As part of our series “In My Experience,” spotlighting the personal stories of our listeners, we talk with a panel of biracial and multi-racial people about race, identity and what it’s like to grow up looking different from your neighbors and even your parents. We listen to their stories, and we welcome yours.

KQED Web Intern Michelle Gachet took portraits of some of the people who responded to Forum's call for personal stories of growing up mixed-race. Here is compilation of those photos


The "In My Experience" series is produced with help from the Public Insight Network.

In My Experience: A Multi-Racial Heritage 16 December,2011forum

Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto,
Calvin McFarlane,
Runi Yun Keagy,
Jonathan Chin,

  • K

    my daughter’s father is bi-racial. she want to identify with all of her background but it is hard because other people see the black first and usually only.

  • badphairy

    I was adopted by white people in 1971. I have no idea what my actual heritage is, other than there’s obviously some African in there somewhere. My parents believed that if they raised me like their other children it wouldn’t matter. Of course it does, because the general public can be extremely hurtful and even be defensive of their rude questions like “what are you” and the question asked my mother when I was three “Who is she going to date when she grows up?” implying that dating the available white people would of course be out of the question.
    My parents were Irish and Danish, and proud of their heritage. I am not exactly well accepted as being “Irish” and the “black Irish” joke only goes so far. The late cultural emphasis on genetics is extremely off-putting to those who are legally removed from any of their own physical heritage.
    I think California has done far better with its requirements that multiracial adoption be done with some access to multiracial contexts. Being the only multiracial person in a completely white (no Hispanics or Asians either, and Native Americans didn’t count) environment was an enormously alienating and stressful experience.
    I lived in Oakland for eight years, and I miss that diversity and ability to just blend into a crowd every day since I moved back to MN for grad school. Because of the growing Somali population, the reaction to my appearance by the general public here has gone from “welfare babymomma” to “foreign welfare babymomma” which is not exactly an improvement.

  • R S

    I am Indian and my wife is Chinese descent and we are immigrants. We have 2 young kids. I am really intrigued by the program and the experiences shared by the participants.

  • I had an experience rare for people my age — my parents are also bi-racial. My grandfathers were from the Philippines and my grandmothers were from Latin America. They had to leave California to marry, as it was illegal in the state at the time for Filipinos to marry whites, which my grandmothers were characterized as. My parents helped me cultivate my bi-racial identity. Growing up, I called myself “mestiza,” and now I’ve embraced the “hapa” identity.

  • Noma

    My father was a Catholic Puerto Rican, my mother a Russian Jew. My mother’s family sat a shiva for her when she married my father and we had no contact with them. My father’s mother thought my brother and I were heathen babies, so she never spent time with us. My bi-racial, bi-cultural background has made me more cautious about religious affiliations, and I still have some anxiety about revealing my heritage in social settings.

  • Smp806

    The media (and the White house does not correct them) labels President Obama African-American when in fact he is bi-racial where his caucasian family raised him. The USA, due to it’s history with slavery, is hung up on labels & boxes. Multi-Racial & Bi-Racial should CELEBRATE the different cultures. It’s the 21st century, be Mixed and Proud.

  • Javier Ruiz-Peralta

    I am Chinese-Mexican born in Mexico living in the US for 22 years. Although I am perceived mostly as Latino I have always embraced my heritage form China as well. In terms of races I am asian-caucasian-native mexican. Also I have afro-mexican relatives. So identifying with one race or ethnic group seems unfair to the other cultures I am also a part of. I am human being.

  • Dude

    Same experience as the caller Mark: when I emigrated to the USA, I was struck in the face about the “segregation”… Never experienced that in Europe…

    People in the US need to get over the whole race thing… and to do that they have to stop pretending they are not racists.

  • Lisa

    In regard to the British caller’s experience:

    I’ve heard this from other Brits and Euros alike and I must point out that minorities in GB and throughout Europe have almost no political or even media representation. We have an African American president. Is there a single member of parliament that is of color and has there ever been? It doesn’t even appear to be in the near future. The caller says everyone is “blended” in. But neighborhoods, towns, communities and politics are highly segregated in England and I rarely see any mixed race couples or children.  Perhaps the Brits who are the “haves” are quite content with the segregation they have, but until they give their minorities a voice, we won’t know the other side of the story.

    • jalabi

      Lisa said: “We have an African American president. Is there a single member of parliament that is of color and has there ever been? It doesn’t even appear to be in the near future.”

      Just a sampling:

      Dadabhai Naoroji (of Indian descent) was a member of the House of Commons between 1892 and 1895, and the first Asian to be a British MP.

      David Pitt (of Grenadian descent) was made a member of the House of Lords in 1975.

      Chuka Umunna (Nigerian father, English/Irish mother) has been a member of the House of Commons since 2010 and is now a member of the Shadow Cabinet (as Shadow Business Secretary).

      Priti Patel (Indian) is the first female Asian Conservative MP, voted into Parliament in 2010, as was Rushanara Ali (the first MP of Bangladeshi origin, and one of first three current female Muslim MPs).

      There are currently 660 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Four percent of the MPs voted into Parliament since 2010 are from a black and minority ethnic background.



      BBC News: “What is the new face of the House of Commons?”

      • Marcopoe

        Compared to what percentage in the USA?

  • Shiva

    I’m born in Iran, grew up in Germany and came to the bay area recently. It’s very funny that I have to check white on the check boxes but I never get treated like one! I also feel I have a little bit of all these cultures which is hard to define in check boxes. I also grew up in a very multicultural environment but here in CA I feel people from different races are very segregated. I can’t hang out with any of them because they are either one or the other.

  • Liz

    I’m concerned about what some of your guests and callers are saying about Europe existing in this post-racial kind of utopia. Having lived in Spain for a long time, and travelled extensively throughout Europe, I can safely say that it’s a region of the world that is still profoundly concerned with and affected by race and racism, even if it does not take the same form that it does in the States. One example I can think of is a news program I watched in my first several months of living in Madrid in which an Andalusian town expressed its concern about a Roma family moving in, because “everyone knows” that gypsies are liars and thieves. This was expressed over national television with absolutely no commentary about whether or not this was a socially acceptable position to take. Yes, Americans are still profoundly obsessed with race, but we’re not the only ones. If we are ever going to move on to be a “post-racial” world (if such a goal is even possible), we have to first call things like they are.

    • Rini Yun Keagy

      This is Rini, one of the guests on the show who may have prompted your comment. I agree with you. We are nowhere near being in a ‘post-racial’ world. Whether here, Europe or elsewhere, society is still plagued by rampant discrimination and inequality in terms of skin color. I also lived in (the south of) Spain and felt that it was one of the most (disturbingly) homogenous places I’d ever been. The grandmother in the household where I lived once looked out the window and saw an African person and started screaming. I myself was called derogatory names on a usual basis. France also has had a troubling history of discrimination and social policy against people of N. African decent, the Roma, and most non-white peoples. When I mentioned that Paris was the first place in the western world where the FIRST question I was asked was NOT “What are you?” — I simply wanted to relay that as a specific and nuanced experience, and that it was only slightly refreshing after this question had been for most of my life in the U.S. the first question raised.  (By the same token I noticed that the French didn’t generally ask me what I did for a living right off the bat, either, as I find to be the case in the U.S.)  My comment was meant as a small cultural difference that just makes it seem that Americans are more obsessed with race. I think it is more the case, exactly as you said, that racism just takes a different form. In a one-hour show about such an enormous topic and with four guests and callers-in, it was certainly difficult to get to the more nuanced issues. I apologize if I seemed to indicate that Europe, or anywhere, is “post-racial”, as I strongly believe the world is not.

    • utera

      Yea that one pit stuck out like a sore thumb to me as well.  Horrible misconception about europe or france.  What they saw was an american, of reasonable class having traveled to europe, that is what they were judging you by.  If you had been mixed or black native french it would be a whole different matter.

  • Mighty Whitey

    Black is beautiful, Tan is grand, but WHITE is still the color of the big boss man!

  • lisa s

    people should see this website. 

    as a 1.2 japanese 1.2 jewish caucasian woman i now love my hybrid identity. there were definitely bumps along the way – and i definitely don’t need to be asked where i’m from or what my ethnic background is by another older white male ever again. 

    i’m excited by the idea that this is becoming more and more “normal” and that we can check more boxes now [huge pet peeve when i was young], and that we may soon no longer be seen as the “other” or “exotic” but just as who were are. everyone is complicated. everyone has mixed traditions or cultural ideas in their families. we just happen to look the part. 

  • Camillia Matuk

    Kip Fulbeck has an excellent ongoing project on the multi-racial experience that may resonate with many listeners here: http://seaweedproductions.com/the-hapa-project/
    The site includes many links to other organizations and projects on the theme of mixed race.

  • Izumi

    My mother is from Japan, my father is from Trinidad and Tobago, and I grew up in Long Beach, CA. I can relate to a lot of the experiences that have been described on the show by both the guests and callers. I do not identify myself  as being Asian-American or African-American because my parents are first generation immigrants, and because of that I tend to identify as being Japanese, Trinidadian, and American. I have been very lucky to have had many multicultural friends from high-school, college, and now graduate school. My friends and I have all been asked, “What are you?” “What race do you identify with?” etc, and so I’ve started using the term “ethnically ambiguous/ ambiguously ethnic” to describe myself and my friends. I love both of my parents’ cultures and I feel very fortunate to have this rich heritage. Although I resented being mixed when I was younger, I now feel like there is nothing else I’d rather be.

  • phannieW

    I proudly identify as a Hapa (Thai, Indian, and Kiwi). My mixed heritage identity is ever changing and evolving. I highly recommend any of Maria Root’s books. She is the preeminant researcher of mixed heritage identity. I definitely encourage you to google her “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage”. It is empowering! 

  • Guest

    Thanks for this segment. I’m black and Persian, raised in Oakland. Definitely a bubble here, as I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s with a large multi-ethnic group of friends, including other mixed kids. Not something I’ve seen while living elsewhere in the country. 

    I agree that being mixed has given me a leg up on identifying more with humanity than the particulars of race; I think it’s pretty difficult to buy into stereotypes when the diversity within your own family shows you otherwise, or when people mistake you for any number of various ethnicities depending on where you travel or live. (I think this plays into my work as a therapist in that I’ve always been used to holding others’ projections!)

    So I have to admit that shows like this, which attempt to put labels on my experience, gives me some discomfort, even as they bring me a sense of relief for finally being taken seriously as a group in our own right. To that end, I steadfastly reply “both” when people ask, “but which side do you identify with?” Any groups/resources talking about these issues (Bay Area or beyond)?

    • Marcopoe

      There is a funny flip side to the “what are you” question: NOT being asked because I look like everyone else around me, even though I feel completely different, after growing up in another country.

      The question of “which side do you identify with” is addressed in detail in the book “Third Culture Kids,” by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken. Although their book portrays and analyses the experience of children who grow up in countries where their parents migrated, it gives four categorical answers to the children adapting and identifying.

      Personally, “both” is one of my answers; “neither” is another, and “both ‘both’ and ‘neither’ ” is a third.

  • K

    I also want to echo Marc’s (I think) comments about Historically Black Colleges.  As a graduate of Howard, I know that these are great environments for meeting people from all over the African diaspora with a range of interests, experiences and perspectives.

  • Chris B.

    I grew up in a pretty culturally diverse family: My parents adopted both my sister and I; she from Iran and myself from Costa Rica. My father is German, who was partially raised in Argentina before immigrating to the US. My mother is Caucasion ( English/ Irish/ Scottish), with roots in America for many generations.   My mother always had a very strong cultural interest in Japan, so growing up I attended Japanese school, traveled to Japan many times, and for the past 23 years have practiced traditional japanese dance. 

    Point being, I can identify with the feeling of not knowing what to identify with : I’m not Japanese, but I feel more Japanese than most of my Japanese- American friends (Though when living in Japan, I was never fully accepted, no matter how well i may have fit in culturally).   I’m not Latin, though  I may look like it, sorta. I’m pretty sure I’m a mix of something.  I feel a connection to my father’s German heritage as well as my mothers Anglo- Saxon roots. 

    Having spent parts of my childhood in states like Florida and Georgia, I can emphathize with others’ negative experiences of not feeling like they belong. racially. However, i have also been fortunate enough to have lived in the Bay Area for many years, where I really don’t feel like it’s an issue. You are what you are.  I don’t feel the “need” to associate myself with one particular cultural group. I feel blessed to feel that i can relate with people from all sorts of backgrounds.

  • Thelipstickfemme

    We are all one human race 99.9% of our human DNA is the same.  There is no blood-test that can determine the different ethnicity.  Race is a man-made socially and arbitrary social construct.

  • What was the thinking behind holding props or photos in each photo?

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