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  • Julie Early Sifuentes

Mixed Blessings

The increasing awareness and national conversation about racial and ethnic identity in the last couple of years has had me thinking...

Mi abuelita Julia, me, my grandma Betty

a lot more about my identity. After the last presidential election, conversations about race became even more intense, and I struggled to figure out where I fit in. I would read in my newsfeed articles, blogs and comments about "white people" and "people of color". It was like there was a ping pong match in my head back and forth: I am not "white" but am I really a "person of color"; not “white”, “person of color?”; not “white”’, “person of color?” I wanted to be a part of the conversations and the movement, but instead I found myself getting stuck watching the ping pong match.


In the month after the election I learned about a facilitated meeting for people of color to come together and process the results of the election. I felt drawn to go. While I felt that I belonged in that conversation, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if others would agree. Do I look like a person of color? Do I meet *the* criteria? If people knew my background and life story, would I be “people of color” enough? I decided I would show up with all of my anxieties about it.


As part of the welcome, the facilitator acknowledged that there could be biracial or mixed folks in the group. For a brief second, I thought she was going to say that *we* didn't belong in this group, and I felt a rush of panic as I scanned the room for an escape route. How could I discreetly leave the room in what I imagined as a walk of deeply felt shame? I then heard her say that we (mixed folks with white ancestry) were welcome in this meeting. She added that *we* were also welcome at a meeting for white folks that was happening the following week. This, she said, is the blessing of having mixed ancestry and identity. I felt so relieved, seen and accepted. I was moved to tears. I hadn’t realized before this moment how much I needed someone to make this statement.


Since then I have noticed more attention and conversations about mixed racial identity. The Code Switch podcast, in one of their most listened episodes that year, explored “Racial Imposter Syndrome.” Many listeners called in with their stories of their distress at not quite fitting into our society’s racial categories, of not feeling accepted. They interviewed Heidi Durrow who has started an annual festival to celebrate mixed racial identity called “Mixed Remixed.” Sara Galbraith, a researcher whose focus is on multiracial identity and mental health, from Duke University’s Identity and Diversity and Lab was also interviewed. As I searched more, I found that this topic was showing up in the mainstream media. The Washington Post has a podcast called Mixed Race in America and across the pond the BBC produced a documentary called My Mixed Up World.


I listened to all of these intently, and I felt validated. On one hand I have always felt really lucky and proud to have such mixed ancestry. I have always felt that there are certain qualities I have, such as being open-minded, that are connected to my identity and a growing body of research validates this (What Biracial People Know, NY Times). There is also a shadow side for me, which I also heard in these stories, which is a chronic insidious feeling of not belonging. So I guess you could say that it is a *mixed blessing.* After hearing so many other stories that I could relate to, I realized how important being “mixed” is to my identity. I am Peruvian-American, I am Latina, and I am Mixed.


In our efforts to create an inclusive society where everyone feels like they belong, it is really important to acknowledge and create space for mixed identities. Creating space for mixed identities is a way of embracing the tension of these two truths: Race is real. Race is made-up. It is a space of ambiguity where we human beings would rather not spend very much time, but it is so important that we develop the capacity to be there.


For me being “mixed”, “multicultural” “multiracial,” or “biracial” is a really important part of being a Peace Corps kid. It is one of the reasons why I want to bring us together. I believe we are uniquely positioned to be intercultural leaders who can help advance inclusion and justice in and across our communities. We can do this by supporting one another, bringing our whole selves to the conversations and actions in our communities and our organizations. We can also do this by sharing stories about our mixed identity. What is your story? How do you identify? Where do you feel you belong? Join our Facebook community to share your your thoughts, your story, and connect with others.

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