian Chinese mother; I can “Asian squat” comfortably for hours; and I spent my childhood going to Chinese school. But at the same time my father is Anglo-Australian, I grew up in very white neighbourhoods, and I could easily pass as Hispanic by appearance.
Scrolling through the Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group, I often asked myself do I belong to this community? I understand most of the jokes and share some of the same experiences, but not all of them. I can relate to some of the stories, but others less so. Is it because I’m only half?
Scrolling through the Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group, I often asked myself do I belong to this community?
More recently, I stumbled across the “Subtle Halfie Traits” Facebook group. With Keanu Reeves (who technically isn’t half but we’ll claim him anyway) as the cover photo playing Guess Who? surrounded by the captions “guess my mix” and “yeah but I look Mexican”, I felt a true sense of belonging.
The Subtle Halfie Traits Facebook group, created shortly after SAT and now with over 18,000 members, is filled with posts about navigating life, culture and family as a “halfie” or mixed raced person. It’s inundated with requests for advice, support and a place where mixed raced voices are heard.
Posts from people who were made to feel ashamed of one side of their culture, but since growing older have learned to embrace both sides of their heritage. Stories about being mocked for not being able to speak their second language well enough, being white passing or not looking white enough, and experiences of being an undercover recipient of racism because their indistinct appearance makes them fly under the radar.
Then of course, there are the memes.
Validating my experience of growing up mixed raced in Australia, but also how I feel in every photo with my extended family in Malaysia, a photo of myself, second to the left, a slightly less evolved, but still cute in its own way Charmander. Never did I think I could relate a situation in my life more to a bunch of plush toys.
And this. If I had $5 every time someone asked about my ambiguous appearance, I’d have enough money to spend on travel, and less time looking for memes in a Facebook group to validate my identity.
The dreaded question that many mixed raced people experience. The question that riddles us with panic and has led to our existential identity crisis... “where are you from?”.
And when you spend 20 minutes trying to give a simplified answer and they reply with:
But it’s not only for the memes, the stories of navigating where you fit in, or the photos of Henry Golding and Naomi Osaka for that matter. There’s a strong sense of community and support.
Scroll through the page and you’ll see a number of posts encouraging mixed raced people to donate bone marrow and help others in our community who are looking for stem cell donors, as transplants require partial genetic match, which means patients of mixed raced ancestry have much lower chances of finding someone.
There are posts that show people embracing both sides of their culture, such as someone proudly displaying their wedding kimono that was made into a western style gown, the call for help to restore an old family photograph – which was successfully achieved thanks to the Photoshop skills of the group. There’s posts about the melting pot of cultures, the fusions of food (sushi pizza and durian crackers anyone?), and ‘halfies’ giving tips on how to take care of wavy hair.
For those who are white passing, there’s posts sharing the frustrations of being given a fork instead of chopsticks amidst their monoracial friends and family at a restaurant. There’s the complex you have when your last name doesn’t match your face, and the conversations eaves dropped into because others don’t realise you can speak another language.
After a lifetime of perplexity, confusion and just when I thought I had enough of the ever-changing Facebook algorithms and bizarre Wish advertisements, I found a reason to stay.
The shared understanding by the people in the Subtle Halfie Traits group made me realise that I don’t have to try and validate my identity or pick a side, that it is difficult navigating two cultures but at the same time it’s a wonderful experience, and that you can find a sense of belonging from a group of complete strangers who all share the same experience.
Carolyn Cage is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @carolynanncage.