Too Brown For White folks, Too White For Brown Folks

Jacey Mismash, Contributor


“What’s your race?”

This is the question that haunts the mind of any transracial adoptee during the job application process.

Gloria Young, a first-year, transracial adoptee from Vietnam studying at Augsburg University, brought this up to me when we chatted about what it was like to be a part of  transracial adoption. For those who do not know, “transracial” is not meant to describe when a person tries to pull a Rachel Dolezal and “become” a different race. The term “transracial” is most often used to describe transracial adoptions, in which the adoptive parents are of a different race than the adopted child.

So, as people of color raised in a household of white family members, how are we supposed to identify ourselves? I do not look like any of my family or friends who are white, but I was raised by them, befriended them, and treated like them, so at a young age I never saw much of a difference between us— at least until third grade. Since the spring of that school year, when I was teased for being “too dark” after going on vacation to Florida, I had understood that I was not white. I am not white, but that does not stop me from having to question my Latinx identity.

Gloria pointed out that “people make certain assumptions about you” when you mark down a certain ethnicity or race on a job application. Our main fear is that our racial identities might be associated with a certain language. If we do not speak it, we might be perceived as deceptive or not truly apart of that community.

For myself, I do not speak Spanish fluently. I took classes for almost seven years, but the flaws of how schools teach language have held me back from being able to converse with others, even if I might understand some of the words people are saying. That being said, there have been times where my old friends who are Latinx have claimed to understand my struggle with my identity, and even offered to support me with dealing with the confusion I faced, but would make fun of me and say that I am not “really a Latina”. They insinuated or even blatantly said that because my adoptive family was not able to give me the resources to connect to my culture or language, I am somehow “less” of my identity, or not a part of it at all.

Again I ask, how are we supposed to identify ourselves? The truth is, it is not up to anyone but us. Transracial adoptees are different than others— the way we identify can be complicated, but that does not give anyone the right to invalidate us. We should not have to avoid sharing our adoption stories out of fear we might be seen as too this, or too that. We should wear it as a badge of pride, like Gloria does on her wrist with her tattoo of the adoption triad— the three points of a triangle representing the birth parents, adoptive family, and the adoptee, and a heart to represent the bond formed from the adoption.

This article was originally published in the September 27, 2019 issue.