Multiracial Experience(s) & Embracing the Many Tongues Within
by Aizaiah Yong
“What are you?” This is a question that many multiracial people have heard time and time again. It highlights the reality that in the USA, when we first meet someone, we are socially accustomed to categorize them racially before we get to know them personally and holistically. While this question is much better than a color-blindness approach, and can seem innocent, the reality is that each human being is ultimately a who, not a what. And as people and not objects, we long to be known as such. Each of our lives is filled with incredible creativity, complexity, diversity, and endless potentiality. Being a person who lives in the context of a racially charged and oppressive country, and as one who identifies as multiracial (I am Hakka Chinese and Chicano), I have had to find the courage to embrace my entire self and not let monoracial paradigms prevent me from celebrating my personal story. I have discovered that this is a deeply spiritual process.
Divine Recognition in Cultural Experiences
One of the most beautiful teachings within the Christian tradition is that of the Incarnation. The Incarnation of God, simply put, means the divine mystery is revealed in human flesh. For Christians, we take our lead from the life of Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and in following His path, we find that our personal lives also reflect the great divine mystery. As we continue on in the spiritual path, we find that hidden as the ground and depth dimension of our very (extra)ordinary lives is the reality of sacred love (Gen. 1:26). This means that our very experiences, as great or as small as they seem (including our cultural identity) are infused with divine preciousness and beauty.
This awareness flows straight from the life of Jesus where he constantly lived from his own “divine recognition” of the ordinary and common experiences within his everyday cultural life. Examples of the very common (but special) cultural customs of Jesus’ life include: being publicly named in his community (Luke 2:21), gathering in the synagogue for spiritual teaching (Mark 6:2), and observing religious festivals such as the Passover (Matt. 26:17). In other words, we find that what makes Jesus’ life so attractive for us are the beautiful and many ways he celebrated his culture even though his community was in a position of oppression due to the Roman imperial empire. Following his example invites us to both embrace the particular cultural realities that makeup our own lives, and can perhaps even help us to transform the hurting places within our stories that have been excluded or oppressed due to “Christian” colonialism from places of pain to places of celebration. Although Jesus came from a poor and rural community, his spirituality was evident in extravagantly embodied living, befriending the marginalized in society, and unifying the diverse aspects of his mind, heart, body, spirit, and culture.
Celebrating Harmonious Diversity
Jesus’ example provides a model of how to live in harmony with diversity. True unity (for which Christ prayed for humanity in John 17:21) is not uniformity, but speaks to the love and space we make in our hearts for difference. Because it is the diversity present in life that makes life more beautiful (Rev. 7:9). This path of unity amidst diversity, culminates in the life of Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost where the Scripture highlights how the Holy Spirit came upon all the early disciples and emphasizes how they were gifted with the ability to speak and embrace new languages and cultures: “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (Acts 2:1–4).
In this passage, I am amazed at the fact that the culmination of the disciples’ waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit was made manifest through diverse language and culture! In other words, if we are full of the Spirit, we are readily embracing diversity within ourselves and in the world! As a Pentecostal Christian, this excites me because it is an invitation to go to the places within myself and society that are rejected (Ps. 118:22) and learn to listen and speak the languages there. And further, if I am to take Jesus’ call to “follow Me” (Matt. 4:19) seriously, it means I must learn to embrace the fullness of my own human experience, including (and especially) the diversity of it.
I believe this process is the beginning of the healing the world needs and it starts so personally. For me this means, accepting and engaging the psycho-spiritual work of embracing the dynamic range of emotions that come up in my experience (e.g., art and music that celebrate multiraciality are huge resources here!), dealing with the shadow thoughts of my own mind and ego (this can only be confronted by intentionally pursuing relationships with people who suffer different marginalizing experiences than myself), and also reflecting redemptively about my culture, religious heritage, and racial-ethnic identity through writing, speaking, and creative story-telling. In order to do this well, it means first clearly understanding the ways in which systems and structures of oppression have not encouraged us to embrace our own diversity and to resist this!
When that happens, I can move towards deeper learning in how to integrate the aspects of my life (such as being multiracial) that I am tempted to disregard or allow to be silenced. Finding a therapist of color, or joining an online community discussing multiraciality (such as: https://criticalmixedracestudies.com/) can be great first steps! As I give myself to this work, I am called to also show up with authentic solidarity to others facing oppression and working towards the reclamation and redemption of all parts of human experience that are targets of violence and oppression.
Embracing Our Full Selves
In conclusion, no, I am not half Chinese and half Chicano. I am fully Chinese and fully Chicano and fully multiracial. I refuse to be categorized and labeled to fit the structures of a government and/or a society that refuses to recognize the wholeness of me. Furthermore, I am committed to advocating for the inclusion of my personal racialized experiences because it helps to make known the insidious workings of white supremacy that impact all people and prevent us from embracing the racial-ethnic diversities we carry in our bodies.
However, I am also committed to not allowing my personal process of racial identification to happen without communities of accountability. While how a person identifies racially is a personal process, this should never be individualistic or done in isolation but rather for the sake of authentic living for all. This is especially important when it comes to the rampant anti-Blackness that many people of color (who are not Black), benefit from if not carefully working towards pro-Black racial justice.
With all this said, I am reminded to never forget that I am also more than my racial identification and so are you. The spiritual path is not just about embracing any one aspect of ourselves but unifying the whole of our personal experience with truth, compassion, grace, and love and embracing the many tongues within.
This article first appeared in Pax’s Cultural Identity StoryArc. To learn more about how to celebrate your cultural identity, go to the Pax Marketplace and download Dr. Lucretia Berry’s guide titled, “Food & Rhythm for the Soul: A Guide For Celebrating Cultural Identity.”
You can also check out Pax’s Instagram campaign called “Tis’ Our Season: Cultural Identity & Justice during the Holidays” to learn how the Pax community is celebrating this Christmas this year through unique cultural expressions.
Aizaiah is a contemplative Christian Pentecostal minister, practical theologian, & international teacher who is passionate about works of peace, justice, & intercultural community. Aizaiah has experience serving in a variety of leadership positions within non-profit, educational, & religious institutions as well as in consulting roles with executive leaders seeking organizational change. He continues to publish numerous works related to issues at the intersection of wisdom-based leadership, pastoral theology & spiritual care, intercultural studies, and social innovation.