Finding An Identity

Chloe Kidder, 3rd Place
10th Grade

Over dinner the other night my family was discussing whether what we were eating was in fact a cupcake or a muffin. They were made from a banana nut bread recipe, but had a crumb topping and we were enjoying them as a dessert. My brother brought up the question that if they were frosted would we consider them cupcakes? Is the definition of a cupcake something that has frosting and is made in a muffin tin? If so then we were definitely eating cupcakes he claimed. I asked whether the intention played a role as well, is something a muffin if the person who made it did so with the intention of creating a muffin? Or can the consumer decide what it is they are eating. If you choose to call it a muffin then you lose a cupcake. You can’t have both a cupcake and a muffin, you have to choose one or the other. My dad then asked the question, “Why does it matter?” This got us thinking: Why does it matter? They were good, and labeling them didn’t make them taste any better or worse. “The same can be applied to race,” my dad then added.

What makes someone Asian? Be it Korean, Laotian, Cambodian, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, etc., is there a defining characteristic that makes a person Asian? If you’re Asian, does it mean that you can’t be something else? Many would argue that if you’re born or can trace your heritage back to an Asian country then you’re Asian, but what about those that don’t fit quite so nicely? I am half Chinese and half European. Where do I stand? Am I a cupcake or a muffin? Am I Chinese enough to be considered Chinese? Or will I never fit in entirely with either one? Is it up to me to decide what I am? Do I have to pick one or can I do both? Like the cupcakes and muffins, if I choose one do I lose other? I constantly find myself facing these daunting questions.

At my middle school they made a new club for “students of color”. I was in sixth grade at the time and I remember asking my teacher whether I was a student of color. She was put on the spot and answered, “Well you are Chinese aren’t you?” “Yes” I responded hesitantly before adding, “But I’m white too”. She could tell that telling me my race was getting into dangerous territory, “I don’t know Chloe, why don’t you go talk to the people in charge of the club?” I took her up on the offer and met with the woman organizing it. She said I could come, but I felt as if I was on the edge, barely being accepted into this racially exclusive club. I never went to any of the meetings for the students of color club, a large part due to the fact that if I had decided to go I would have obviously chosen one part of my race over the other. Also if I did attend the meetings then I would have been expected to talk about what it was like to be Chinese and the issues surrounding that, and that was something that I wasn’t so sure I knew how to do. After all, my mom is fifth generation Chinese American who doesn’t speak a drop of Cantonese and would feel just as lost in Beijing as any other American. I didn’t feel like I could speak on behalf of an entire population. The student of color coordinator decided that the Chinese part of me outweighed the “white” part and therefore it would be acceptable if I went to the meetings not even considering the fact that I was just as lost on issues plaguing Chinese youth as anyone. Yes I celebrated Chinese New Year every year, had a Red Egg and Ginger party on my first birthday, ate long life noodles and naw mai fan, and received lai see but I still felt out of place amongst “true Chinese”. Just walking in Oakland’s Chinatown or eating dim sum with my grandparents was enough to make me feel self conscious of my European roots and realize my illiteracy in many aspects Chinese culture and customs. Walking in down town Chinatown I felt like I stuck out with my brown hair and above average height. In Chinatown, I was not Chinese, I was American. I also felt like I stuck out since I was obviously not full Chinese, but not completely European either. On the other hand when I was with my European friends I sometimes felt like I didn’t quite fit in there either and eventually began to stop referring to my grand-mother as my tai po-po and “pork buns” as cha siu baos. I felt confused as to who I was, Chinese or European, the loaded words hung over me through much of my middle school life, and still continue to be an issue for me today.

I don’t want to have to choose one side of who I am over another, I don’t want to have to trade off one culture and commit to the other. Even though being of mixed race has caused me to initially lose a clear sense of my racial identity from it I have found a better perspective into what it means to be from a culture and a better understanding of who I am and my ancestry. I am not deciding to be one or the other; I am embracing both with outstretched arms. What defines my identity is not solely where my mom is from versus where my dad is from, but rather a combination of the two. In choosing to be of my two cultures I am not losing a bit of each, but instead finding a new identity out of both sides of what I have been given. I am a cupcake and a muffin, Chinese and European. And I am very happy with both. The decision is up to the individual. I am Chloe Kidder and I am a cuffin.