For biracial students, there’s power in embracing whole identities

When I was a child, my father used to call me a coconut: Brown on the outside and white on the inside. He didn’t realize the internal struggle for identity that had plagued me from a young age, lacking spaces in which I was represented. I am Indian-Ecuadorian-American, born at the intersection of three very different cultures, and I am building a world in which I belong. 

Unfortunately, my struggles are not unique. Biracial individuals everywhere face the difficulty of self-identification between multiple ethnicities. Oftentimes, we are prompted to eliminate the distinctive parts of our cultures to fit into Eurocentric society. However, we deserve to find peace with all of our identities: each of them is equally important. At the intersection of cultures, not everyone will understand what it is like to be you, but that does not mean you have to reject who you are or the places you’ve come from.  

I attended a primarily white school growing up and learned to act, speak and dress like those around me. I grew out of the saris from my childhood, my mother attempted to teach me Spanish many times and I began to learn from school that my cultures would never be part of the narrative. Years of confusion over pale “skin-colored” crayons and white Disney princesses gave me a dark perception of myself: my ethnicities meant I didn’t belong.

Over the years, I began to feel trapped in the corner I was born into: never white enough, never Brown enough. I found it difficult to connect with both my Indian and Ecuadorian sides, often wondering whether the color of my skin was the only Brown feature I had. I wanted to be a part of something but my parents’ cultures weren’t heavily integrated into my life.

My parents worked tirelessly to assimilate into American culture as immigrants. They did their best to understand a new culture that demanded they relinquish their language, change their accents and accept new customs before they reached high school. When my brother and I grew up in this watered-down blend of culture, we weren’t able to make deep and lasting connections to our ancestors. 

In therapy, I discovered the resentment I held for my parents, blaming my missing sense of belonging on the lack of cultural influences in my life. It took years for me to comprehend that they had been forced to assimilate for survival, they had come to the United States as young children and, more importantly, that they were not responsible for my relationship with my Brownness. You can teach one to have love for a country, but discovering love for your identity is a personal journey.  

When I feel alone in my identity, I recall the generations of people and places that have made me who I am.

From India, I get my fire: I reflect the passion and vibrancy that emboldens Indians to have multi-week weddings and Bollywood films. I am built upon stories of my father playing soccer in his village and my grandmother kneading chapati dough in the kitchen. I see my intensity through the lens of India, a place where determination in academics creates resilience. I am bronze skin, red earth and shining bindis.

From Ecuador, I get my heart: I am the culmination of years of back-breaking labor from my grandmother as she fought to bring her family to the United States. My curls are a Latina birthright, passed down through the generations, and my passion for baking comes from the grit of my grandfather, baking bread to earn money for his children. I am wild foliage, toothy grins and embroidered flowers on linen. 

Instead of waiting for someone to create a space for me to belong, I began to carve out my own spaces. I am learning to be unafraid standing alone in my identity and confident enough to invite others to be proud of their identities. It is possible to accept the joys of being biracial: the beauty of family across borders, the melding of cultures and the diverse dinner table you grew up at. There is something incredibly powerful about owning your identity, of claiming the person you were born to be.