What Does It Mean to Be Mixed? A Conversation Between Generations

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

A family portrait of two daughters, a mother and a father.
Katrina Bullock says growing up with a Black father and Filipina mother in the 2000s was a very different experience from what it is for an older generation of mixed folks.  (Courtesy Katrina Bullock)

This post is part of a series of stories featured on this week’s episode of The California Report Magazine about the experience of being mixed race.


For some mixed-race people, finding a sense of belonging can feel like a balancing act. One common experience is the feeling of being an outsider. But it can create a type of kinship that’s held together by loneliness.

Two California Report Magazine listeners who share a common background — their mothers are Filipina, their fathers are Black — sat down to have a conversation about identity and growing up mixed in different eras and different parts of the Golden State.

Two women side by side.
Camille Seiberling, 48, (left) is a business owner in her hometown of San Francisco, and mother of two sons. Katrina Bullock, 21, is a student at UC Berkeley, where she's involved with the Mixed at Berkeley club. (Courtesy of Sieberling and Bullock)

Camille Seiberling, 48, is a business owner in her hometown of San Francisco, where she grew up. She has two sons.

Katrina Bullock, 21, a student at UC Berkeley, grew up in Santa Clarita, just outside Los Angeles. She helps run a program called Mixed at Berkeley, which aims to support mixed-race students who are the first in their families to go to college.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The question all mixed people get: “What are you?”

KB: I'm an Aries. I am Black and Filipino. I'm a woman. I identify as a lot of things, [I’m] a multifaceted person. The question is definitely interesting. When I get asked it, I like to kind of give people a little bit more of my personality. I'm like, “Oh, I'm funny” or “I'm cool” or things like that. Just so they have to really explicitly ask, “What is your ethnic or racial background?”

CS: I'm 48, and I've been asked that same question for a long time. When I was younger, it was awkward. Sometimes it depended on who was asking the question. If it was somebody who was white, I would be a little bit curious about why they're asking that question. If [it was] someone who is Filipino, too, or African American or mixed themselves, I would get what they're trying to figure out and it wouldn’t bother me as much.

Camille Seiberling and her husband and two kids. (Courtesy Camille Seiberling)

KB: Yeah, it really depends on who I'm interacting with and like how they construct race by their experiences. In Santa Clarita, which is a predominantly white community, the people there have a very narrow perception of Blackness. So when they see me, it's very much like I am the tokenized Black person, like I'm the representative of the Black community. Whereas when I interact with people who are in more multicultural spaces, or have a broadened view of the Black community, they will identify that I am mixed and treat me differently.

More From the California Report's 'Mixed' Series

CS: I know there are Black and Filipino girls like Katrina, but I didn't have that growing up. There were mostly Black and white mixed women that I grew up around. I was really unique, and I still am, actually, in my group of friends.

KB: I think that we really all find like a collective identity in this feeling of never fitting in or never feeling like you're fully anything. And then when you find a space with other mixed people who feel the same way, then you kind of take a step back and realize, “Oh, I am a full person. I can be fully Black and fully Filipino. I can just be truly me without having to deal with other people's opinions on what my racial makeup is and like what that says about me. It's just truly who I am.”

Race is a lot about how you're perceived

CS: Being mixed, I never really felt that people thought I was African American. I was an actress for a while, [and when] I was going out for parts, they always wanted me to be Latina. When I went to Vietnam, they thought I was Vietnamese. When I went to Morocco, they thought I was Moroccan.

KB: Racially I think I present as Black. But culturally, I feel like I still hold Filipino traditions and practices. So growing up in a suburban community that's majority white, a lot of people have these racial assumptions like [from] the get-go. They see one Black person — because there's not that many Black people in my suburban city — and so they see me and they’re like, “OK, she knows everything. I bet she can rap all the Drake songs.”

Katrina Bullock (far left) and her parents and sister. (Courtesy Katrina Bullock)

Anti-blackness within mixed families

KB: One of the first racialized experiences I remember having was in my elementary school. I went to a school where there was a large Filipino population, and I had a classmate who was Filipino and our moms were friends. We were on the playground playing tag, and I tagged him. I'm sure I said something a little bit arrogant, like, “I got you,” and he turned around, and said, “Well, at least I'm not Black.”

[Later] [m]y dad [told my mom], “Well, she is Black. That's just something that she's going to learn.” That was just my first experience, understanding the aggression that I would face because I'm Black. From that moment forward, I think my dad made it a really strong point in our household for me to know my Black history. We watched a lot of movies and documentaries about Black history.

A family photo of eight people in front of the TransAmerica Pyramid building in San Francisco.
Camille Seiberling, second from right, and the Filipino side of her family pose in front of San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid. (Courtesy Camille Seiberling)

CS: I didn't have that, not only because my parents separated, [but] because they didn't talk about our history or what they felt about it. I think it has a lot to do with coming out of the '60s and civil rights and my dad struggling. I feel like if he was there more, then I could talk to him about my feelings and get more information about how he was feeling about things. But I just had my mom's perspective, really. So I had to navigate these things myself.

Camille Seiberling, hugging her father in an undated photo. (Courtesy Camille Seiberling)

When my mom first decided to be with my dad, there were racist comments. I think [for] my grandmother, my dad not always being there [meant] her stereotypes came true and so were reinforced in some way. I remember the store down the street was owned by a Chinese couple. I remember, they used to always kind of be afraid of my dad coming in [to the store], like he was going to do something. I grew up with those things. They felt very familiar to me.

The curly hair chronicles

KB: Once I hit middle school, I think that's when my mom gave me control over my hair. I had a lot of white peers who were straightening their hair. And so, I just adopted that and straightened my hair until probably like the middle of high school. Once I got to Berkeley — actually [in] my club Mixed at Berkeley — they have a program called The Curly Hair Chronicles, where people talk about their curly hair experiences and how to properly deal with curly and textured hair.

Katrina Bullock and friends who are part of Mixed at Berkeley, a club for mixed-race students. (Courtesy Katrina Bullock)

CS: I wish I had that. One thing that's good is that my mom didn't chemically straighten [my or] my sister's hair. I always say how it looks like ‘Chaka Khan hair’ when it’s down. But I always wear it up, back from my face. I think it's because of the attention I got, not wanting that attention. When I went to private schools, I was objectified. I got a lot of attention for being mixed or not white.

Sponsored

KB: Mixed people are obviously fetishized. I believe that’s a tool of like white supremacy to keep us kind of subjugated and not thinking about the racial hierarchy. Why has our idea of beauty been shaped around being ethnically ambiguous?

My mom actually doesn't talk about race as much as my dad did. Just recently, we had a conversation about colorism. I was just telling her [that] in Black communities, I benefit from colorism. But in Filipino communities, I'm more like the victim of colorism.

Growing up [in] Filipino communities, it was like, “You need to have whitening lotion,” and “You need to pin your nose together so it doesn't look so wide.”

CS: I think that right now the next generation is looking at this stuff and talking about it more, because there are more of us. When I hear Katrina, I feel that.

KB: Camille, thank you so much for sharing your story. I absolutely love talking to people who are of the same mix because I think it just showcases how diverse the mixed community is. We come from the same racial background, her parents are of the same race [as my parents], but we have such different experiences growing up in different parts of the states during a different era.