For many years, whenever the government and public agencies asked me for demographic information I had to choose one racial identity. Having to declare one ethnicity churned up emotional conflict for me because I am biracial.
My father was a tall, blue-eyed Caucasian American. I inherited his height, long limbs, and look white to the casual observer. My mother was from Japan. I inherited her black hair (now mostly gray), her nose and cheekbones.
At first, I checked the White/Caucasian box because I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and most of my friends were white. But I’m proud of my Japanese heritage and culture, and I wanted to acknowledge this part of me as well. In my late twenties I started checking the Japanese/Asian box.
Naturally, this made me feel like I had turned my back on my Irish ancestors. Why do I have to choose one racial identity when I have two? I have white American relatives and I have Japanese relatives.
In 2000, the US Census Bureau gave people the option to select more than one racial identity for the first time and more than 6 million of us opted to check more than one box. By 2010, 9 million people reported being multiracial. Today we even have a president–Barack Obama–who is multiracial.
Last year the Pew Research Center published a report, Multiracial in America. Multiracial Americans are a growing demographic and, like me, most embrace their mixed heritage and are more open to other cultures. Give it a read. It’s our future.