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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 18, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsInto Identity

What’s in a name?

Here’s a fact: My name doesn’t match my face. Like I’ve said before, my East Asian features and Western name have confused people, and I can’t really blame them for being confused, as much as I want to. But in 2016, I hope people can think before asking me — and other people in similar situations — absurd, and sometimes offensive, questions about my identity.

I was raised in a mixed-race household. My mother is from Taiwan, and my father is a white man from North Dakota. My parents are a part of the 5.3 million interracial, opposite-sex marriages in the U.S. — 10 percent of U.S. marriages. It’s a small number, but it’s not unusual enough for interracial marriages to be considered a novelty.

I grew up in a primarily Hispanic and Latino neighborhood and knew many kids who had one white parent and one Hispanic or Latino parent. But for some reason, my parents’ marriage seemed to be such a foreign concept that someone from my high school once asked me if my mom was a mail-order bride, a well-known stereotype regarding white men who marry East or Southeast Asian women. In case you were wondering, my parents met in a rather normal way: at a bar.

It shouldn’t be a surprising when I say my father and I look nothing alike because he’s technically my stepfather. Our lack of resemblance led my classmates to think I was being kidnapped whenever he came to pick me up from school. I always made it a point to say, “Hi, Dad,” whenever my mother wasn’t with him to avoid the uncomfortable so-called concern for others.

Let’s go back to the name bit for a second. When I was in the fourth grade, a classmate of mine asked me if I was adopted because of my last name. Regardless of whether or not it was true in my case, I don’t think that’s an appropriate question to ask anyone. And believe it or not, it wasn’t the last time I’d hear that question.

Interracial marriages have been legal for almost 50 years, and people like me still have to answer questions about why I don’t look like one of my parents or if my parents’ marriage was legitimate. I’ll leave you with one more fact: No, my name doesn’t match my face, and it doesn’t mean you can make assumptions about my background. My name doesn’t have to match my face to have a normal family life, especially when interracial marriages and mixed-race children are becoming the new norm.