*Photo submitted by Michael*
What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?
My father is 3rd generation Italian-American (his parents: Italian-American + Italian-American from Italian + Italian). My mother is Korean (I do not know her family to any extent).
Did you have any struggles growing up mixed race, such as any internal or external issues?
I’m not sure how to answer this. I don’t think being mixed brought on any real struggles. Perhaps it was a little difficult growing up not feeling like you are apart of an inherit community. I think growing up is already a difficult thing for a young adult— we face huge internal and external issues at every stage of growing up— and I think it may be easy to pass some of these normal struggles off onto being mixed. So I am apprehensive to do so right now.
Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?
I spent most of my very young years with my Korean mother, but I think I was too young for the culture to really take root. I then spent the rest of my life (probably after 1st grade?) with my Italian-American side of the family (my father and his parents). I would say all of my childhood memories are very Italian-American-New Jersey, if you will.
My parents divorced when I was very young, and is the reason for the shift in environment.My Father also re-married to another Korean woman when I was in around 4th grade. She was 1st generation Korean also, so she had a very strong Korean culture in her everyday life. But she did not spend much time with the family. So again I did not have a very close tie to Korean culture.
I think because of my situation and exposure, I never really identified as Korean, or even Asian. I did not have many Asian friends growing up (although my high school maybe had a no more than 5% Asian population…). When someone asks me “what are you?” (as ignorant as it is, that is almost always how it is phrased…) I usually respond with “I’m half Korean half Italian.” I usually feel silly after I respond, almost like specifying “Italian” is obnoxious. I know many people who are half something and half “white”— which to them is easier because of the extensive mix of various Caucasian ethnicities. But my fathers parents are full blown Italian—back as many generations as I know. So I guess I think there is merit in the distinction, but I still feel awkward specifying in public.
Although I have a very high interest in Italian language and culture, it did not start until I was in my early 20’s (I am 29 now.) My father never spoke Italian or even knew the culture, and my grandparents spoke broken English and broken Italian and were born here as well. So I never had the language around me or a real authentic Italian culture around me either.
I cannot explain the connection I felt when I first started exploring all things Italian… but there is something magical about it that one cannot ignore!
Do you feel, or have you felt, like you didn’t belong to either one of your ethnic groups?
For sure. I never felt like I belonged in any Asian group or European group. Any Asian groups I knew were very into their culture— they would freely speak in their Asian language and were very closed to allowing others in (or at least that was how it was perceived by me). My group of friends growing up were always very mixed. For example my high school best friends were African American, Ukrainian, Irish, and American.
I’ve visited Italy twice in my life so far, and I never felt like I was looked at as an insider. Not only was I a tourist, but I always had it in the back of my mind that the locals saw me as an “Asian tourist.” I’ve seen videos of Italian groups rallying together protesting the growing Asian population in Italy. I’ve seen the huge hordes of Asian tourists clogging the streets of Florence, gathering looks of hatred and annoyance. I’ve seen huge racism in my own country towards growing Asian populations and assimilation. I think these experiences together, over the years, always created an insecurity that I will be lumped into these terrible stereotypes just because of the way I look.