I’ve been asked to submit some poems and an essay to an anthology of poetry by biracial writers. The “poems” part is easy, but I’ve been stewing over the "
I’ve competed in two bicycle races, therefore I am biracial? Twice a week I slather on my mudmask--love my bifacials? I watched a rerun of the series finale of “Friends” last night: bye Rachel?
I suppose the editor is referring to my ethnicity, my Caucasian father and my Japanese (Mongolian, technically) mother. My father was, by all appearances, a white dude. So white, he was pink-cheeked, pink-nosed. He had blond hair and blue eyes. He was also adopted as a baby in a Chicago hospital. I never heard a word about his biological mother--I imagined a knocked-up Irish Catholic girl--so in fact, my father might be of mixed race himself. My essay could end here. But questions about my father’s actual lineage aside, what’s more important than DNA is that I’m perceived as biracial. “I have a Caucasian father and Japanese mother” I tell people who ask. Actually, that’s a lie. I say American father—Caucasian sounds too clinical--and people get it.
Talking about race is like asking how gravity works, why aren’t we floating and bumping around like multicolored balloons? We say, re: gravity working, It just does, so that we can attend to more immediate matters, like what’s for dinner or the traffic light turning red or is that good-looking guy straight.
Maybe what's meant by "the experience of biraciality" is: “What is it like to not be 100% white in America?”
I was bullied by Japanese kids as a child growing up in Japan (my hair was too light, my eyes too roundish), so for a moment I thought I was white. But then I was bullied through elementary, middle, and high school in Ohio (I was Chinawoman, I was greasy-haired chink). Biracial means, to me, not being asked to a single prom or homecoming dance. It means spending my teenage years living vicariously through Molly Ringwald in John Hughes movies. It means vowing to dye my hair blond, wear colored contacts, and find the best damn mascara in the world to camouflage my slanted eyes. It means, in college, reading about the demographic breakdown of my class and realizing that I AM the ".002% Asian American Students from Ohio."
Just a few years ago, a woman asked me my name. I said "April." She said, "Angel?" I said "APRIL." And she said, "Eggroll?" I was too flabbergasted to reply. I should have said, "What is this, free association? You must be 'Bad Perm White Lady'."
As a poet, there seems little left to say about being harassed. Childhood is traumatic. Kids are mean. Adults are mean. You're ejected from the safety of the womb and it’s all sticks and stones from there. So what?
Maybe the best poetry about being called chink isn’t in words, but in actions. I fight a little harder for the underdog because I am one. About five years ago, on a D.C. bus, I watched a black guy harass an Indian woman, perhaps a university student, from the looks of her heavy backpack. He looked like he might be a vagrant; it was a battle for power, the bullied kid setting fire to a kitten. Where you from he said. You from India. You seen the Namesake. Go back home. The girl sat still, her mouth shut, her eyes looking straight ahead. I walked/lurched up to the front of the bus and told the driver. He actually pulled over and stopped the bus. As I took my seat again, the driver stood up and faced us. "Don’t be making trouble on my bus or you will walk. You hear me? You will get off my bus and walk." I clapped my hands, I sat two feet from the giant bully of a man and cheered.