By Sophia Stephens,
All of a sudden, the giggling stopped, and our once-mischievous little circle of elementary schoolers quickly grew tense. We had been sharing our middle names—one coming-of-age ceremony out of many treated with utmost secrecy and importance in the school yard—and in the small Eastern Washington town where I grew up, people visibly reacted to names that were… different. Names that were not like the others.
When I first started experiencing uncomfortable moments around my identity like this one, there was nothing more I wanted than to be normal. To not have a name that made people stop talking out of confusion when they heard it, or a face that people would
twist and squint to get a closer look at to better inform their guesses on my ethnicity.
Growing up mixed race in a small town that was predominantly white meant that people noticed you… not once, not twice, but every time you went out of the house. From the glances to the double-takes, sly sneak peeks to full-on stares, I quickly got used to how people noticed my differences, and came up with my own arsenal of comebacks and conversation-dodgers to get out of yet another casual interrogation about my identity. I grew up feeling like a hesitatingly accepted, well-watched outsider in my hometown, and for mixed race kids who don’t grow up near a cultural or ethnic hub, that is often the reality.
However, it was only a matter of time before I learned that I wasn’t flying solo in the experience of growing up mixed race. With my moves to college and, after graduation, Seattle, I met other people like me, other people who were different, who were not one or the other, but both, people who comfortably existed in
their mixed wholeness, and who could be themselves with me.
After so long, I have finally learned what it is like to notice—and be noticed for—each other’s differences with respect and care.
It just looks like two people asking who the other person is, not what.