MIXED Panel: How to navigate and juggle multiple heritages at once

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We all have different stories, different backgrounds, different struggles and different identities. While there needs to be a focus on various ethnicities and races, it is imperative to not dismiss individuals who identify with multiple races. On Wednesday evening, MIXED, a collaborative program created by the Asian American Cultural Center and the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, hosted a panel discussion centered around what it is like to come from a mixed heritage, the struggles that come along with it and how to embrace it.The panel was comprised of five diverse individuals: three students, Grace Player, an assistant professor at the Neag School of Education and Dr. Shareen Hertel, a political science professor.

One major struggle all panelists have experienced is the fracturing of identities that comes along with being mixed. For example, you’re either too white or too Puerto Rican. Too white to fit into the Asian community, but not white enough to separate from it. Ben, an eighth-semester biology major, shared a specific example.

“Whenever I interacted with a group of Puerto Ricans, and I said I was half Puerto Rican, because they see me as just white, they don’t believe me and I even get quizzed on my own culture,” he said.

In order to be accepted, Ben was expected by the Puerto Rican community to shed his white culture, and vice versa. Individuals are placed in a middle ground, being pulled in completely different directions by completely different heritages.

This separation of identities does not only take place between two cultures, but also within one. Hertel said she experiences the hierarchy within a certain race through the experiences of her adopted Chinese child. Not only does her daughter confront the struggles that come along with being born in a culture that is overflowing with patriarchy, she is also subjected to the judgements within her own Asian American community. Whether it be because she is adopted and thus deemed “less than,” or because she is constantly feeling the societal pressures that have been racially assigned to her, Hertel says that the racism she experiences does not come from solely other ethnicities, but also her own.

There can be multiple variables that may make someone feel inadequate when identifying with a specific heritage, such as not being born there, never visiting the country one’s family is from, or not knowing the native tongue. However, sixth-semester human rights and anthropology double major Isabella, combats this by continually learning about her heritage. From actively learning Spanish or informing herself about her small hometown in Guatemala, Isabella is continually expanding her knowledge. Player experienced the same detachment from her mother’s Asian and Brazilian heritage. Throughout her adult life, Player has made a conscious effort to learn about all of her mother’s experiences and how they have influenced her own personal life.

UConn strives to be a warm and welcoming environment where students and faculty alike can feel comfortable in sharing their experiences and their hurdles in the journey we call life. Ben, a member of MIXED, feels that “identity is something that the culture of this campus really values.”

The five different cultural centers (African American Cultural Center, Asian American Cultural Center, Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, Rainbow Center and Women’s Center) are safe spaces that anyone can visit, regardless if they are part of a specific culture. Heterosexual individuals are welcomed by the Rainbow Center and African American individuals are welcomed by the Asian American Cultural Center.

To learn more, the annual Cultural Center Open House is taking place on the fourth floor of the Student Union at 6 p.m. tonight.


Jordana Castelli is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at jordana.castelli@uconn.edu.

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