In second grade, my teacher surveyed the class' ethnicity make-up to teach a lesson on sorting and categorizing. I remember looking at the paper, seeing the list of ethnicities, and reading those words: “Choose one”.
I was puzzled. “Which one do I choose? I’m both Black and Asian.” Flippantly, my teacher said, “Oh just choose Black.” This threw me for a loop, because we both knew my mother was Filipino and my father was Black.
Following my teacher's instructions, I chose Black. But I was confused; I felt like I was betraying my mother and choosing my father. That moment began my journey of ethnic identity.
I felt like I was betraying my mother and choosing my father.
One brokenness of our society is the creation of “race”: a people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock; it divides people into groups based on geographical location, skin tone, and social class.
I grew up in a majority white culture. I lived in a white-dominant neighborhood, went to white-dominant schools, attended a majority white non-denominational church, and currently work in a majority white organization.
While growing up in these spaces, I was wrongly categorized as solely Black. Whenever I mentioned I was Filipino or Asian, people responded by saying my skin was too dark; my hair doesn’t flow down; I don’t have slanted eyes, and so on.
Through the years, I began to get the idea that I was not Asian enough, that I didn’t fit the group of biracial Black and Asian.
BCM or AAM?
In May 2015, I began working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and had to make a decision that took me back to second grade — whether to staff a Black-specific conference (Black Campus Ministries), or an Asian-specific conference (Asian American Ministries).
When I was a college student, I went to our campus’ BCM gatherings, though they also offered AAM gatherings. I felt more connected to my Black identity than my unfamiliar Asian identity. Racially, I looked “more” Black than Asian, so I believed I was more accepted in Black spaces than Asian spaces. There was less to explain and less hurt to feel. I was afraid of judgment or rejection from Asian spaces. It was easier to just accept the box society had put me in.
I was afraid of judgment or rejection from Asian spaces.
InterVarsity speaks about ethnic identity a lot. Yet, it is one of the most broken identities we have. Staff and leaders would say, “God cares so much about your ethnic identity — it is actually a gift from Him!” My initial thought would always be, “Is it? How?” I didn't feel like my ethnicity was a gift because people were constantly choosing for me. It was hard to believe that choosing was a gift, or being me was a gift, or feeling fully welcomed into either Black or Asian spaces was a gift.
During my junior year, my staff worker introduced me to one of the Asian staff workers and encouraged me to go to an AAM gathering. I didn't want to go alone, so I went with another Amerasian woman to the AAM gathering. Back then, I spoke little of my Asian culture. I wanted to grow in my Asian identity, but that meant taking the risk of going into Asian spaces where I had never felt welcomed through and through. Only my staff worker and Bible study knew about my Asian identity hesitation. The thought of being in a fully Asian space by myself terrified me. But this time, the other Amerasian woman, also afraid of rejection, and I were together.
I wanted to grow in my Asian identity, but that meant taking the risk of going into Asian spaces where I had never felt welcomed through and through.
God showed us mercy. The Asian and Asian American Christian students embraced us with love and helped restore our Asian ethnic identity. They asked us questions about our ethnicity with care instead of judgment. They made an effort to meet me where I was with my understanding of Asian food, culture, and language, which did not feel demeaning. The Lord showed me comfort in a place of discomfort, hope in a state of hopelessness, and healing in pain and hurt.
Throughout college, staff ministers spoke over me, saying I am fully Black and fully Filipino, not half, not part. God created me whole in both, so I do not have to bring part but all into whatever I do, and how I live.
While hearing a sermon about the wholeness of Jesus, I had this epiphany: I am like Jesus. Jesus was fully man and fully God, yet people questioned Him. Regardless of how others saw Him, His Heavenly Father knew who He was. In Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV), David says,
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
This is a prayer I speak over myself regularly. Regardless of the powerful, piercing words of people, God’s truth remains sovereign and restorative. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Jesus knew me in my mother’s womb, He is not surprised or confused of who I am. He sees me as beautiful and as His beloved daughter.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Every year since I’ve been on staff, I've had to choose between an AAM and BCM conference to attend or lead because they occur at the same time every year. This makes sense for the students and staff who are of either one ethnicity, but it does not work for someone who is both.
To be honest, it sucks to choose. When I choose, I feel like I am devaluing the other half of me. I hate feeling like I cannot give just as much or more to either gathering because I have to divide up my time evenly to both. It sucks because even though I am made whole, I have to choose.
When I choose, I feel like I am devaluing the other half of me.
Through many talks with Jesus, I have come to realize that every time I choose to attend an AAM or BCM gathering, I am choosing to engage and grow in my ethnic identity.
It began with acknowledging my brokenness. We are all broken people, and there is brokenness in my identity. I could go about life and completely ignore my brokenness, but that is not living in the full life God wants for me. How can Jesus restore or heal me if I do not address and confront it? With anything, we need to acknowledge that something is broken and needs repairing before it can be put back into order. When I engage my brokenness, God begins the process of restoration and healing. I need Jesus to bring truth to my lies and love to the pain.
Fully both, fully whole
Jesus did not call me to flip-flop between Black and Asian — He wants me to be my whole self. I now understand why ethnic identity is a gift from God: My identity is a gift to be used by God. Both of my ethnicities are valued and loved by the Lord, because He loves me and He made me. How might the Lord want me, a biracial woman, to be a gift to others? Each person brings his or her own gifts and can be used to advance the kingdom.
I had the opportunity to emcee InterVarsity's most recent AAM student conference. I was scared, not only because I had never been to this specific conference, but also because I, a “lowly” minority in Asian culture as a Black and non-East Asian woman, was leading them through the conference. I was afraid of being rejected and judged.
Within the conference, we had a multiracial and multiethnic breakout to talk about the gifts and struggles of being us. I was able to share my journey with college students going through the same journey. At the end of the conference, a Korean Black student told me that it was powerful to be represented by an Asian Black woman on stage. The Lord blessed me by being a gift in her life.
I'm growing in understanding how my Black identity fits into Black identity and how my Asian identity fits into Asian identity. I have the pleasure of bringing a different experience to both identities. My goal is not to disengage from the brokenness in my ethnic identity, but to engage and grow in it. In Revelation 7:9 (NIV), people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language stood before the throne and before the Lamb worshiping. We all have the opportunity to worship Jesus, and our ethnicities are welcomed. That is beautiful.
Choosing to engage helps me understand my story and who God intended me to be. Today I say: Thank You, God, for creating me fully Black and fully Filipino.
LeLe S. Hsu is the Campus Minister with the Multiethnic chapter at Boston University. Originally from Chesapeake, Virginia and graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a B.S. in Mathematics. LeLe is biracial, 2nd generation Filipina and Black American, and that has encouraged her to minister to multiracial and marginalized students, and help them know that they are made in the image of God and their ethnicity is good and valued.
AARON HUANG was born in a Christian family, but never had an “aha” moment. Traveling and nature photography help him experience the beauty of God’s creation and remind him of his own insignificance and God’s grandeur. Find him on Instagram @heyeyron.