Biracial Identity and Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Studies

To gain a better a understanding of the multiracial experience and identity in the U.S., I focused on doing some brief background information by reading “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth” in the Journal of Asian American Studies. Published by Grace Kao, an assistant professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, this article examines the experiences of young biracial Asian and African Americans to determine if they suffer the psychological difficulties that have been mentioned by past social scientists. Kao highlights how biracial youth members face various challenges that other people do not, such as choosing one racial status on official documents, feeling marginalized by not being fully welcome in either racial group, physical appearances, ambiguity over racial status, isolation, and having two racially & culturally different parents. While these difficulties can certainly cause biracial youth members to struggle, Kao concludes that this does not prove that biracial children are more prone to problems of low self-esteem, emphasizing how each person has their own experience, depending on their circumstances.

With this knowledge in mind, I then specifically focused on biracial struggles in Asian American literature by reading the chapter entitled “Ambiguous Movements and Mobile Subjectivity: Passing in between Autobiography and Fiction with Paisley Rekdal and Ruth Ozeki” in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Written by Jennifer Ann Ho, an associate professor in the English and comparative literature department at the University of North Carolina, this book chapter explores the theme of “passing” and how such movement is a strategy for biracial people to “dislocate one’s racial and ethnic identity” because “to be mixed race and hence racially ambiguous means that passing is a strategy of identification as much as disidentification” (Ho 97). Ho argues that people of mixed race can choose multiple identities of race and ethnicity, highlighting how biracial writers such as Rekdal and Ozeki use the theme of passing to challenge and reimagine racial identification. For instance, Rekdal “writes about her many different selves growing up mixed race in Seattle” in her collection of autobiographical essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee (Ho 98). Such works bring attention to the theme of not fitting in and how this feeling of isolation reveals racial ambiguity in both fiction and nonfiction.

Both of these sources highlight the struggles of being biracial and the challenges that come with creating an identity. Kao and Ho focus on similar themes of marginzaliton, isolation, physical appearances, and racial ambiguity. However, Kao is addressing these issues from a sociological perspective while Ho delves into these matters through a literary lens. Ho in particular chooses to examine a specific theme (passing) to challenge. By reading these two sources, I am able to understand how different academic perspectives function within the same field of Asian American Studies. I am now more aware of the common topics of this field and the problems that it faces, such as how there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the psychological and socioeconomic outcomes of biracial people in America and if such realistic struggles are properly portrayed in literature.

After reading these two sources, I now want to gain more relevant information on my focus of studying the biracial experience in literature and its relationship to real life issues. While I am aware that there needs to be more of a literary focus, I wish to continue to look at sources such as the one by Kao to understand the relatisc struggles of people of mixed race. Reading the chapter in Jennifer Ann Ho’s book has also made me wonder if there are other specific themes and tropes in Asian American literature that can help contribute to my research.


Works Cited

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Kao, Grace. “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth.” Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 2 no. 3, 1999, pp. 223-249.

3 thoughts on “Biracial Identity and Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Studies

  1. I think its really interesting and important that you are choosing to root your work in interdisciplinary studies! I am wondering if you will focus on a particular sociological phenomena, like Ho did in her essay. One interesting thing to explore may be the impacts of the model minority complex on biracial characters in novels.

  2. I think the idea of “passing” is really fascinating, as it applies to lots of different types of identity (racial, nationality, sexuality, etc). Your topic overall reminded me of a book called I Hotel, which contains about a million stories about social justice and the Asian and Asian-American communities in California, specifically in San Francisco. It’s separated by novellas, so if you wanted more primary texts to look at (or if you’re interested in the social justice aspects of identity) I’d definitely check it out.

  3. I find your topic very interesting, and am wondering if you distinguish mixed raced people in America by first or second generation, and if their struggles in life vary because of this factor. Also, there a lot of mixed raced people that do not necessarily looked mixed race—are you focusing on racially ambiguous people? Otherwise, I think the level in which they face certain struggles in life can also vary. You could look into certain articles on mixed raced people, and how colorism can factor into their struggles as well.

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