Commentary on NYT Article: "Choose Your Own Identity"

Nice piece in the NYT today by Bonnie Tsui.

Using the latest Pew research on being multiracial in America (more to come on that) as a springboard, Bonnie Tsui talks about her Chinese-Western "Hapa"  5-year-old son in the SF Bay Area.

3 key takeaways:

  1. "Hapa" seems to be gaining popularity with mixed people with no Asian descent
  2. Mixed White/Asian people in America are almost twice as likely to identify as "White" than as "Asian" (60% to 33%)
  3. The ability for kids in the Bay Area to choose: 1) one or the other race 2) simply "other" 3) neither 4) both, is increasingly markedly. Seems the social space is actually keeping pace with the rapid demographic changes (i.e. 1% births in the U.S. in 1970 were mixed race, whilst 10% [and rising] of births today are mixed race), which is actually quite remarkable and a testament to what an open society America is.

Here is the commentI submitted to the NYT (still waiting for the moderator to publish it at 14:26 HK time):

Thank you for this piece. It comes from the right place and I think it gets it mostly right. I am Californian/Hong Kongnese so I am virtually the same profile as your son. The reason I say it gets it mostly right is you mention Cantonese and then you stop. Cantonese is a challenging language to learn without being in an immersive environment, but I can only assume you can't/won't/don't have the ability to emphasize it as part of his overall education. No doubt, it is tough. Indeed, racial identity can be fluid. The racial boxes seem ever more malleable. But it seems you emphasize the social pushback against these boxes as the primary means for your son to find more "space" for his identity. I.e. you talk about the American definition of race being "in flux," suggesting more flux is the opportunity to flesh out his identity as your son sees fit- is that right? Again, I think that is mostly right. However, it comes back to Cantonese. Yes, he could choose to be "just white." I reckon he will have more and more "room" in the future to make that election as the one-drop-rule fades in relevance. Yes, he could choose "other," or he could opt for "neither." There are few, if any fetters to those choices. But if he wants to choose "both," well, in my opinion he will wish he learned Cantonese. I've learned those categories are not equal. "Both" is far and away the most difficult. It is the single category with prerequisites of language, knowledge, and experience to unlock.