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  • Isabel Dorn

“I’m Not Your Biracial Asian-American Dream, And That’s Okay”

As the president of the Pan-Asian Organization at a predominantly white university with less than 1,500 students, I am literally the face of the Asian community. I carry this responsibility with great pride because the Pan-Asian Organization was the place that nurtured me from a socially awkward freshman to one of the most involved student leaders on campus. When I started college two years ago, the older students from this club supported me like the Asian aunties I never had while I was growing up, and now that they’ve all graduated or stepped down from the board, I am here to be that leader for the next group of incoming Asian students.

However, serving as that representation also comes with tokenization – not only as an Asian woman in leadership, but also as a biracial person. Fortunately, I haven’t been faced with blatant racism from people who believe I don’t have the right to take up space at the table, but I have learned that there are strict expectations of how I must behave when I sit there.

The narrative for the token biracial person is simple: you look ethnic enough for the photo-op and have just enough ties to another culture to be quirky, but you were raised within a predominantly white community so there is no risk of true cultural differences. When people ask for your backstory, you tell them that you suffered from a lifelong identity crisis because you are a child of two worlds, like Percy Jackson.

These narratives irritate me because I will never fit them. I have never had an existential panic about my biracial identity. I am not ethnically ambiguous enough to pass for any race other than Asian, so after a lifetime of being perceived as an Asian woman, I never hesitate to identify as such. I have never enjoyed white privilege, so I have always felt too disconnected from my white heritage to frame myself as the textbook conflicted mixed person. Since my mom was adopted from Vietnam, she didn’t grow up speaking Vietnamese or celebrating Vietnamese holidays, so I can’t use my ethnic culture as trivia during icebreaker games. I’m not trying to invalidate people who have experienced some of these things, but these feelings are not part of my story, and I often feel pressured to absorb them inauthentically in order to conform to the unspoken Token Biracial Status Quo. But I am not the cool token biracial person that fits neatly into the prescribed narrative; my unique struggles as a biracial woman cannot be easily translated into a five-minute inspiring story for the masses.

I’m always happy to talk about my identity with other biracial people, especially other biracial Asians, who are looking to share their stories and learn more about other biracial people’s diverse experiences. However, my story is not meant to be commodified for consumption, and I will not alter my truth to fit the expectations of the token biracial girl.

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23 Σεπ 2023

I'm another mixed Asian (Nikkei / white). I was raised by my biological family. We've undergone multiple generations of assimilation and intermarriage (only one of my grandparents is Asian). I really relate to what you said about being expected to have cultural trivia. Thank you for writing this - it's good to hear someone else's experiences.

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04 Νοε 2023
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Hi, this is the author! I'm so glad that my writing resonated with you. No matter what, your heritage is beautiful and I hope you find ways to celebrate it in your own unique way (however it looks for you!)

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