Naomi Vanderlip leads a discussion circle at a imposter syndrome dialogue event in collaboration with Philipino Cultural Exchange.

My ethnicity has always been a topic of curiosity for people. Moments after meeting me, people can’t help but ask, “So, what are you?” The question was so second nature that I would respond with a laugh and say, “Chinese, Dutch and French.”

I have heard my mom’s side’s stories of immigration, the days without money nor common language — the sacrifices necessary to start anew in an unknown place. Meanwhile, on my dad’s side, they speak about attaining college degrees, the centrality of religion — completely different realities from each other. I’ve spent years noticing the subtle differences, like the one between a hug on one side of the family and a second helping of food on the other as different ways of showing love, or in the gift-giving process between red envelopes of lucky money and a wrapped present.

Not knowing where I belonged always weighed on me, bleeding into my friendships, my family and my identity as a whole. This lack of belonging made me less confident in myself, unsure of my position in society, and I couldn’t fully be my authentic self. I felt in a constant state of limbo and, at that time, I couldn’t see the true privilege of my multiracial identity.

This only intensified when I entered Cal Poly. Walking around campus, I was met with a sea of faces that looked nothing like me.

Now, I feel more confident and proud of my identity than I have ever been. I’ve been able to be a panelist on multiracial identity for the greater Cal Poly community. Younger students have reached out to me for advice on starting their own collegiate multiracial clubs. I listened to their stories of wounded pride, assumptions made of them, a splintering of their identity. I heard their impassioned speeches for wanting to create a space for those like them, and I reciprocate all those feelings. I am able to decipher the nuance in all those experiences and through that, the commonality that all mixed students share.

But this was a long process.

According to Cal Poly’s latest Poly View, a publication of student demographic data after the fall quarter census, 1,681 students identified as multiracial, or 7.72% of the study body. This number pales in comparison to Cal Poly’s 21,778 entire student population, as of fall 2022.

Joining various cultural organizations that aligned with my identities, I still felt something missing. I didn’t feel like I truly belonged. The question of “am I [blank] enough to be here?” severed my connection to these clubs.

Feeling “only half” of a certain race burdened me with a feeling of inadequacy. Not speaking Cantonese, not looking like my extended family, not engaging in the same cultural activities or traditions as my friends only added to this feeling.

In 2018, National Public Radio coined the term “racial impostor syndrome,” or the feeling of being an “impostor” to your own race. The article describes this feeling as being treated as “just another tourist” in cultural settings and uses the illustration of “stumbling through that dark, racially ambiguous forest.” This seems to perfectly embody the feelings of my fellow mixed-race students and me.

In my pursuit to understand mixed identity more, I wrote an article about the experience of multiracial individuals on campus. I went into my reporting with no set agenda in mind, just to engage in an authentic conversation about mixed-race struggles and successes. I ended up speaking to each of my sources for close to an hour, resonating with their experiences and appreciating the nuance they shared.

As identifying multiracial is still a fairly new phenomenon, individuals continue to grapple with their identities. According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of adults with a mixed racial background did not consider themselves “multiracial” and only 60% of multiracial adults are proud of their identities.

In these moments of research and reporting, I knew that a space designated for our multiracial community was missing.

Shortly after, I co-founded and became president of Cal Poly’s first and only club for our mixed-race community. We started from a handful of dedicated members in 2020, delving into the complexities of mixed identity over Zoom amid the height of the pandemic. Today, we have grown to a membership of more than 50 students and are an established, prominent cultural club on campus.

At our meetings, we engage in dialogues about our identity — culture shock as we navigate a predominantly white university, our mixed upbringings, cultural differences, fetishization of mixed individuals and more. We also host social events to facilitate those relationships between like-minded people.

Not only do our club members understand themselves better, but this club makes our presence known and validated. When recruiting or telling people about the club, I am often met with excitement, hope and encouragement. Instead of having to disregard a certain side of themselves to fit into another organization, members can embrace and celebrate the duality of their identity.

I’m so happy to see multiracial collegiate clubs spreading throughout the country — and even in high schools. More mixed representation in the media and in the general world can help serve as role models to younger generations trying to piece together their identities.

Being able to contribute to the visibility of mixed-race students in some way is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.


Naomi Vanderlip is a fourth-year student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, double-majoring in English and journalism and minoring in Spanish and linguistics. She is also a member of EdSource’s Student Journalism Corps

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