“What are you?” is the question that I have been asked most frequently in my life. As a child of a mixed marriage, I never quite fit in. My mother is Russian, and my father is from the small country of Bangladesh, which was at one point a part of India. My father got a medical school scholarship in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he then met my mother, also a student there. A few years later they got married, and I was born.
Growing up I had a serious identity crisis—although I spoke fluent Russian, I was never acknowledged by Russian people (other than my relatives) because I had a darker complexion, darker eyes and hair, and did not look like them. I remember asking my dad why I had to be darker at which point he assured me that years later I will learn to appreciate my complexion. I love reminding him of this moment because he truly did help ease my self-consciousness at that time. However, when you are a child and you are the only one that looks different from those around you, you’re bound to have some issues. I also never felt quite in place with my Bengali family, and I was at an even greater disadvantage because I never learned the language (my father learned to speak Russian, and that is what we spoke at home). To add to that, I did not dress as conservatively as was acceptable, and I was never religious. This is not to say that my relatives do not love or accept me because I am sure they do; this is simply how I felt growing up. So I was stuck in between two cultures, feeling like a half-breed in each one.
As I got older, I slowly started embracing myself. It helped that we were now living in New York City, the place where all cultures run rampant and collide into each other. I learned that there were more than the two cultures that I had been exposed to, and I also learned that there were many other mixed children around me. Armed with this simple, yet new, knowledge, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders—I was not alone. People were also much more accepting of different races, ethnicities, and cultures, and I no longer felt self-conscious about the way that I looked. I learned that people actually found my ethnic background interesting, and it made me value it that much more—I started seeing myself as a whole person, and not just a half-breed; I started seeing myself beyond my mixed ethnicities.
At twenty-seven, I have now learned what a blessing it is to be biracial. Growing up with two very different, even contrasting, cultures, I have learned to appreciate all cultures that much more. It has been said that biracial individuals are more accepting and open-minded, and I find that I am both. I have an eclectic mixture of friends from all races, ethnicities, and upbringings, and I can finally appreciate the fact that by not belonging to one specific culture, I can fit in anywhere. I would like to think that I absorbed the positives out of each of my parents’ cultures, and have been able to create a piecemeal version of myself that I am comfortable being. It is still very hard for people to guess my ethnic background, and it has actually become quite a fun game that I have been playing for years now—when I bartended in college, I was often asked what I was while working, and I would tell the inquirers that they would get free drinks if they could guess; no one ever got free drinks. Another funny instance worth mentioning is the fact that most people assume, based on how I look, that I am Hispanic and get very upset at me when I do not speak Spanish; I have actually been told that I needed to get in touch with my roots. It is shocking just how much we can presuppose about a person solely by their looks.
The increasing number of interracial relationships and mixed children today is astounding. There are now children who come from interracial parents and are juggling four or more ethnicities. It is said that we may eventually all look alike, as one mixed race. Luckily, with increased numbers comes increased acceptance, and hopefully mixed children growing up today and in future generations will not feel as self-conscious and confused as I did as a child. It is important for parents to instill in mixed children a sense of pride in being who they are, even if their family trees may be harder to draw and their backgrounds harder to classify. It is important for all children to grow up seeing more than just race or skin color, but to see others for the people that they are inside, because underneath our outer appearance we all have the same basic needs, we all laugh and cry, and more than anything we all want to be accepted, loved, and understood.