NAME AND AGE
Crystal Chan, age 36
WHAT MIX ARE YOU?
½ Chinese, ½ Polish
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?
It’s the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago. That was very intentional on my part.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in Oshkosh, WI, and we were the only mixed-race family in town. At that time, it was a very white community.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
There was certainly an issue with regards to parenting. My Chinese father was very harsh and critical of us; my white mother much more forgiving. And my dad insisted that I become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, while my mom said I should “follow my dreams.” When I became a children’s author with my first book - BIRD - published, even though it was published in ten countries, my dad still had a hard time with the fact that I didn’t take a profession of his choosing.
HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING MULTIRACIAL?
I have very little contact with my Chinese side, since they live in Hong Kong/China/Singapore and many don’t speak English (my dad didn’t teach us Chinese). My white side is very accepting of us, though there are stories that both sides really struggled with the interracial marriage in its early years.
DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?
I was raised culturally quite white, as my father chose not to share much of his culture with us. I don’t know why, to this day. But he did teach us a lot about the food. I am a total foodie, and one of the best things about living in Chicago is its Chinatown.
WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
My dad spoke Cantonese and later picked up Mandarin, but he refused to teach us Chinese. Later, I learned French, Spanish, and Mandarin in school.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
It’s taken me a long time to come to peace with my racial background - being biracial in a monoracial world - but I’ve come to see that I am very well-positioned to talk about race and diversity in schools when I do school visits and universities, and even corporations. Having a foot in both worlds is very confusing, but sometimes liberating - I don’t have to fit into a “box”, and I can play the Chinese or White card in different situations. As such, both whites and minorities accept me as “one of them”. Having that flexibility is really important to me.
WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
As I’d said, very little. What I know I largely had to learn on my own. And that’s a real loss.
DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP? Never. That is also a real loss.
DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
I identify as either mixed-race or biracial.
DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?
Race doesn’t matter as much as the person’s *awareness* of race and racism. (laughing) Any way you cut it, it’s complicated.
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?
It means I’ll be exploring my identity probably until the day I die - though whereas before I saw it as a burden, now I see it as an adventure. I means that I don’t “belong” anywhere, and yet I do “belong” everywhere. It’s a paradox of sorts, and one I’m learning to accept and embrace.
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?
I have a number of mixed online friends and a couple in-person friends.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
(laughing) Tons! Here are some: “What are you? Oh, you’re so exotic/I’m so boring. Where did your parents meet? Oh, I’ve been to China!”
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
My dream is that we move from a monoracial society to a multiracial society in my lifetime, where I’m accepted as normal and don’t have to “prove” my identity to anyone.