‘Halfie!’ Questions of belonging and cultural identity
Updated on 07 August 2022
Note from the editor: In this blog, we look at key issues in diplomacy and digital politics from ‘the other side’. Diplo’s blogsphere often features blogs from key experts and diplomatic practitioners. But we also need to wonder: how do these same issues look from ‘the other side’? How are they experienced by non-experts and non-practitioners? In this blog post, Mina Fu, an eighteen year old Serbian-Chinese woman, looks at intercultural communication through the lens of her personal experience.
In this blog, I am sharing my personal experience of what I call ‘the lovely and the ugly of being a “Halfie”’. ‘Where are you from?’ is the often heard question that brings a little tightness to my chest. It’s a question that I often think about. Do I choose one nationality when replying or both? Do I want to go into an explanation of my origins, or just stick to the short and simple answer?
Coming from two completely culturally different countries, I was, perhaps surprisingly, brought up to know and understand both of my cultures equally. My Serbian mother spoke only Serbian to me when I was a child. She taught me the history of Yugoslavia, the local traditions such as Slava, and we spent every summer in Serbia. My Chinese father, on the other hand, spoke only Chinese to me, and taught me the history of the Qing dynasty, the traditions of The Dragon Boat festival, and we spent every Chinese New Year in our hometown in China.
I was raised to know both languages well and to respect and value my cultural identity and traditions from each side of the family. However, as I grew older, I began to realise the lack of understanding there was for us ‘halfies’ (a ‘halfie’ as I would define it is a child with parents that are from two different countries, and often, cultures). Simply put, there was a lack of understanding of how one can be both at the same time, instilling a feeling of never belonging to one or the other.
In Shanghai, where I lived for 15 years, I was often a ‘Lao-Wai’ (literal translation is old foreigner) because I do not look completely Chinese. When I referred to myself as both Chinese and Serbian, the Chinese side was overlooked and I was often asked to choose which culture is better. This simply never made sense to me. Why do I always have to choose? Why can’t I be both? Even my Chinese family would sometimes remark that I am a foreigner who does not understand the complex Chinese idioms that they use on a daily basis.
More often than not, when I say that I am also Serbian, most people do not even know where Serbia is. Hence, my hesitation to introduce myself as both.
In Serbia, I am often seen as only Chinese, because in Serbia, I do not look Serbian enough. Here, if I refer to myself as Serbian and Chinese, the Serbian side is overlooked. It is not uncommon that people judge me based on my smaller than average eyes or my thicker than average eyebrows. Here, they choose not to see my rather Slavic nose and my fluent Serbian. I am in fact a foreigner in my own country once again. The questions on how to say something in Chinese and comments on how weird Chinese food and culture are haunt me whenever I introduce myself.
As a loyal lover of both my countries, I am often upset and angered that none of my cultures can accept that I am both. Both all the time, not one at a time.
Not to be only pessimistic, there are in fact good sides to being a ‘halfie’. I take pride in the fact that when I started to speak as a toddler, it was in two very difficult and very different languages. I am privileged in a way that I get to know two cultures first-hand and in-depth. When I was 10 months old, I had already travelled to both Serbia and China. I get to celebrate double the holidays. Even if I fail in the career I am passionate about, I can always become a translator.
However, it is still difficult when people ask ‘so where is home? Serbia or China?’ I never know how to answer because it does not feel like home in either country. In hopes of finding empathy, I looked online and discovered a sub-reddit for mixed race people and found that I am not alone. Halfies often experience feeling different, or like they do not belong. In becoming aware that it is ordinary to feel this way, I realised that I have nothing to be ashamed of and that I should be nothing but proud of being a halfie.
So where am I from? Serbia and China. Both at the same time.
Where is home? Home is within me. Home is everywhere and anywhere.
Mina Fu is a psychology student at The University of Queensland. As a writer, she touches on topics concerning culture, travel and personal experiences. She has lived internationally ever since childhood and loves meeting new people and journaling her adventures.
Note from the author: This is a personal experience, not all mixed people are the same nor do they feel the same. All definitions are also personal definitions.