‘I’m like a chameleon’: How half-Asians at UBC connect with their identities

Growing up part Asian is not a monolithic experience.

While some feel a strong connection to their Asian identity, others often struggle with the dreaded question: ‘Am I Asian enough?’ Some may also appear more ‘white-passing’ while others don’t.

In honour of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, here are the experiences of three half-Asian students at UBC — only scratching the surface of this diverse community.

‘I’m like a chameleon’

Sarah Jhingan, a rising fourth-year biology student, is half-Indian and half-Honduran. She said her experience at UBC as a mixed-race person has largely been positive.

“I feel like it’s allowed me to connect with more people than I would have otherwise because I can relate to my Indian friends ... and then I also have friends who speak Spanish and Portuguese,” she said.

“I’m like a chameleon, which is kind of cool.”

Jhingan, who grew up in Seattle, said that she identifies as more Indian than Latina in Vancouver thanks to the city’s large Indian population. She also has family in the area who she practices cultural traditions with.

“I don’t feel like the token brown kid wherever I am.”

Still, Jhingan said there have been some instances where she has felt out of place.

“[UBC has] the Bollywood club and all that stuff ... and I feel like everyone there’s just speaking their language and then I feel a little bit awkward,” she said.

Jhingan doesn’t view these feelings as an obstacle to participating. “I guess I just see it more as like, that’s just how it is,” she said.

‘I often would micro-analyze things and other myself’

Kaya Shimizu just finished her first year in the faculty of arts.

Growing up half-Japanese, she was introduced to cultural traditions through her father. But, since coming to UBC, Shimizu has thought more about her identity as a half-Japanese person as she met more people from Japan.

“I’m able to relate to a lot of the cultural elements, and I can pick up a bit of language here and there, but [being half-Japanese] can definitely feel [like] something that isolates me,” she said.

Ken Mawer, a rising fifth year, is also half-Japanese — it’s something he likes about himself — but it is not something he brings up in conversations.

“I don’t want to brag or talk about something that’s not of interest to the other person, [but] it’s something that is unique about me,” he said.

Both said that they don’t look Japanese, but that this impacts them differently.

Mawer said his mixed-race appearance is “just something that needs time for people to get used to.” But, for Shimizu, her appearance and limited knowledge of Japanese are sources of insecurity, something that is common among multiracial people.

“I often would micro-analyze things and other myself I guess ... but I do think it is something that I’ve been working to overcome.”

One thing she has done to overcome these insecurities was to run for a position in UBC’s Japanese Student Association.

“At first sight, I really didn’t feel qualified enough ... but then I decided, ‘No, you know what, I think I can offer something to the club.’”

Talking with friends from UBC has also helped Shimizu.

“A lot of my friends have such unique and different backgrounds and experiences,” she said. “[It] made me feel more confident in my own experiences and that again I wasn’t alone in it.”

This article has been updated. A previous edition had misspelled “half-Honduran” as “half-Hondurian”.