United Asian American Organizations discusses mental health in the mixed-race community

Thursday, February 18, 2021 - 11:26pm

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Design by Anooshka Gupta

The University of Michigan’s United Asian American Organizations hosted a virtual dialogue Thursday evening that focused on navigating mental health for those of  mixed race. UAAO was established in 1988 with the goals of raising awareness around Asian and Pacific Islander American issues and organizing a collective voice for this group. 

About 27 people attended the discussion, which aimed to address the challenges and complexities of individuals who identify as mixed-race, as they often go unnoticed in other spaces. 

“We felt like there was a lack of spaces on U of M’s campus that really engaged in a way that we could relate to,” LSA sophomore Mira Simonton-Chao, one of the event’s organizers, said. “Especially talking about mental health, there’s a lot of unsaid stuff in the mixed-race experiences.” 

Those present at the event were individuals from all levels of undergraduate and graduate programs. The organizers emphasized that all people –– even if they weren’t mixed race –– were welcome to participate in the dialogue about what mental health looks like for people of mixed race and how this aspect of identity impacts them in wider communities. 

The purpose of this discussion was to create a safe and inclusive space for people to connect with their unique backgrounds and experiences because there is no singular mixed-race experience, Simonton-Chao said. 

The participants discussed cultural homelessness, which the organizers described as a phenomenon that occurs when mixed-race people feel a tension between loyalty to their parents’ cultural or racial identity and the need to be accepted by the outside world. 

“Bringing awareness to the term cultural homelessness was important because that’s something good to learn about,” LSA sophomore Nicole Tooley said. “That term represents something that I have previously experienced.”Many of the attendees said that this is a common feeling among people of mixed race. It can be mentally taxing to introduce yourself and know that people are making assumptions about your identity, attendees said. While these experiences are not exclusive to mixed-race persons, it is experienced at a higher rate by those of mixed race. 

The discussion then went on to describe how cultural homelessness is directly related to mental health because, without supportive families and communities, people struggle to find self-belonging. Finding a supportive community filled with people that have had similar experiences is important for developing resilience, attendees said.

“We were hoping to use this space to continue the conversation about the different dimensions of the mixed-race experience,” Public Health junior Victoria Minka, the other organizer of this event, said. “The UAAO space is the perfect place to be able to have these conversations.”

Another point of discussion involved the intersecting axes of identity. This conversation centered around the different aspects of how our identities interact with each other and inform our experiences. People who are mixed-race may be a part of a minority group that experiences discrimination but they also may experience white privilege, individuals said. Simultaneously, while figuring out one’s identity, it is important to situate those feelings in how the world views oneself, the attendees said. 

Out of respect for the privacy of the individuals attending the event, the organizers requested The Daily to withhold quoting individuals who spoke. The quotes obtained from this story were from individuals who willingly commented after the event.

Daily Contributor Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at sbick@umich.edu

  

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