What is the construct of race? How was it invented? How does someone fit into it? And how is this concept challenged as a multiracial person?
These are all questions that UNC’s Mixed AAPI Students’ Heritage Club, or MASH, explores among students with multiracial Asian backgrounds.
MASH hosts discussions weekly about the experience of being multiracial and tries to help members learn about each other’s backgrounds to help build community.
Simon Palmore said he joined MASH during his first year and is now the internal chairperson for the club. He said MASH represents a community of people of Asian descent or other multiracial backgrounds that share common experiences.
“I think there's a desire to build community among people that share those sets of identities and discuss the experiences that we face,” he said.
MASH was formed in 2016 with the goal to emphasize that people often have intersecting identities, including racial identities, said Kendra Tse, MASH’s general body meeting chairperson.
“MASH was created with the intention to kind of allow for that space to exist, like that gray area,” she said. “That space of people kind of thinking about identity in a more intersectional way — and more fluid, I would say, is a word that really describes a lot of people in MASH.”
Palmore said he did not know to look for a space like MASH, but after attending Fall Fest, he was amazed that there was a community for those who do not neatly fit into other racial and ethnic communities.
“I think that's a really beautiful thing about MASH, is that we're providing something that a lot of our members can't necessarily find in other parts of their life,” Palmore said. “And, in fact, we're providing something that other people don't necessarily even know to look for until they find us.”
Palmore is Indian and white. He said that growing up, he felt that he was always treated as someone who wasn’t white based on his peers asking him where he was “really” from.
“I also don't look fully Indian, and I've never really identified strongly with being of Indian heritage,” he said. “I think you kind of grow up with this feeling of not necessarily belonging in one group or the other group.”
Junior Christian Chung, MASH’s publicity chairperson, said he grew up in a predominantly white area where there were not many people who were also multiracial.
“For (the) majority of my life, I wasn't really surrounded by people who I could talk to or share a similar experience with,” Chung said. “And so, coming to UNC, I was looking for that kind of outlet and those kinds of connections with other people, and I knew UNC would be a lot more diverse and a bigger school for me to do that.”
Being biracial comes with racial ambiguity and cultural limbo, he said. Though identifying as Cantonese and Black, Chung said he’s often asked if he is solely Black based on his appearance.
“I always had felt that I would have to pick one specific race and I couldn't really exist between two,” Chung said. “Coming here, I've learned that it's possible and I'm more self-aware about that.”
Tse also said MASH has ultimately helped her gain a better understanding of who she is and how she can move through the world knowing she has this community to fall back on.
MASH holds meetings on Thursdays at 8 p.m. in Greenlaw Hall to deconstruct the ideas of race and identity politics, and will organize various other social events throughout the semester, Tse said.
“If you’re mixed with multiple (cultures), it’s a little bit different in that sense because you’re trying to balance both sides of your cultures, and it can be a lot sometimes,” Chung said. “And so I wish for it to continue to be a safe space for those individuals, but then also just continue to grow the community.”
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