Ottawa·First Person

I've been called 'half-breed' and 'mutt.' I'm a biracial Asian woman and proud

Emily Wong of Pembroke, Ont., writes about growing up biracial in a small town and why she wants her kids to connect with their Asian heritage.

Emily Wong writes about growing up biracial and why she wants her kids to connect with their Asian roots

Emily Wong writes about her experience growing up in Pembroke, Ont., as a biracial woman who experienced racism. (Submitted by Emily Wong)

This First Person article is the experience of Emily Wong, a biracial woman who grew up in Pembroke, Ont. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

As a child I was a huge Harry Potter fan, and I remember identifying with the character Hermione Granger. She was singled out at her school for being a "Mudblood" or "Muggle-born," two terms that imply she was somehow dirty and impure for being born and raised by two non-magical humans.

Other students told Hermione that she did not belong because she was not a "pure-blooded witch." Being exposed to these deeply prejudicial and discriminatory beliefs led her to experience an identity crisis that I have often felt, too.

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Throughout my life, I have been referred to as a "half-breed," "mutt," and a "mixed-race" person. 

I am biracial. My mother is a Caucasian woman with blond hair and blue eyes, and my father is Chinese. When people see me, they often aren't sure what my race is or how they can categorize me. 

To the Caucasian community, I am viewed as different, and part of a visible minority. However, to the Asian community I am seen as white because I am not fluent in the Cantonese language and do not have some physical Chinese attributes.

Throughout my life, I have often wondered where I fit in. In fact, when I got married, I chose not to legally change my last name, Wong, because I was afraid that if I had a Caucasian last name people would no longer view me as Asian and I would lose that identity completely.

A young Emily Wong, left, with her dad and sister. Wong's mother is Caucasian and her father is Chinese. (Submitted by Emily Wong)

Growing up as a biracial person in the predominantly white town of Pembroke, Ont., I have experienced racism many times.

There is one incident in particular that still causes my mother anxiety. I was eight years old and my sister and I were being babysat by my maternal grandmother. She got a phone call that evening from an anonymous person stating that they were affiliated with the "KKK" and they had targeted our home because my parents were in an interracial marriage and had two biracial children.

Throughout my life, I have often wondered where I fit in.- Emily Wong

As a result, there was a police investigation, and they recommended that my parents notify my elementary school so that my sister and I could be kept inside at recess and more closely monitored. The investigation concluded and the suspect was never found. My family was terrified after this incident occurred and became hyper-vigilant about our safety. 

I recall another time when my mother took me to the local video store to rent a movie. 

My mother's married name is Wong, but because she is visibly Caucasian with a Chinese last name, the cashier did not believe she was who she said she was, instead contacting my father to confirm my mother's identity. She said she felt angry and violated. 

Wong, centre, with her mom and sister. Wong recalls an incident at a video rental store that left her mom feeling angry and violated. (Submitted by Emily Wong)

Over the years, I have received comments from people in my community such as, "Well at least you don't look that Asian," or, "At least you can still pass as white," as if being Asian is detrimental. 

Then, there were times when I was not recognized as Chinese and people felt comfortable "joking around" with racial slurs targeting Asians. When I spoke up, I was told, "You're not even that Asian, so you shouldn't be so offended."

WATCH | Emily Wong shares her story: 

First Person: What it’s like growing up biracial in a small town

1 year ago
Duration 1:28
Emily Wong talks about the challenges of growing up biracial in the small Ontario town of Pembroke, and why she’s ultimately hopeful for the future.

I have also felt a form of discrimination that is unique to people who are biracial — the times when I was left out of discussions about racism and discrimination because I am also half Caucasian.   

Overall, this has made me feel insecure, and at times, unaccepted in my own community. 

Celebrating Chinese culture with my kids

But for me, being biracial also has its advantages, particularly for me as a mom. 

My daughter Rowan, 4, and my son Reese, 3, are one-quarter Chinese. At first glance, some people may not believe my children are of Asian descent, but I have made sure that Chinese culture is part of our family's life — hand-making won-tons together and celebrating Chinese New Year every year with little red envelopes and a family dinner. 

Wong and her two children Rowan, left, and Reese. She hopes her children will continue to celebrate their Asian heritage. (Submitted by Emily Wong)

I feel our society is moving in the right direction, but there is still some work to be done in combating anti-Asian racism, as well as racism toward biracial populations. We need to normalize interracial marriages and minimize the shocked reaction some have toward it.

The derogatory terms I heard as a child are not OK. I am hopeful that my children will not experience racism like I did and instead will connect with and celebrate their heritage — finding the positive in both elements coming together. 

I hope more biracial people will continue to speak up, educate and raise awareness to pave the way for biracial generations to come.

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