Guest Post: “Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?”

Ms. A writes, “My mother is Korean and my father is a mix of many things himself, mostly white. I suppose that would make me Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?” Her essay captures the frustration of dealing with labels, and what it feels like when you don’t quite “fit in.” 

Do you have something to say about being biracial and Asian, or raising biracial Asian kids? Or do you have a good love story or other guest post idea that fits the scope of this blog? Check out the submit a post page to learn how to have your writing published here.


(Photo by Meg Wills via
(Photo by Meg Wills via

“What are you?”

For some reason, that question has always bothered me. Sarcastically, I’d once responded “I’m human. What are YOU?” Of course I knew they meant to ask my background or ethnicity. Being bi-racial, mixed, or “hapa”, this was a common question. I suppose what bothered me was that the question had a deeper meaning to me. What ‘am I?

My mother is Korean and my father is a mix of many things himself, mostly white. I suppose that would make me Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?

Growing up, I never had an issue about being mixed. But somewhere down the line I ended up having an identity crisis. To non-Asians I suddenly became “the Asian one”. When I was with full-Asians, I was “the American one”. I grew a dislike to referring to myself as “half” Korean and “half” American. It felt like being partially part of something, yet never being fully part of it. Just half.

Perhaps this had to do with the community and if you live in a community that is familiar with diversity.

Of course, the feeling of not belonging in either “worlds” also had a lot to do with my upbringing. Sometimes I would have an American mindset of things, other times I would view things the Korean way. We spoke English, ate Korean, confusingly having conservative Korean values yet simultaneously liberal in other aspects. In Korea there is a Chinese-Korean dish call jjambbong that was a spicy noodle soup that didn’t have just one type of seafood and vegetables but a large variety mixed together. That’s what I was. Or maybe like a New Orleans gumbo.

As I got older, I realized that culture is a part of you, but not your entirety. It’s a blessing to have more than one culture a part of you. And yet because of that reason, it’s why you don’t have to choose to be solely part of one completely. It’s only natural values may clash and you may physically/visually not belong to a single race. Embrace who you are as an individual first. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to not always fit in. Its. Okay.

Ultimately what defines you is who you are as an individual. People should remember you for who you are in the inside and the qualities you display as a human.

Ms. A is a woman who believes your imperfections are your perfections and that self-discovery is a never ending path.

Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

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33 Replies to “Guest Post: “Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?””

  1. I’ve had similar ponderings, coming from a bi-cultural family but living in countries outside both of those. I was lucky that it never hit me how much of an oddball I was back “home” until I became an adult, because through living in countries I was automatically a bit different and that was okay. But returning to where I was supposed to be from, a part of… that was much trickier.
    Having said that, I’ve been “lucky” I guess, in that I don’t immediately look out of place, so I would give people at least a good 10-15 minutes of normal convo before the “No, but really, where are you from?” comes up.

    MS. A, your last two paragraphs rang especially true and I love the gumbo metaphor. 🙂

  2. Site: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

    Conversation goes like this:

    A white woman in her early forties with a southern drawl: “I am a congressional staffer from Georgia, where are you from?”

    The Pacific Islander: “from here in Washington DC.”

    The white woman: “You are not originally from this part, are you?”

    The Pacific Islander: “No.”

    The white woman: “Where are you really from?”

    The Pacific Islander: Honolulu.

    The white woman looks befuddled.

    The Pacific Islander: Do you know where it is?

    The white woman: No.

    Not a satire or a joke…actually happened at the Smithsonian in Washington DC on October 19, 2013…the day after the government re-opened after the long government shutdown..yes, I witnessed it.

    1. @ David

      Ha. Ha. You are so funny. I do not doubt that the lady above did not know where Honolulu is. I recall that many years ago in the 1980’s I heard from my white male friend whose mother (White Anglo Saxon) was Scottish and speaks with a Scottish accent despite living in North America for over 20 years. One day she ran into an American couple and they asked her where she was from originally. She said, “Scottland.” Then couple said, “Wow, you speak very good English coming from Scottland.” She was left with the impression wondering what language did this couple think that she was supposed to speak. I guess some Americans simply do not know geography beyond their own borders, and even then they may not know much about their own country USA.

  3. Asian society tends to be more tolerant towards biracial people. A lot of celebrities of biracial parentage in Hong Kong and China were treated like their own. America on the other hand, I don’t think there are lot of white folks would consider Pres. Obama or Johnny Damon to be Caucasian.

    1. But with celebrities, aren’t they loved more because they’re celebrities? Reminds me of seeing half-Korean kids on Korean television who are loved because they are cute, but the reality of what many bi-racial individuals face in Korea is far different.

      With Asian society being more tolerant or accepting is something I’m not sure of. Again, I do believe it depends on the area within that country and many areas are more tolerant than others. However there is a lot of negativity that exists in many East Asian countries.

      I had a friend from Japan and she has daughters that are half Japanese. They would tell me of the bullying that went on in Japan. In Korea, it was the same. I’ve met some Koreans that are open to dating foreigners however they worry about how their children may deal in society. Particularly in Korea being homogenous, my mother would tell me when I introduce myself, to make sure to say that I was half-Korean and not mixed.

      1. You’re talking about Japan and South Korea, two of the most homogeneous countries in the world. China, however is a different story, with 56 ethnic groups and their pathological affection of white people. No, they won’t bully overprivilleged Eurasian kids, they’ll only target the underprivileged children of migrant worker parents.

        1. Really? That’s good to hear! My previous job was owned by a Chinese man with a Korean wife. It was a nice place with mostly Asian workers which is where I met the Japanese lady. Anyways, He sent his son to Chinese school and the boy always came home crying that he didn’t want to go anymore because they said he wasn’t Chinese. Of course they’re just kids and all.

          But how would the child be treated of he was not underprivileged, maybe above, but the other half not being white/European?
          Genuinely interested 🙂

          1. You know how Asian society looks down on dark skinned people, same goes here. Does this kid go to school in China?

          2. A little correction, I meant to say “it’s same there”, I was not sure of the meaning of “same goes here”.

        2. “China, however is a different story, with 56 ethnic groups and their pathological affection of white people.”

          Not so sure about the white people part. It’s probably less about affection and more about curiosity.

  4. It is really interesting to read these things. We have now a “mixed” baby and I am wondering how his everyday life will be here in Germany later in kindergarten and school.

  5. I would imagine every biracial child will have to figure out their dual identity. It probably helps to embrace both sides, even when you need to be critical. I think it also relates to how you look. If you look more Asian, you would be treated more Asian.

  6. Asian society tends to be more tolerant of Asian-white mixed race people, not mixed with any other groups. Actually Chinese-white person will be more accepted than a Chinese-Japanese person. White Americans on the other hand probably are not every accepting of anyone other than white, in general…not all, but in general.

  7. “Asian society tends to be more tolerant towards biracial people.” It ‘s not that simple. Biracial non whites often report racism that is far more complex than the “who are you, where are you from?” type ignorance. Also, what is wrong with people asking someone about their identity. Thats not stereotyping.

    To the main poster: nice post. Actually research shows that these very identity crisis and exposure to two different parent culture makes bicultural people more intelligent/ able to straddle cultural dilemmna better, makes them more creative etc. Look up research on bi-cultural.

    1. Yeah, black and East Indian people are oftenly discriminated in East Asia, people often patronize the whites and treats blacks and East Indians with little regard.

      1. “Yeah, black and East Indian people are oftenly discriminated in East Asia…”

        East Asian-looking Indians in the Northeast of India are often discriminated by Indians because they don’t look Indian. There was a recent incident where some kid was beaten to death in public just because of his looks.

        1. Well, the thing about discrimination in East Asia is that it rarely turns violently. I’m aware of how Hindus treat East Asian looking residents and Muslims.

  8. @ Chimin.

    I agree with your viewpoint that Chinese tend to view the white folks in high regard while look down at East Indians and blacks. This is most unfortunate. I can only wish that everyone should be treated equally with dignith and respect.

    1. Unfortunately, it’s not only a Chinese thing, you can also encounter this kind of behavior in South Korea and Japan as well, probably has to do with their monoracial and homogeneous demographic make up.

  9. I feel with being bi-racial, there’s that feeling of loneliness. It’s more than simply having bi-cultural issues. Perhaps how an individual, let’s say Chinese, grew up in the west. That person could face bi-cultural issues and yet when that person visits China, he/she would be still be treated like a fellow Chinese.

    With a bi-racial person, sometimes it’s different. It’s like a foreigner living in a foreign country. No matter how he/she feels at home and speaks the language, people will always approach you as a foreigner. I don’t mean this in the negative way or in reference to discrimination btw. When you’re bi-racial, it makes you wonder “But I’m not a foreigner! I’AM part of this culture! I’AM living in my own country!”, but still waking up everyday hearing “Wow! You speak this language so well for a foreigner! How long have you lived here?”.

    Sometimes you’re cool with who you are and you may not face negativity, just annoyance. That bi-racials are exotic. Or extra smart. Annoyance at marking yourself as “other” on a paper.

    Of course everyone faces different experiences and I can’t speak for all. It’s always interesting when I meet someone from a country and they say “I didn’t fit in with my own country so I left and I LOVE living overseas!”. And then it made me wonder, what if you place a lot of time trying to fit into your cultures but somewhere in the future you end up living in a completely different one?

    1. I beg to differ, a second cousin twice removed of mine is married to a white Canadian, every time she brought home her biracial son, he’s always doted with affection, and people not related to him don’t distance him as just other laowai kid, people just thought a he’s a little different from the Chinese, but certainly not foreign.

  10. I always thought that being a mixed child offers the best of two different worlds. I see my friend’s daughter who is half Canadian and half Taiwanese embraces it and is proud of it. She loves celebrating the holidays from two cultures. However, I think it is easy to be a mixed child in Taiwan – she is not judged or asked questions, and her big eyes and white skin get constant compliments.

  11. Bi-racial kids (white and asian) are viewed as more exotic in Asia. I think they generally do better in Asia for that reason. In US, the mixed kids are forming the new minority group. More and more places (job and college) start to have a category to have you self-identify.
    If you feel lonely being bi-racial in US, consider moving to an urban area where you can find many people like yourself. It is less exotic being bi-racial in US, but it is also making you feeling normal within such a diverse population.

  12. This “best of both worlds” idea I hear from people regarding mixed-race children is so cliched and annoying. What if these children have terrible upbringings? Do they have the “worst of both worlds”? Stop treating people like this. Gawd damn.

  13. “When you’re bi-racial, it makes you wonder “But I’m not a foreigner! I’AM part of this culture! I’AM living in my own country!”, but still waking up everyday hearing “Wow! You speak this language so well for a foreigner! How long have you lived here?”.”

    Happens to Asian Americans all the time in the US..and no most of them are not biracial and their ancestors probably migrated before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. There is only one country in the world that does not happen..Republic of Singapore and unfortunately, it is also changing for the worse.

    1. It’s easier for Brits and Aussies to find jobs in Hollywood than natural born Asian-American actors, Anglo-Saxon surnames and white faces are what you need to feel “all American”.

  14. @Chimin…App 1,000 out of 6,000 actors (minor and major) are white foreigners, mostly from the UK..and the racist anti-immigration groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies and Federation of American Immigration Reform, Numbers USA, etc. have nothing to say about American workers in Hollywood loosing jobs to foreigners…but then let us have 650,000 out of 15 million tech workers on visas, all hell breaks loose from these groups as well as racist US Senators such as Jeff Sessions…why? The latter is mostly Asian. So it has to be cheap labor…Racism and plain and simple from the American public, groups and politicians…and oh what makes them not really on the side of the American worker…if you outsource those tech jobs to other countries, bigots like Sessions and Perdue enthusiastically do it.

    1. Yeah.These politicians are in corporations’ pocket, but in order to get good ol’ southern boys votes, they have to redirect all the hate towards non-white immigrants and countries that produce the cheap”crap” that rednecks could afford with their sh!t salary.

  15. If you are in Asian-white marriage, particularly Asian male with a white female, it is best to live in Hawaii or Coastal Californa and of course Seattle. If you cannot live in those places, for the sanity of the kids, you are better off living in Asia and the best country for this is Singapore where no one cares what you are.

  16. Generalisation alert.
    it is interesting that North America seems to be a place where people are identified as ‘African American’ , ‘Italian American’ etc., or by a particular ethnic subdivision of ‘American’
    I never hear of ‘British French’, or ‘African German’: Europeans talk of themselves as French, Spanish, British etc.
    This labelling is very divisive and as an outsider with a mixed cultural background (European), it seems that many are unable to be proud to stand up (whatever their racial ancestry), and say ‘American’.
    Granted that there are different cultural backgrounds that come together, but accepting the individual for who they are with a mixed cultural heritage, and embracing the differences is not something to be derided or feel inferior about.

  17. I feel very naive recently. I remember reading Fresh off the Boat and being shocked by the fact Eddie Huang, who is three years my senior, was being bullied just for being Chinese! Reading and hearing these things too make me feel scared as well. Believe it or not I have experienced discrimination when it comes to religion and even appearance, but I hope to have kids one day, and I don’t want them to experience discrimination or racism in their lives.

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