Anna Edelman

My mom was born in Taiwan, she grew up there and moved around a lot. They ended up moving to Saudi Arabia during her teenage years, and eventually she moved to America where she met my dad. My grandma was a single mom, because my grandpa was working in Saudi Arabia for 12 years. [My mom] came [to America] when she was 16, to San Luis Obispo, and my dad's grandparents immigrated here from Russia and Poland, towards the beginning of World War II, so they were escaping the Nazis. They actually immigrated here, to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. 

I think since I grew up in such a predominantly white area, I almost never really felt mixed. I always felt like I was the Asian girl or the Chinese girl, so I feel like I identify a lot more strongly with my Asian side, just because that's how I present and that's kind of how I've been perceived. I am in touch with the Jewish side of me, but I almost have to prove it more because I don't look [Jewish].

But then when I'm also in Asian spaces, they can tell I'm mixed so it's like, kind of a weird dynamic where in some spaces I feel super Asian and in other spaces, I feel super white.

My dad's white, so he doesn't understand that very much, even though everyone in his family is Asian, and there's been times where, when I was younger, people didn't think he was my dad because we don't look alike. Or they won't think he's part of my family because he's a white guy with three Asian presenting people. People would assume I was adopted a lot, which is very strange.

[My best friend and I] were the only two Asian people in our whole grade, in elementary school, and I would constantly get called by her name, she would constantly get called by my name and we do not look alike at all. But people would always say, “oh my gosh, you guys could be sisters, you guys look exactly the same.” I'm like, because we're not blonde like everyone else?

My parents did this thing where you could get your name put on a brick on the playground, and even my name is mixed. I have a Chinese middle name and a Jewish last name, so it just shows a lot. I remember I didn't want anyone to find my brick with my name engraved on it, because it had my middle name on it, and I was like, I don't want anyone to see that part of me. And it's such a weird sense of shame. It kind of goes both ways, too. Because in the Asian community, they would want me to be more Chinese, like my grandparents would always be disappointed that I couldn't speak the language as well and stuff. And so I felt like I could never live up to that, or that I was too white.

My mom put us in Chinese language classes and I was part of a Chinese youth group for a lot of my life, and I was the only mixed person there. Within Asian communities, they almost put you on a pedestal for being mixed. They'll be like, “wow, mixed kids are the most beautiful,” or like, “you're so lucky that you're mixed, I want my kids to be mixed.” Just hearing that as a kid is so weird. It's a very colonized perspective.

I think knowing that I had relatives who lived in this neighborhood—because it used to be a Jewish neighborhood, and there are still really old Jewish businesses [here]—I feel very connected to that. Because, also I'm right in between all of the Chinese businesses and all the Jewish businesses so I feel like it's the perfect place to live in a way. I feel very connected to my surroundings, which is unusual.  

I'm used to feeling kind of pushed into my surroundings, rather than accepted into them. Even just walking around and knowing that there's just so much going on, it's like I'm less visible. But that's a good thing.