Storying Memories, Storying Ourselves: Autobiographical Explorations of Mixed Race Identity and Belonging

Katherine Chung, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 7 ISSN 1702-3548

How do family stories shape our lives and identities, and influence our sense of home and belonging? What might it mean to seek out such stories in the context of mixed race heritage, intergenerational migration, and language differences? Perspectives and experiences of mixed race are understudied in Canada, and the scholarship that exists tends to focus on questions of governance, multicultural policy, and directions in multiracial discourse. In contrast to these outward-looking tendencies, my paper centres reflexively on my own experiences as a mixed race woman, maintaining a more intimate scale in its exploration of the connections between identity and family. Through an autobiographical case study that places my memories and experiences alongside the personal narratives and stories of eight family members, I explore my ‘mixed’ identity within the interstices of racial and other categories; my ongoing relationship with Chinese food and food practices; and my shifting understanding and senses of family, belonging, and home. In the process, frames of anti-oppressive and anti-racist feminism, relationality, embodiment, and an ethic of care and love are applied to family interviews, cooking as inquiry, journaling, and arts-based methods such as drawing, poetic writing, and photography. Emphasizing women’s voices and concentrating on the Chinese, paternal side of my family, my work is guided by the following interconnected questions:
1. What is the context and history of my family members – especially women – who have migrated, and/or who are part of the Chinese Diaspora in Canada?
2. How do my siblings and I experience and negotiate mixed race identity from our differing positions?
3. How are my understandings of and connections with family, culture, and ancestors influenced by family stories, food practices, and thinking through water?
My research speaks to the importance of personal and autobiographical narrative – and the spaces for such narrative – for attending to perspectives that are less commonly heard, including mixed race experiences. In doing so, I contribute nuance and complexity to what might otherwise be understood as Chinese identity and the Chinese Diaspora in a Canadian context. Meanwhile, I also add to knowledge on creative family-based research practices by considering what it means to undertake this very personal work and accountably engage with research involving family in an academic context. I conclude that belonging, in my case, can be sought through stories, knowledges I already hold and can expand, and embodied experiences of home – rather than only looking in physical places, specific types of identity, or language.