How My Parents Shaped My Mixed Race Identity

Parents are often the stewards of our development and the beacons of morality. So, how does one navigate themselves when their imparter does not share the same experience? My internal self-reflection of my own racial identity as a mixed race individual has been and will always be closely linked to my two monoracial parents, but I have also come to the realization that I did not have the same experiences as my parents growing up and they will not have the same experience as a mixed race individual despite their proximity to it. I believe this is important because this understanding of identity formation is not hard, fixed features like race, gender, class, or the intersection of thereof, but a continuous evolving amorphous object that changes over time. Many articles argue that locale of the minority parent as it relates to gender and to a smaller degree, if at all, social capital factor in the racial identification of mixed race individual (Xie, 1996; Schlabach, 2013), but I do believe that in the socioeconomic context of people’s lives parents play a part to children’s racial identity indirectly and directly (Heard, 2006).

My parents never married and had me at a relative young age (23 for my mom and 25 for my dad.) Both grew up with each other in suburbia Orange County in a city called Huntington Beach and knew each other through school. They suffered through teenage angst, suffocation and entrapment of the suburbs, and uncertainty to endure similar and different tragedies in their lives. My dad, who is white, was a military kid that never stayed in one place too long except for Huntington Beach and dealt with the family curse of alcoholism. My mom is Japanese American and she had to navigate a predominately white space while being a minority, unwind the historical trauma of internment and post-war Japan that my Nisei (2nd generation) grandfather and Issei (1st generation) grandmother carried, and negotiate the pressure of acculturation. In their inner circle of friends and family they had to deal with teenage pregnancy and suicide. This is important because it lays the context of having me at a young age, growing up while negotiating parenthood, and eventually my racial identity. It wasn’t until I understood this context that I began to really accept my mixed roots.

Shortly after my birth, my father’s whiteness opened an opportunity of upward social mobility by leaving his dead-end jobs in California and becoming trained as an airplane mechanic in Indiana. I ended up only seeing him during the summer and his presence was only felt through child support checks. I grew up mostly in his absence and because of that I understand the impact of the locality of the minority parent being a mother. During this time my mom eked a living on food stamps and medi-cal, while taking care of her children and my grandfather’s failing health. It was at that time I strongly identified with my Japanese side and became hyper-demonstrative to prove my “Japaneseness”. I understand when Martis wrote in a Salon article that she, “despised [her] father; his absence humiliated [her]. Not only did [she] loathe his withdrawn parenting, but I hated his genes. I inherited his dark skin and large nose” (Martis 2014). The absence of a parent for a mixed race individual can cause that individual to align themselves exclusively with their remaining parent’s racial identity.


he inescapability of your mixed identity despite your relationship with your parents become apparent through phenotypical markers like being branded by a tattoo. Your body becomes a signifier and an invitation for people to ask, “what are you/where are you from?” As Martis eloquently explains that she, “realized that inheritance is attributed with likeness; to belong to your family, you must look alike. Not alike in the eye shape, frown lines or smile, but alike in skin color. In our society, skin pigmentation is the greatest marker that sets us apart from one another. When a child looks different from her family members due to that pigmentation, her inheritance is questioned” (Martis 2014). Hair, body type, eyes, and skin color become a mosaic that links you to your parents and adds another layer to your racial identity. I was born with brownish curly hair that grew out to be black with slight curls only noticeable once it reaches a certain length. But those blonde/brownish hairs didn’t die at a young age, they occasionally pop-up as body hairs and in my mustache and beard as a little reminder to not forget my mixed roots. My hair and body type/ shape are imprints that link me to my father. My complexion, eyes, and other obvious features are things that I have inherited from my mother and embraced when I was younger because it was a tangible connection to being Japanese. Although Blackness and whiteness, therefore power, in American society is closely linked to the amount or lack of melanin in your skin, the one thing I didn’t overtly experience was colorism. I tended to be one of the darkest in my family; my color does change with the season and amount of time I spent outside. This was probably because my families grew up in Southern California with beaches and didn’t receive the same social cues or stigma to stay indoors or conform to white beauty standards. Understanding the relation of my body as it relates to my parents, along with self-love and body positivity, allowed me to accept my mixed race identity and challenge the notion of phenotype as a marker for race or ethnic background.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself as white passing, the socioeconomic differences between my dad’s life in Indiana and my mom’s in California taught me about white privilege and your association to whiteness. Even though race is socially constructed, we live in a system in which race plays a key role in power, accessibility of upward social mobility, and interpersonal interactions/ level of microaggressions. For example, my father had access to product signifiers of middle class America; He didn’t need to worry about food insecurity and could afford to buy brand names and the standard iphone/ipod/other products that help define the middle class. That was not the same lived experience as my mom, who hustled to get things on sale. I would get the occasional stares and comments, “who’s the Chinese kid with that guy?” but my proximity to my dad’s whiteness shielded me from far worse microaggressions. People in Indiana were friendly, kind, and hospitable to me.


It took me till I was 23 years old developing my career, that I developed an appreciation of what my father and mother did for me. Though I would have wish things were different and my father was around more often, I could not imagine having a kid before 25 and making a tough decisions regarding career and providing for a child. This allowed me to let go of my resentment towards him and acceptance of my mixed race identity. In looking back he did ease the racial divide the best he could. He spent time in Japan growing up while my grandfather was stationed there, even going to elementary school which bridged the gap. There was shoyu and furikake always on hand and our go to places to eat out was sushi. We always connected through baseball, despite him being a Yankee fan and me an Angel fan. I’m grateful for what my mother and father did for me, even though they are no longer together. It lead me to a deeper understanding of myself and how parent and child relationships affect the development of racial consciousness and identity formation. If this story connects with you, please comment or share your own experience on how your relationship with your parent(s) or chosen family shaped your identity.



  • Heard, H. and Bratter, J. 2006. “Racial and Ethnic Differences In Parent-Child Relationships: Does Mixed Race Matter?”Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. < >
  • Martis, Eternity E. “Owning my mixed-race identity: Why I don’t have to choose sides.” Salon. N.p., 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.
  • Schlabach, S. (2013), The Importance of Family, Race, and Gender for Multiracial Adolescent Well-being. Fam Relat, 62: 154–174. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00758.x
  • Xie Y, Goyette K. The racial identification of biracial children with one Asian parent: Evidence from the 1990 Census. Social Forces. 1997; 76:547– 570.


Chris Weir is a haifu (half Japanese half white) community organizer that is part of KmB Pro-people youth (a progressive grassroots organization in Historical Filipinotown in Los Angeles) and Nikkei Progressives (a progressive organization based in Little Tokyo). Chris is an avid cyclist and his next project is organizing bike rides in Japantowns in Southern California with the hope to share local Nikkei histories, link communities together through biking, support local businesses and community programs, and share a vision for equitable and sustainable development and transportation. Professionally Chris works at APAIT (a local non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization that works to positively impact medical underserved communities through culturally competent and linguistically relevant programs) as an Outreach and Testing specialist. On his free time Chris likes to run, play with his Australian cattle dog named Kora, and try new things.

BOOK REVIEW – Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post Racial World


Sharon H. Chang’s inaugural book, Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post Racial World, lays out a blue print that outlines the history of white supremacy and how it has corrupted the way people treat each other, specifically Mixed Race/ Multiracial and Multiracial Asian individuals. She develops an important foundation that provides a glimmer of hope for moving forward toward improving our future world, despite the powerful suppressive system before us.

The title might make you think it is a parenting book, and it is (or could be), but it so much more! The language/verbiage used in the book makes this potentially academic/research strong book accessible for those who might have the most questions…parents. Though this book has a focus on multiracial Asian children, it is not just a book for parents of multiracial Asian children. It is a book for all children of color…and even for parents of white children! This book is for anyone who comes in contact with children in any way. This means if you are a teacher/educator, a child care worker, do research with children or on race and intersectionaility…or if you are a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or once was a child. This book is for everyone!

The book is based on Chang’s interviews with 68 parents of 75 young children living in Washington State. She does not go into detail about her recruitment and method, however she does discuss this in my recent interview with her (see Part 1 of 2 below). She intertwines her findings with current and historical events, existing scholarly research and reports, her expertise in tracking dialogue across social media, her own multiracial Asian experience and more.

The focus is on children from 0 to 5 years old. This is an age that has been neglected in most parenting books and research with a multiracial focus. This is also an age during which many parents think that their children do not recognize/see race; however Chang shows us that they absolutely do. Young children are learning from the subtle and often unspoken systematic racism that is infused throughout every aspect of our society.

Chang makes it clear that the understanding of race begins in the home. In a world that is fearful to discuss how white supremacy has been engrained into society and families generation after generation…it is time families start having these difficult conversations. Chang warns that race is not easy to discuss, but essential and does not have to be done alone. It can be done through community. Her last chapter provides specific examples of how to address race in the community, school, and home.

This is the first book that I have seen, that looks at racial identity development, and puts systematic racism and white supremacy where it belongs…. at the beginning and linked over and over again to the end. To understand and address race issues with our children, we must begin with its origin story. When attempting to comprehend the lens in which race issues are created, we must understand the frame in which that lens is held together – white supremacy. Chang tells it like it is. She lifts the curtain on age-old white ideas of race, breaks down history, language and concepts that have created divisions between people who look different or do not follow the prescribed norms. For example, she breaks down how the trending term microagression was created from a white lens and points out there is nothing small or mirco about them! She deconstructs terms used in medical spaces, such as “Mongolian Spots” that have racist origins; and many individuals have just come to believe that is what they are called (See Part 2 of 2 below for more on this). Additionally, she provides a fantastic response to the common question/idea “But aren’t we all mixed?” in one of the most eloquently written explanations I have seen. Watch Part 2 of 2 below to hear about how she responds to the question and her new elevator response to this question!

The book is coming out just in time for the holidays, and will make a great gift. It should be on everyone’s 2016 reading list! You can order the book on the publisher site  or on Amazon.

Be sure to join Sharon on December 11th for her Facebook launch party. She will be partying all day and giving away some great prizes. Don’t miss it!

You can find the Multiracial Asian Families community and blog page on Facebook, the book page on Facebook. You can fin her on Twitter @mutliasianfams, Pinterest, or on her blog MultiAsian Families.


Watch my recent interview with Sharon!

Part 1 – She shares her mixed roots story, how the book came to be and more!

Part 2 -We discuss content from the book including: “Mongolian spots”, miss-education and the need for reeducation around racist terms, how to respond to -“Everybody is Mixed”, Culture vs. Race, Anti-bias curricula, learning environments and more.

Chandra Crudup, PhD, MSW
 is a board member and co-founder of Mixed Roots Stories. She is the Vice President of MAVIN and the Production Manager for One Drop of Love. Chandra is full time Lecturer and Faculty Associate Coordinator in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She has over six years of practice experience in K-12 schools. Her research interests are centered on multiracial identity and interracial relationships. Her research utilizes video technology as a qualitative data gathering tool. She is also interested in using the arts as a medium to build positive self-esteem in youth.