My father was German/Irish, my mother is Taiwanese, and my step mother is Singaporean–a pretty standard bi-racial post-nuclear family setup.
When I was little in the early 90s, I lived in mixed-ethnicity expatriate communities in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand where other kids like me were the norm. My best friend when I was 4 was Japanese and we never spoke to each other because we didn't speak each other's languages; our relationship revolved around legos and pool parties.
My schools were private, international, highly-organised, and religious. I suppose if my family had stayed overseas, I would have ended up hobnobbing with the State Department and international high-roller set, but my father wanted my sister and I to have an “American upbringing”, whatever that was supposed to be.
I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona at age nine and got right into assimilating before I knew the meaning of the word. My idea of America at the time was mostly patched together from the handful of trips to see my Oma and Opa, my German grandparents. As a result, I thought the Beach Boys and classical music were en vogue.
As a racially and ethnically amorphous 9 year old, going from a high rise in Bangkok, where I learned to ride a bike in our building's underground parking lot, to the wide open spaces of the American Southwest, I should have been more shocked, but I more or less breezed right through it. Within a year I was playing baseball, poorly, roller blading, poorly, and was listening to music for people under 60, namely Korn and Limp Bizkit, to the chagrin of my parents.
I was more or less a white kid; this feeling was facilitated in no small part to the sheltering of my sister and myself at private schools where kids spent more time stealing alcohol from their parents' cabinets than pointing out skin color differences of other students. Until my second year in high school when I moved to Los Angeles, I was completely, amnesciatically ignorant of my exceptional cultural upbringing.
My high school in North Scottsdale educated under 800 students in its first year (the year I was there), 80% of whom were white; Redondo Union High School educated 2,300 students, 48% of whom were white. It was different. People were interesting. There was variety. Teenagers did things outside of their un-air conditioned homes without the oversight of parents.
There was a beach, the sprawl, a downtown, an East Side, a West Side, parties, hang outs, restaurants, jobs, punk bands, raves, and Mitsuwa, the latter two of which I became fairly acquainted. Being neither sporty, nor popular, nor gangy, nor beachy, I wedged myself inbetween the really nerdy kids of academic decathalon and the creative underachiever crowd, a place solidly multi-cultural and distinctly lower-middle class.
My friends were Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, White, and White Hispanic, all American-born. It was in this group that I found my way back to my heritage, albeit in a round about way–through Japan.
My two groups of belonging aligned on an interest in Anime. The acadec team was so enamoured with it that we persuaded our teacher to study it in class, dissecting famous examples with Feminist, Environmental, and Technological philosophical frameworks. The creative underachievers also watched plenty of anime culminating in the yearly trek to AnimeExpo, a combination underage drug-party, nerd-gasm unique to the LA experience.
We loitered around Ktown and Jtown, with occasional forays to Monterey Park and San Gabrielle, but the perennial hangout was Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocer and mini-mall, where they sold us sake and cigarettes without carding. Being in an introspective part of life and facilitated by some overseas trips with my parents to Asia, Europe, and Australia, I finally began to notice that I wasn't that white after all. LA, at least for me, was the place where Whites and Asians live in harmony and to my teenage self that was pretty rad.
Then I went to college in San Luis Obispo, which compared to LA is the whitest place ever. I'll summarise the next 5 years of my life: cultural starvation followed by slow agonising death.
But here I am now, in San Francisco, living with my white girlfriend in the Outer Sunset district, a neighbourhood that's 60% Asian and 50% foreign born, and it really feels like home. Maybe it's the high number of multi-racial relationships I see everyday, maybe it's the bi-lingual street signs, maybe it's the socio-economic commonalities that this neighbourhood has with my creative underachiever crew from high school.
But what I really suspect makes me like this place so much is something even older and more intrinsic to my character; I am both a local and a tourist all the time. When I used to walk out into bustling city streets in Hong Kong and Thailand, tugged along by my parents' hands, I was completely immersed in the culture of which I was neither wholly part of nor completely foreign.
It's the inbetween spaces in life that I have always felt most comfortable, in my career as a developer/designer, in my social life as hermit/party organiser, and in my cultural life as white/asian. I've embraced my internal differences and cobbled together an identity that's neither here nor there and so far it's been great.