Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!

A Racial Criteria: Love, Family and Long-Term Consequences

Now, more than ever, we have the technology and freedom to manufacture and accommodate the specificity of our chosen families and social networks. In a mix-match world of diversity, tolerance, racism and cultural cluelessness, is love really blind when it comes long-term commitments? Or is it just a matter of social comfort?

A little less than two years ago, I flew to Missouri and became an egg-donor to an interracial, infertile couple seeking to make a part-Asian baby. Although I am in the dark about the outcome of the procedure, the thought that I technically may have a biological son or daughter living somewhere in Kansas City slightly irks me from time to time. This hypothetical child crosses my mind as I often wonder if he/she will ever know that his/her genes were meticulously chosen from a pool of applicants. I was picked because my genetic make-up just so happened to match a certain criteria idealized by his/her parents to fit their familial needs, a racial criteria.

Since the beginning of time, human beings have migrated towards other human beings who possessed similar qualities to their own. Although every circumstance is different, as a species, when it comes to relationships, we tend to be attracted to familiarity and comfort as opposed to things that are scary and foreign (unless we’re on vacation and exoticism kicks in). That is why mixed-race children are still somewhat of a minority. However, minorities are no exception to this rule, as we also tend to reach out and find one another among the masses.

Za Martohardjono meets me at a bar in Prospect Heights. Sporting a shaved head, long-sleeved shirt and tennis shoes under baggy jeans, Za is inexplicably beautiful and seemingly androgynous. To respect Za’s wishes, I will not be referring to Za using the term “he” or “she” in this article, but simply by using Za’s name alone. Za grew up in Queens to an Indonesian mother and Italian-American father. Being a mixed race person who also happens to be a member of the queer culture, for Za, the subject of having children is especially complicated. Over a Corona and a glass of wine, we discussed our thoughts on family and racial upbringing.

“I’ve had conversations about that thought,” says Za, “How complicated it would be for me to have a kid just because it would be such a conscience decision what that child’s race background would be.”

“Oh, because you would get to choose,” I assume.

“I would have to choose. Well, not that I especially would have to choose. I think everybody does choose, but not everybody talks about it as a choice. People talk about it as kind of like—oh we just came together da da da—and maybe they don’t put into perspective like what feels comfortable to them in terms of the race of their partner. A lot of that just gets overlooked. If your partner is the same race as you maybe it just feels like, well of course, and there’s no question.”

Although we are technically free to date whoever we’re attracted to here in America, segregation is sometimes voluntary. Innumerable white women have only dated white men and vice versa. Many Asian men will only consider marrying an Asian woman and vice versa. Whether it’s articulated, for every race, there are more than a handful of people who consider matching skin color to be an important factor when pairing up and building a home. This criteria plays into their rules of reproduction. Although I can’t recall if I’ve ever met a biracial person who is racially selective when it comes to mating, as a hapa, I’m addled as to what my role is when it comes down to all of this. I know in the back of my mind that my sheer existence destructs the very notion of racial preservation and hold a certain pride in this involuntary accomplishment. On the other hand, I crave a sense of racial community to a degree that can be slightly obsessive. My desire to make the biracial identity “whole”, rather than “half” by societal standards often spirals out of control to the point where I have repeatedly analyzed in my head the following scenario:

1. I reproduce with a man who possesses the same racial make-up as myself, Japanese and German American.
2. This act of mating results in me conceiving many children who are Japanese and German American as well. Thus, I would have a family of Germanese-American people.
3. One of my Germanese-American children grows up to become president.
4. He/she enforces a law that every living Germanese person must make mating with other Germanese people a priority when it comes to love and family.
5. Within ten years we have our own country called Gerpanamerica. Every citizen of Gerpanamerica speaks three languages and I am queen.

Then again, thinking about it always gives me a headache. I go over the logistics of Gerpanamerica in my mind as Za brings up another interesting point.

“I think that sometimes mixed race couples also fall into another territory that is really problematic. That kind of exoticism or attraction just because they are different from you or they’re not white. Or whatever it is.”

Za’s comment makes me question the certain level of exoticism that unites a number of interracial couples. I wonder what my own father was thinking when he brought my ex-hippie Japanese mother to rural Ohio in the 1970s to meet his family for the first time after they eloped. Was it radical blind love or was my father just always specifically into Asian women (I’ve found him google searching hot Asian babes on the family computer countless times during my adolescence)? When his family praised her unfamiliar Asian features did he feel like he’d accomplished something? When they “jokingly” called her derogatory names after she sunbathed and became tan, did he defend her or laugh along because it was considered harmless? Are issues like that still relevant today? Yes and no. Interracial love is definitely not as taboo as it was considered when my mother was getting married. However, our mainstream-marketed “post-racism” world makes it often difficult for mixed-race couples to understand the complicated nature of their own foundation.

Children of mixed race couples are often the target of simultaneous glorification and rejection by if not just one (which is more than enough), multiple racial communities. This glorification/rejection cycle follows us continuously from our childhood into our adulthood. I think of Teddy Hose, my fellow Germanese friend who grew up in Westchester. He once told me a story of how he was walking back to his friend’s place when he was twelve-years old and noticed two kids sitting against a brick wall staring at him. Teddy didn’t know how or why they spotted him but out of nowhere, they yelled, “Hey! Sushi and Meat-loaf don’t mix!”

In contrast, I remember being considered somewhat of a commodity in Japan where many hapa children were models and actresses. On the first day of summer school when I entered my classroom in Shimabara, my peers gawked at me through the glass windows of the school hallway as if I were a celebrity just because I looked American. They attempted to communicate with me in broken English even though I was fluent in Japanese, making me feel like a true gaijin. However, when I actually moved to America, my Kentuckian fourth grade classmates would mock me in “ching chong” gibberish when I wore a yukata for heritage day. I had magically transformed from being perceived as an American cowgirl to a scared Asian girl in a new world. How does this seesaw swing of extremes tend to affect us long-term?

“I guess the conclusion I came to,” Za explains, “is if I were to adopt a child, that would be a difficult choice for me because it’s personally important for me to have a mixed race child or a child of color just because I would want to feel a certain sense of affinity with my child. I would want be able to, in moments of crisis tell them what it was like for me and be able to be there for that kid the way that my parents weren’t in some ways. For my mom, being Asian in largely European communities was definitely an experience of otherness, but then I am careful to remember moments where she in fact told me, like, oh… well you didn’t know about this or that because you’re white. You know? And there was such a feeling of rejection of where I felt I was coming from and how complicated it was for me that it made me realize oh, she has had these experiences but ultimately she doesn’t see me that way. And I was really resentful towards her. I was angry for a while.”

Although the notion of love surpassing all racial differences is beautiful and something I believe to be completely achievable, it’s definitely still complicated and unfortunately has the potential to become problematic. Love, especially interracial love takes certain strength and nurturing to make it work long term. Hidden underneath martial bliss is the threat of a mixed-race child ultimately having to “pay” a harsh and unfair debt to society for their parents’ cultural differences and boldness. Even though these factors shouldn’t matter, we cannot overlook the fact that societal prejudices still do exist. A vast majority of the world holds the notion of racial preservation at a high regard and would do anything to keep it that way. Times have changed, but we still do not live in a post-racism world, although we like to believe in it. So where does that leave us? The best that we can do, although I’m not one to preach, is to be bold and love blindly but be aware and cautious of its social consequences. And as for the hypothetical baby I helped make out there somewhere in Kansas City, I hope your parents will teach and protect you in moments of crisis. If not, give me a call.


© 2008 Leah Nanako Winkler

family hapa identity multiracial relationships