My Journey to Mixed Remixed Part 2: Religious Anatomy & Mixed Race Experience

Self-portrait with national flag

My appearance is a rather off-putting enigma to those who like boxes with labels. I did not quite inherit the straight black hair or Malay features of my Filipino mother, nor did I inherit the slight figure or angular facial bones of my Eastern European Jewish father.

I’ve been mistaken for Italian, Middle Eastern, Eastern Indian, and every Spanish-speaking ethnicity on the planet. I am frequently addressed in Spanish on the streets of Manhattan, my English retorts met with surprise, if not suspicion. Once in my life — only once — was I asked if I was Filipino. Never has anyone asked me if I was white. But what I have been asked more times by more people than I can possibly remember is: “What are you?”

Neither fish nor fowl, mixed race folk are a threat to tidy mental categories. Fit into a box with a label, or be wary.

My father wanted us to be a white family and saw Judaism as the surest way of getting us there. My Asian mother was a genetic aesthetic barrier to this fantasy, at least until she converted to Judaism, which was a fantasy unto itself.

By Jewish lore, to be recognized as a Jew one must be born to a Jewish mother. My mother didn’t convert until my sister and I were three and six respectively. In fact we were present at the ceremony, which was held in the dark Brooklyn apartment of my grandparents’ rabbi.

I’ll never know if that rabbi honestly believed that his ex-post-facto conversion of my mother made instant Jews of my sister and me, but by my reckoning the proverbial Jewish ship had already sailed. I struggled with this state of ethno-religious limbo until a dear friend of mine recently took pity and delivered me in a single sentence: “You didn’t come out of a Jewish vagina.”

Religious anatomy be damned, for after the night of the conversion, “Jewish!” is what my father answered whenever I asked “What am I?” And I did ask — often.

In retrospect, that is when I began my journey to Mixed Remixed.

I recently had the great good fortune of connecting with Heidi Durrow, best-selling author and founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival. This article is the first in a series that appeared on the Mixed Remixed Festival blog.