In the fourth grade, my two cousins and I were browsing the shelves to choose the pottery we wanted to paint. “This one says ‘Made in China.’ Like you, Clarissa!” my cousin exclaimed. I let out a faint fake laugh to hide the hurt and disbelief that went through my mind.
My mother is Mexican and my father is Chinese and Caucasian. Growing up as a multiracial child, I felt like muddy paint water, with multiple pigments blended into one indistinguishable color. No one knows exactly what colors are in that water, or in this case, what ethnicities I am made up of. Attending a predominantly white elementary school, most students were surprised to hear that I am Mexican and Chinese. I remember one of my classmates’ remarks: “What?! I thought you were white!” I myself was surprised to hear this as I have always felt I look mixed.
Each of my mom’s siblings married Mexican spouses. Spending time with all my cousins who were full Mexican, I did not feel Latina enough beside them. And when I was with my dad’s side of the family, I felt too bronzed, although I really am not that tan. My grandmother has even asked me how I identify myself as a multiracial person. I replied, “Mexican, Chinese, and Caucasian.” She was taken aback because she is proud to be Mexican and suggested that I should identify as Mexican only. However, her comment did not change how I view myself. I never felt shame or embarrassment that I am mixed. I just felt different.
There was a time when I felt like an outsider to my extended family. The time my cousin related me to a ‘Made in China’ label. Hiding behind the hurt with an expressionless face and a faint fake laugh, I felt vulnerable. Fourth-grade me did not know how to stand up for myself. Looking back, I wish I would have told him that his remark was inappropriate and hurtful. Because of the self-awareness I have learned from personal experience, I am able to stand up for myself now and enlighten others on how hurtful remarks can leave a scar. I want to show ten-year-old me how special it truly is to come from a diverse background.
Before, I tried to blend in like the pigments that are dipped into muddy paint water which mesh into one color. I could never fully “blend in” however because if I embraced one of my races, I felt that I was leaving the other two races behind.
There was no specific instance that I went from feeling different to embracing my racial identity. Rather, over time I realized that the differences I felt are really the unique characteristics that make me, well, me. I experienced the gift of individuality.
A mural. That’s what I realized it feels like to be a multiracial individual. Being multiracial does not mean that you have to blend in to feel accepted. It means you have the ability to appreciate your racial differences and recognize what a blessing they are. I now embrace the different colored paints, or rather characteristics and uniqueness from my cultures.
When I look in the mirror and see myself, I see the beauty of my races intertwined. I appreciate my brown, almond-shaped eyes that help me to see the world, my dark, wavy hair that reminds me of my grandma, and my medium tan complexion with a yellow undertone that expresses both sides of my family’s ancestry. Trying to blend in–that has been done by many. But painting a mural of yourself incorporating your personal background is something unique and beautiful, just like you.