Blended: Michael

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*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.

Blended: Deanna

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What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?

My dad is African American and my mom is Ukrainian (Russian).

Did you have any struggles growing up mixed race, such as any internal or external issues?

When I was growing up, especially in middle school, I struggled internally with fitting into a specific group of friends. I was always accepted, but I always felt that I didn’t quite fit in. I probably felt this way because I wasn’t honest with myself at the time about my identity. It wasn’t until later in high school where I felt more comfortable and confident with my background.

Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?

I consider myself mixed in terms of my skin color, but when it comes to my identity, I consider myself Russian.

Do you feel like you’re part of one ethnic group more than the other?

Yes, on my Russian side. I learned to speak the language at a very young age through my mother and grandparents, I continued to learn how to read and write it in college, and I know the history and stuff. But, I don’t really know much about my African American side.

Do you feel, or have you felt, like you didn’t belong to either one of your ethnic groups?

Yes, at times I felt that I can’t identify with either group. For instance, when I go to Brooklyn, specifically Brighton beach where nearly everyone is Russian, they often talk about me and are even rude to me. They make me feel like I don’t belong and in the past I had let that bother me. Now what I do is say something politely back to them in Russian and totally catch them off guard. I have never quite felt like I fit in the African American community completely because I’m always told, to this day, I’m “too white” or that I “talk like a white girl” and I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

Coming to America: Hernen

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Place of Origin: Kilkelly, Ireland

When and why did you move to America?

“I came to America when I was 18 and the main motivations for coming here the first time was to meet my biological parents, cause I was adopted when I was 8 years old. So I was born in the United States, so I came back here to meet with my parents and while I was here, because I have American citizenship, I decided to start going to university here. [Majoring in Linguistics]”

What do you like about America?

“There are definitely more seasons here, than Ireland. And there… I wouldn’t say more or less, but there are different job opportunities here.”

[In what ways are they different?]

“The job opportunities? Well… For example, from where I’m from, in Ireland, job opportunities are very colloquial. There’s a lot of stuff that you would do like hard labor, manual labor. Whereas you have to go towards bigger cities like Galloway and Dublin, things like that, in order to find office jobs or jobs with larger companies, whereas here it’s a lot easier, there’s a lot of different places that you can find, you don’t necessarily need to live in or near a major city.”

What don’t you like about America? 

“The culture is very different.”

[Is it a matter of adjusting?]

“It’s about adjusting and the food quality is just not as good. I don’t think the living quality is as good. People I think generally are a lot less happy, in America then they are in other places, because they don’t get as much free time and if they do they don’t know how to enjoy their free time other than indulging themselves into technologies and electronics and stuff like that.”

Was it hard for you to adapt?

“It was a shock and it was a little bit difficult to adjust, because I come from a village of 300 people. So, when I first got off the plane in New York City, in JFK, I saw more people than I have ever seen in my entire life.”

** Hernen was born in the United States, but identifies himself as Irish because he grew up there, knows its culture, and language better than the United States.**

**In addition, he has a heavy Irish accent.**