By Eliza Nguyen, President of Harvard HAPA (Half Asian People’s Association)
I remember the first time I was confused about my race. I was ten years old and in the fourth grade. The source of my bewilderment was the “Race/Ethnicity” question on a standardized test, back in the day before they allowed you to choose more than one and before they included a “multiracial or biracial” box. I scanned the options before me—“Black/African American,” “White/Caucasian,” “Hispanic,” and “Asian/Pacific Islander”—“none of these seem like me,” I thought to myself. Puzzled, I turned to my teacher and asked her which bubble I should fill in. She said, “Asian.”
My obedient fourth-grade self nodded, but I went back to my seat burdened by an uneasiness I can still recall today. “But my mom’s white,” I thought. As I tentatively pressed my pencil onto the paper, I remember feeing as though a part of me was being cut out. I felt like I was denying that my mother existed. I felt that I was misrepresenting myself, or lying to the standardized test graders. I felt cheated by the exam. And as I looked around and saw everyone else working diligently and contentedly on their questions, I could tell no one else in the classroom understood the dilemma I faced. Needless to say I was confused.
Growing up, my brother and my paternal cousins were the only mixed people I knew, in fact the small town we live in is about 98% white. It wasn’t until high school that I actually met other mixed kids who weren’t related to me. And so coming to Harvard, I knew Harvard HAPA was an organization I wanted to be a part of. Though every member has a different ethnic background, many of us have spent time grappling with our identity.
What I came to discover, and what I think most students find, is that Harvard HAPA is a family. It’s is a community where no one will ask, “Where are you from?” when they really mean to ask what your ethnicity is. It’s a community where no one will comment on how “exotic” you look and everyone will understand why you can’t fill in only one bubble on the standardized test.
As an organization, HAPA fosters a community of part Asian students and provides a forum for discussion about mixed race issues. Throughout the semester we host social and education events, including a conference on mixted race identity: So…What Are You Anyway?
So What Are You Anyway? Conference
This year, the conference will be on April 6-7, 2012. The event is open to the public and features lectures given by actress and writer Diane Farr, Associated Press journalist Jesse Washington, and former president of Harvard Hapa, James Fish. The lectures will be accompanied by discussion groups on mixed race issues.
SWAYA will culminate in a special gala dinner in honor of the 2012 recipient of the Cultural Pioneer Award, Diane Farr, author of Kissing Outside the Lines, and actress in Numb3rs and Rescue Me.
Please register online for the conference at