As part of Mixed Heritage Awareness Week, MJ Engel ’13, Teaching Fellow in English, presented “Voices from Mixed Asian America” on January 17 in Kemper Auditorium. The film follows eight Asian mixed race individuals who share their personal experiences of how their racial identities influence their lives.
Attendee Silvia Ng ’23 related to many of the film’s themes. Ng emphasized the value of having a supportive mixed-race community.
“I learned that many mixed Asians are united through our experiences with identity. We have all experienced the same troubles of expressing ourselves and feeling comfortable expressing ourselves around others. I learned that even though we may feel alone at times, there are people who have been through the same situations,” said Ng.
Cris Ramnath ’23, an attendee at the presentation, explained that his experiences as a person of mixed race heritage felt similar to those explored in the film.
“I think from this presentation I not only learned about myself… [but] I learned how this struggle for mixed heritage people seems very common… For example, something that resonated with me was…only stating a certain race or ethnicity when hanging out with a certain group of people, as the person wouldn’t want to complicate the situation or [have] to prove that she is of a certain race or ethnicity,” said Ramnath.
Engel knew that she wanted to pursue mixed race studies since she was a student at Andover. However, she discovered that it was difficult to find classes specifically about mixed heritage in college.
“In college, there are critical race classes [and] critical race theory, which is great, but it doesn’t always include specific things about being mixed. So when I finally took the class on racial ambiguity and passing, it was the first time I saw myself in what I was learning, and I was really excited to do an oral history project, because it was really my way to explore all these questions and also build community through storytelling,” said Engel.
Engel was inspired by spaces like MOSAIC, an affinity group for students of mixed heritage, when she was a student at Andover.
“My first MOSAIC meeting is so clear, because it was my first time ever feeling like I was with other people who knew what it was like to be mixed on a really intimate level. It was the first time I felt like I didn’t have to explain myself, which was so powerful. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to study anything that had to do with mixed race,” said Engel.
Engel noted that there are currently more mixed race students on campus than there were during her time at Andover. Though Engel believes this is a step in the right direction, she hopes that the community improves its inclusivity and outreach at spaces like MOSAIC, particularly in regards to gender.
“I especially would love to see more diversity in terms of gender in those spaces. I do think it ends up being predominantly people who identify as women or young women. I think as a school, Andover’s done a great job of including more and more multiracial mixed heritage people. I just think that we still… have a ways to go in terms of building community,” said Engel.
In terms of allyship, Engel emphasized that while others may be curious about the backgrounds of students of mixed heritage, it is important not to objectify these students by asking questions like “What are you?”
For mixed heritage students, she believes that “it can be really tiring to constantly divide [themselves] into discrete portions.”
“For people who are looking at someone who is racially ambiguous, and they want to know what their racial make-up is… [Ask] yourself, ‘Where is this really coming from? Why do I need to know this information?’ And instead of asking, ‘What are you?’ think about how you can actually change it to ‘Who are you?’” said Engel.