Growing up multiracial in Seattle
In the United States, there are more mixed-race people—that is, people who come of two or more different races—than ever before. Seattle has one of the largest populations of mixed-race people. So what is it like for kids who come from mixed backgrounds?
Douglas Smith, 15, The Overlake School
Douglas' mother, Soojung Smith, is Korean, and his father is white.
Douglas says he appreciates his mixed background, but he does not consider it to be an important part of who he is.
Douglas says he feels more closely connected to white culture, or background, and to his white relatives. But that’s because his Korean relatives live far away, and not all of them speak English.
“I’ve never really been in a place where it’s thought about that much,” he says.
Aisha Marrakchi, 15, Roosevelt High School
Aisha's appearance makes her feel different from other people.
“I don’t fit in,” she says.
Aisha’s mother was born in California, and has a Mexican background—her father was born in Morocco, in Africa.
“My parents told me that in the United States, I am considered ‘white.’ But I don’t feel white,” she says, pointing to her skin, her hair and her eyes.
She wonders when she meets new people: “Will they think I’m weird?"
That feeling of being different has gotten harder after events that have been in the news, she says, such as when Donald Trump speaks crudely about Mexicans. "Some people say he’s funny,” Aisha says. However, he is targeting her background and "I don’t think that’s funny,” she says.
Laila Pickett, 13, and Mia Pickett, 11, Seattle Girls' School
Laila graduated from Seattle Girls' School last spring and her younger sister, Mia, is a seventh-grader this year. Their father is black, and their mother is half-black and half-white. Yet the family thinks of itself as black.
“If anybody asks me, I’ll just say I’m African-American,” Laila says. She doesn’t know much about her white relatives, and most of the family she grew up with is black.
But when people meet Laila, they are quick to say that she is "mixed." She agrees with that title now, and she meets and talks regularly with other students at her school who also have a "mixed" background. They have formed a club and support each other.
Mia has skin that is darker than her sister’s. People often do not realize that Mia is mixed, too.
Several years ago, Laila made the decision to start checking multiple racial boxes on standardized tests, but that didn’t last long.
“I honestly felt weird doing it,” she recalls. “I didn’t know the reaction I would get out of it. I didn’t want people to think differently of me after the fact, so I just kept it on the down low.”
“I don’t want a piece of paper to say who I am.”
Malik Abdul-Haqq, 18, Cleveland High School
Malik is really tall. It is confusing, he says, because his mom "is super tiny."
Malik’s mother is Thai and Cambodian, and his father is black.
Malik says his appearance, his Muslim faith and his last name often confuse people, but he doesn't mind explaining his mixed background to them.
Though Malik comes from two very different backgrounds, his family celebrates them both equally. His black relatives go to the Buddhist temple and his mother wears African-inspired head wraps.
Malik feels comfortable in his own skin, but he knows he cannot control how strangers view him. “At the end of the day, I look black.”
Yet Malik doesn’t let trouble bother him. One time, when he was walking, a woman in a car rolled down her window and called him a cruel name he had never heard before.
“I just looked at her and laughed and kept walking," he says.
Milena Haile, 14, Garfield High School
Milena, who is in her second year of high school, used to say she was black because that’s what people told her to say.
But Milena is Eritrean, and black, and her family is from Africa. However, her idea of being "black" is different from someone who is black and born in the United States. “I’m just African,” she says. “I don’t really consider myself American.”
Milena sees her culture — the food she eats, the languages she speaks, the religion she practices — as far more important to her than skin color. People look at your race and believe they know everything about you, she says. “It’s not like I want it to matter, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Milena isn’t mixed, but she brings up a feeling that is common among young adults, no matter who you are. How you feel on the inside does not mean that friends, family, or strangers will see you the same way.
Whether behind closed doors or out in the open, each of us balances between how the world sees us, and how we see ourselves.
And that has never changed.