When was the last time you felt truly heard?
Being biracial is like having a moth fluttering in my mind and learning to train that moth. The United States may not feel so united right now because, in the righteous night before dawn, perhaps we are learning to tame countless moths who want to be free from the systems and the labels and the bubbles that shackle our spirits. Our binary society of right and wrong, of good and evil, craves certainty and ease. Collectively, we are fighting erasure and fractured identity. We have been for a long time. It’s frustratingly beautiful.
This is what I’m seeing from my small seat. I am an Iranian American in Pennsylvania. I am white passing, an identity that feels perpetually transient. I am of the crystals of my native Arkansas and the turquoise of my mother’s Middle East. I love the flat simple land of the midwest and the cool blue eyes of my father. I dance with the paisley scarves flown from Iran and seek refuge in my mom’s honey brown eyes.
And as the world begs to be born, I’m hopeful that those lines on the map will continue to gently braid and burn.
My childhood was wonderful in many ways and challenging in others — to others. In the 1990s, I was free to explore my creativity, to live in between, to write, to dance, to play — to create a space between east and west in our ceramics studio. I had very few friends in a town that shuddered at anyone remotely foreign. I was laughed at because my mom danced with finger cymbals and made me jump over fire for the Persian New Year. As her passenger, I know what it’s like to be cornered by three police officers for a simple mistake.
Meanwhile, I named my blond doll Nazanine. I dressed up in traditional garb on Halloween, declared myself a Persian princess only to be called the Genie. I wished for my faraway cousin’s lush jet black hair. I argued about crayon colors. I’ve scribbled in multiple bubbles on standardized tests before the Race section offered a “Mixed” option. I was the white middle eastern kid on 9/11 breaking the “otherness” insisted on by George Bush who declared: “You’re either with us or you’re against us.”
As white passing, I disrupt a system that yearns to force us in boxes that may not feel quite like home. I’ve had someone inspect my bone structure and the fire in my hazel eyes, and demand my DNA results to prove I’m not adopted. My blood is mixed and much of my extended family is adoptive — from my mixed Native “Auntie B” to my Black “Grandad” who took my parents and me under his potter wing.
When I think of my family of blood and heart, I don’t separate them into BIPOC and white. I don’t keep a color-coded Rolodex of my loved ones.
I say this with love: Race is not binary and neither are you, dear one. Let’s leave room for each other’s nuance. Humans are fluid. Each of our truths is complex, and the truth is made of us all. From the perspective of blurring the breezy east and the revolutionary west, I welcome you to the wild in-between of 2020.
As my ancestors flow freely inside me I’m aware that my very on-the-cusp existence can be politically incorrect. While already dancing around the pandemic and feeling physically estranged from loved ones, I’m finding it increasingly challenging to be my whole self on social media. But that doesn’t stop me from loving, forgiving, and learning. The moth I am taming propels me forward and my hope is that one day, she will be set free to explore the boundless love shackled by made-boundaries.
Along with many mixed people, I blur the lines of race and ethnicity. I have rarely been silenced by BIPOC for speaking about my culture and my childhood experiences. Now that so many white liberals and white conservatives are in the conversation, many of whom I believe are well-meaning, I feel quite out of place.
Still, there is a certain peace that comes with being in the middle. That’s where my optimism comes from. If I, and many other mixed race people. can exist and be happy, then the world can too.
On the search for truth, I have heard that the truth has already been revealed in the natural world if we open our eyes to behold it. My truth is this: Love is all we need. It’s quite simple really. We all just want to belong, to be loved, to fly freely. Love is wide. Love is tough. Love is flowing.
So while I am trying not to encourage divide, I find the dualistic thinking engrained in this country to be very western. It’s either one party or the other party. It’s either a villain or a savior. It’s either right or wrong. Jesus or Judas. Nothing in between.
I was raised differently — with mixed race and mixed feelings. Eastern thought is very fluid. To balance my western rigor, I am making an effort to start my sentences with: “I think,” “I believe,” “I read,” or “I feel.” Better yet, I am trying to add -ing to those verbs to embrace the changing nature of humanity. Otherwise, there are only statements thrown around that may or may not be hard truths. A more eastern way of approaching conversations is to leave room for exploration, for curiosity, for questions, for the unknown.
There’s a constant fluttering. I make mistakes and set them free. I also love asking questions. I like catching flight with another who may have a different perspective. Through my eyes, the United States is a blurred poem and it can be really beautiful if we lean into the shadows rather than casting some into the light and others into the dark. Shadows are natural.
Polarization is natural, too. That’s why we have the north and south poles. Still, you can be both and you can be neither. It’s okay to live near the Equator. It’s warm here.
Each of us seeks belonging and, I believe, every one of us deserves to feel seen and heard. When have you ever felt truly heard? I urge you to think of a time when you felt neither here nor there, neither right nor wrong. Consider a moment in your life when perhaps one part of you felt empowered, while another felt erased. Are there parts of yourself, memories or passions, that you might feel the need to censor depending on the audience? When have you felt oppressed? Silenced? Lonely? Traumatized? Wounded? Healed? Loved? This is the human experience. We are one.
Written by Sienna Mae Heath