Most people pick a race to identify with. Growing up, I didn’t have the option. I’m half Indo-Portuguese and half Swedish, Norwegian, Irish, British, and German. Most people are more than a little annoyed by the time I’m done rattling all the nationalities I’m a part of. Then, they just seem to brush off the fact that I’m mixed or have a “poor you” attitude.

Well, my attitude towards my racial identity is different. Being mixed has taught me so many things. I’m not going to sugarcoat my struggles in the beginning.  It was hard coming to terms with being mixed. Starting out, I never felt like I belonged.

I didn’t have enough ancestry to be considered Indian. Also, my lighter skin as an Indian was sometimes a target, especially when people realized that I was Indo-Portuguese. The Portuguese had one of the worst inquisitions in parts of India, and a good deal of Indians feel resentment towards the Portuguese and the damage they caused. Of course I couldn’t be white. My extremely ethnic features and my smooth mocha skin made sure of that. So, I struggled through an identity crisis, but eventually, I came to terms with my identity as I grew older.

Recently, I realized just how special being mixed is was when I took my senior pictures. Of course, I didn’t read the instructions we were given prior and forgot a tank top. So, I embarrassingly followed after a girl who I thought was Russian to the bathroom and had to change in front of her. Out of nowhere, she asked what my nationality is. I started rattling off my ethnicities and then she told me she was Brazilian. My aunt is Brazilian, so we started passionately talking about the country and her family back home. I left with one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I had the opportunity to connect with a stranger. A stranger who admittedly felt unwelcome in the U.S

I think being mixed just allowed me to come to a certain realization faster than most. We are not defined by what we look like. There is no correlation between color and ability in intelligence or any other measure of competence. Society likes to categorize people because it’s familiar. South Asians are smart, East Asians quiet, White people are “basic,” and everything in between. Sometimes there’s this almost an unspoken expectation that we act like the color of our skin. There are barriers created and people like to sometimes stay with “their people”. Never let anyone tell you that you must be something you’re not. You are your own person. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be something. You don’t have to be anything. You are your own person. You define who you’re going to be. The lines that we draw are illusions and being open to others is what wears them down. Anyone could have connected with the Brazilian woman I met. I’m not an expert on Brazil but I listened to her and really cared. Today, one of the workers at my university was curious about the French press and I showed him how to use it. We are all one together because, if not, we fall. My advice to everyone is step out of your comfort zone. Respectfully, ask people who are different then you. Really listen, and you’ll be surprised at how similar we, as people, really are.