Hi! My name is Kara. I grew up all over the Bible belt (Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Alabama) and Hawaii. I grew up mostly in Florida however. My parents separated when I was 3 and my Mom got full custody. They were young. My Mom was crazy and my Dad was immature. So, she stole me away and raised me up with my VERY White Step-Father and two very White half-siblings. My Mother is Caucasian, a 4th generation Armenian (who loathed that part of her identity and told those who were not close to her she was Italian). My Father is Native Hawaiian/ Filipino. I am 29 years old and have been living in Seattle Washington for the past 7 years.
What was your experience of school like as a mixed race girl?
Uncomfortable. I didn’t really have a place or good fit friendship-wise. People teased me about being adopted because my brothers/Mom and Step-Dad didn’t look anything like me. I was an outcast for other reasons of course. Wrong music, wrong clothes, not a follower etc. School was awful, so I made friends with teachers, focused on work, graduated 2 years early and never looked back.
How has your relationship with your parents/ family influenced your racial identity?
That’s a realllllly big question. My Mother had me in beauty pageants since birth and had me modeling and acting. My race/culture would be used as a tool to get “gigs”. I got pimped out essentially because I was racially ambiguous. She had me crowned queen of the Latin American Society of Tampa…. I’m not Latin. When it suited her she also passed me off as Italian. As I got older and we ended up in a very rural country town, it was pretty much settled that I was Italian. I had a different last name than my Mother and Step-Dad; Tolentino which is Filipino. Not Italian. But when people would ask my Mother if my Dad was Italian she’d say yes.
I started getting skin lightening treatments at around 12 years old. When I visited my Dad for the first time after this, he brought me back home to Hawaii. He was so embarrassed and begged me to take off my ridiculous make up and consider not using the creams and such while I was there to get rid of that “silly look”. I got called a ‘Haole’ for sure a few times. But my Hawaiian family is amazing and no matter what always love me. They just figured I wanted to be more Goth, ha ha. So I guess with my Mom I felt like I had to be White. When I was with my Hawaiian family I think they thought I was ashamed or something. And my Grandpa and Uncles would always be like “Kara. It’s important you never forget, we are indigenous. You need to understand what that means and where you come from.” For many reasons I no longer have a relationship with my Mother or her family and I haven’t for a while. My Ohana NEVER abandoned me, or stopped loving me or showing support. This has a lot to do with how I identify. I identify as Hawaiian and am so very proud now.
Who were your idols growing up and why?
It’s pretty lame but my Mom was my only idol growing up really. That is until I turned 11 and found music. Then I really started looking up to people like Courtney Love and a little later on Kathleen Hanna. I think I identified with Courtney’s ‘kinder whore’ look and image the most. I was this ‘prostitized Barbie’ with a lot of anger and nowhere to direct it healthily. Music was an outlet.
Do you feel you have been affected by any racial stereotypes?
I’ve had exes make light-hearted jokes I suppose. And yeah, they would be racist but I’d excuse it because it didn’t feel like I had the right to be offended or even some sort of voice box for my race. Also, I got a lot of racism/ stereotyping about my Dad’s side of the family from my Mother’s side. One of the reasons I wasn’t allowed to spend the summer with my family in Hawaii was because “They’re savages,” “They used to sacrifice virgins,” “They aren’t civilized”, “We don’t want you learning anything weird”, “They don’t eat right”, “We don’t want you eating that stuff”, “Ugh, they live in a shack,” “Not saying your family is bad but girls get raped there, like it’s normal.” None of those quotes are embellished.
Have you ever wished that you were monoracial?
Yes. It would have simplified my life.
Do you feel more connected to a particular part of your identity? Has this changed over time?
Yes and Yes. Younger me; I was closest to my Armenian Great Grandma and my Hawaiian Grandpa, but growing up mostly with my Mom and her new family with my Step-Dad. I spent a lot of time with my Armenian relative’s as an outlet. As I got older I started to feel like it was okay to be proud of my family and to be proud of my culture. I’m now more connected to my Hawaiian side and no matter where I go if I find other Hawaiians or Filipinos I know I will be accepted. Even if I’m only hapa 😉 Family ties and culture mean more and there is a true sense of community available to me that I really missed out on in my younger years.
Has race impacted your career at all in terms of choices and experiences?
Choices no. Experiences yes. When I started working in cosmetics, which is very cliquey and segregated, it was always interesting to see which group would adopt me. Because Hawaiian cliques only exist on the Islands it was usually the Asian group. Maybe there would be another Islander if I was lucky. Often the Middle Eastern clique was much smaller and always the unpopular group. Cosmetics was THE WORST.
Have you ever come across any racial fetishization as a mixed race woman?
Yeah with exes. It made me feel dirty to be collected because of race or culture.
Does race have any impact on dating preferences for you?
No. I guess location/my family did though. When in Florida I dated White guys. Once away, I dated who I pleased and all but one partner was not White. The one that was happened to be half Brazilian as well. I ended up marrying him.
How do you feel monoracial people can benefit from learning about the lives of mixed race people?
I would like them to know that life isn’t necessarily easier because we can ‘assimilate’. It’s confusing and lonely. There is such a comfort in belonging, if that makes sense…
What would you like the future to look like for mixed race people?
I would like us to receive more genuine inclusivity and acceptance and to have more determination to stay connected to who we are and where we came from. And for those of us with light-skinned privilege to use that privilege for good and to help those who struggle without it.
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