The Biracial Generation: Embracing Cultural Diversity (originally published in Amöi Magazine)


In Culture, Living, Writing (all kinds) on December 22, 2008 at 23:37

There are more than 70,000 biracial people living in Canada according to Statistics Canada in 2001. They may have any combination of heritage including Aboriginal, black, white, South Asian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Southeast Asian, people from the Philippines, Arab/West Asian and Latin American. Christine Chin who is a salesperson with Conservus, a concierge company, calls herself Jamaican-Canadian and Canadian ultimately.

She was born in Liverpool, England and came to Canada at the age of 10 ½.

“My parents migrated to Canada in Christmas of 1972,” Chin says. “My father is from a little village in China and my grandmother had 13 children and my father is in the middle. All the children were born in Jamaica.”

Chin’s great grandmother on her Mom’s side is Scottish with some Cuban heritage.

“My mom looks more Spanish, European or Portuguese,” says Chin. “I have two brothers and a sister. They all look different. The brother born after me had red hair when he was born.”

Chin’s natural hair colour is jet black. It would look blue in the sun like the body of flies. Now with her brown highlights, she could pass for people for the Philippines, Spanish or Puerto Rican.

People think she looks like her father who has a Vietnamese and Chinese background. People speak in Spanish and Chinese to her.

“Canadians say I’m not Canadian because I look ethnic. Jamaicans say you’re not Jamaican because I’m not a ‘yardy.’ The culture at home is definitely Jamaican. With Jamaicans too I’m not fully black. Chinese don’t think I look Chinese. Some say I do, some say I don’t. I don’t fully participate in the culture. I do have Chinese culture – it’s west Chinese, but it is culture.”

Chin says people try to put her in a box she doesn’t fit in. She says people can’t peg her.

However, there are positive things to being biracial.

“It’s opened the door for conversation with lots of people,” Chin says. “Men will think I’m intimidating because of my looks. I’m not intimidating.”

Her former husband is Chinese-born and was raised in Jamaica. She has two boys who look Asian, but you can see the influences of other cultures in their faces.

Christine Chin’s beauty has lead to interesting experiences.

“I’ve been approached to do modeling. A man approached me at the Four Seasons in Yorkville. He did a painting of me.”

The handsome Kim Barry Brunhuber whose father is from Cameroon and mother is white South African has also had dynamic career options being biracial. His step-father is Puerto-Rican and his mother had a daughter with the step-father who is his half-sister. Brunhuber grew up around different cultural influences that have inspired his career.

“I’ve had many various professional experiences: writer, broadcaster, even (to a small extent) actor,” says Brunhuber.

Brunhuber was born in Montreal and grew up in Ottawa. He doesn’t know how being biracial has affected him professionally.

“I think on balance it has been neither a blessing nor a curse,” Brunhuber says. “Certainly in television it is a double-edge sword… a station could want to hire you simply because you’re a non-threatening visible minority.”

Brunhuber is the author of a book called Kameleon Man.

“I wanted to foster a discussion about race and identity in Canada, and specifically what happens when you invest all of your identity in the way you look. It’s a world of disappointment, disillusionment and failure, and what better setting than the world of modeling.”

In terms of identity, Brunhuber sees himself as a Canadian with African heritage. He does respond to “black” or a “person of mixed race.”

His parents met at Cornell University in the United States at the African Students’ Club.

“My mother, though white, felt utterly alienated by North American culture and identified more closely with African students, who were happy for the most part to accept her.”

Brunhuber says he can move easily between different cultures. He has a love for languages and a keen interest in other cultures which accounts for his love of travel. He speaks English, French, Spanish and some German – enough to order a beer, not enough to buy one for someone else.

He’s currently working on a novel set in Africa. He’s working in Sierra Leone for a year with Journalists for Human Rights. He reflects on the way he’s perceived internationally.
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“It is an odd experience, as I am usually perceived as white,” Brunhuber says. “In Uganda I’m a muzungu, in Ghana I’m an obruni, in Senegal I’m a toubab… all names for ‘white man.’ I have had many debates with Africans trying to convince them that I’m ‘black.’ It’s strange, because I could represent my African heritage in Canada by wearing African dress to a function and no one would question it. But I would never be able to represent my German heritage by wearing lederhosen. Only in Cape Town and Cuba where there are large populations of brown-skinned people can I pass as a local.”

Brunhuber doesn’t see a shared future for biracial people in Canada. He says recent Canadian statistics state that 75 per cent of Canadians would not marry outside of their race.

“I believe the numbers to be higher. Any large-scale change will happen at the pace of human evolution – at glacial pace. Never underestimate the power of nationalism, ethnocentrism, racism and xenophobia.”

Jamaican-Canadian Christine Chin says that in the 1970’s when she first came to Canada, it wasn’t’ the best time to be non-white. However, she says things have changed.

“The barriers aren’t here these days,” says Chin. “Toronto is different.
Some cultures are prejudiced. My parents felt, marry for love.”

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