NEWS: A student perspective on biracial identity. By Javier Boersma.
Fifty years ago, I and more than 200 other kids at East High School would most likely not be allowed to be born into the families we have.
Most people have groups to which we can relate because of cultural or racial similarities. This is not the case for a minority among minorities, which one day will be the majority of the world population – mixed race kids. Race at East is a controversial and touchy subject for every student. We all have to live inside the skin we didn’t choose and live with stereotypes we didn’t cause.
Until recently – 1957, to be specific – mixed relationships were illegal. A racist law passed in 1864 called the miscegenation law that stated no interracial couples were permitted to marry. Those who violated the law had to pay a fine of $50 to $500. Couples might potentially spend three months to two years in the county jail. In 1942, the Colorado State Supreme Court found the law constitutional, despite the civil rights laws, because it applied equally to all races. The law wasn’t repealed until 1957.
There are approximately 204 mixed race students at East. This is a small fraction of the nearly 2,600 students currently attending East. Sophomores Elio Marshall and Kayla Dunlap describe their personal experiences, reflecting on the positives and negatives of being mixed.
When asked if he thought being a biracial student made him less in the eyes of some people, Elio responded, “Not at all – I just think it makes me more than they’d like to understand.”
I was born to a Latina mom and a white dad.
This sentiment is very easy for me to connect with. I was born to a Latina mom and a white dad. My first language was Spanish, and I remember since I was a kid having both cultures constantly in my life. This seemed normal to me. Like any other American boy, I grew up playing sports and riding my bike with friends. However, what seemed like a part of my life since I could remember, confused others.
I remember once in elementary school, I was asked if I was adopted after being picked up by my dad. There was half-joking hazing in middle school from friends or classmates calling me “halfie” or other names they could think off the top of their heads, which I didn’t mind as it was a back and forth.
It wasn’t all fun and games though. I remember sometimes it wasn’t joking at all. I’ve been called “mutt” by people I barely knew. Even typing this, I feel some guilt. After all do I really have a right to complain? Can you as a mixed race person legitimately be discriminated against?
Dunlap tells a similar story of her experience as a mixed student at East. The issue is that as a mixed race student you don’t know what group you belong to it’s like a limbo between two cultures and sometimes neither one accepts you.
“I’m mixed with black and white, so I’m always in the middle.”
“I’m mixed with black and white, so I’m always in the middle. It’s either the white side or the black side. If you go to the black side, they call you whitewashed, and if you go to the white side they call you ‘oh you’re too black’ or ‘you act too…’ something like that.”
Dunlap’s experience is not uncommon, according to statistics by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which states, “Mixed-race adolescents showed higher risk when compared with single-race adolescents on general health questions, school experience, smoking and drinking, and other risk variables.”
Elio spoke about how others in his original community reacted to him.
“I was born in Utah, and you know a lot of people there are white, and they [his parents] were really talked about. There was actually a news story about being biracial in Utah, which is a mostly white state. They didn’t know what was going to happen to me, based on who I am.”
It’s like a limbo between two cultures and sometimes neither one accepts you.
If they could, would they change who they are or look more of one race than the other? Elio says, “I’ve thought about it before, and I feel like I would only experience more exclusion.” Dunlap reflects, “No, I like being biracial. It’s unique and makes you stand out from other people.”
Mixed race children are becoming more and more common with the old world prejudices going out the window.
Even so it’s relatively new – we are one of the first generations to be able to experience this in a more progressive society. Unfortunately teens, and kids of all races, love to label things to better understand the world. Mixed kids are harder to give just one label, and this uniqueness can breed distrust or rejection.
Mixed kids are the pioneers to what our world will look like in the future. While this was not their choice, they are not ashamed or regretful for who they are. Just like any race they are valid. None of us choose our skin, but we can individually choose is not to be ignorant of others who – like you – didn’t choose their unique skin.