Keshaun Chow

Ada, Multiplied

I was standing outside the school gates, surrounded by the sharp scent of eucalypts, that I first realized. My five-year-old daughter was starting elementary school. Gathered around us was a small gaggle of children, their hats askew and their feet shuffling. And us, their parents — who, after 112 days of enforced lockdown — were attempting to model appropriate human-to-human interaction.

“What’s your daughter’s name?” a bubbly, bob-haired woman asked me.

“Ada,” I replied. We had chosen what we’d believed to be an old-fashioned name, in honor of her long-dead great grandmother. Through some twist of naming trend cycles, our daughter’s name had become unexpectedly commonplace.

“Oh, what a coincidence!” the woman replied. “Our daughter’s name is Ada too!” She pointed at her Ada, a willowy slip of a child standing quietly off to one side. The woman, who I later learned was named Maggie[1], laughed, showing a row of even white teeth. “They even look the same!”

It was true. Her Ada had the same dark brown hair, the same dark brown eyes, the same olive complexion as our daughter. Standing next to each other, they could almost pass for sisters.

You see, I am one half of a stereotypical couple. I met my now-fiancé at university. It was me that made the first move — inviting him to my birthday party, snogging him, and bringing him back to my place all in the space of 24 hours. Later, after an accelerated courtship that involved us moving in together after only four months, he would say “he didn’t see me coming.” Of course that was the case; we all have our idea of what a future partner might look like. For him, a banana probably wasn’t it.

For me, however, it was the norm. I have a long history of dating white boys. In fact, I have a history of only dating white boys. I’ve never dated anything but.

I could spout all sorts of nonsense about cross-cultural relations, about the wokeness of modern relationships, or of not seeing color. But the truth is, I do see color. I see color more than my white, cis-het male fiancé does. I don’t have a choice.

When I was four, a skinhead spat on my dress and told me to “go home.” When I was fifteen, a friend told me I was “lucky” I got to date a white boy. My parents’ friends would say biracial children were attractive because “they got the best of both sides”. What were meant as harmless throwaway comments only served to make me feel like a lesser, uglier, specimen.

These, as well as innumerable other micro-aggressions, add up over a lifetime. They become so pervasive that in the end they seem like they don’t exist. If you squint, you can almost convince

yourself you’re imagining it. You’re too sensitive. You’re being a snowflake. Everyone gets offended these days. Don’t make a problem where there ain’t one, man.

I doubt my fiancé realized what he’d signed up for, all those years ago. When I pounced on him in that smoke-filled divey bar, I doubt he expected he’d be here, fifteen years later, living in a two-bedroom house with two cats and two biracial kids. I doubt he anticipated the ten-year battle of wills over whether we should wear shoes in the house (Chinese culture dictates that shoes should be left at the door; he felt like a slob if he went barefoot). He once told me a random woman approached he and Ada at the swimming pool and knew he had an Asian wife, even though I wasn’t present. He related this anecdote with an air of confusion. 

“How,” he asked me, “did she know Ada was half-Asian?” 

To which I replied, “she could tell by her eyes. The epicanthal folds.”

“The what?” He’d never even heard that term.

I pointed at my inner eyelids. “These bits.”

“Oh.” He’d always called them my “treasure chests”. I thought it was cute, so I’d never corrected him.

He doesn’t see color. He doesn’t have to.

None of this might be concerning if it weren’t so common. Being a stereotypical couple means that in our suburb, in our city, in our country, around the world, there are probably tens of thousands other couples like us. Jokes about mail order brides aside, the Asian female-white male coupling is one of the most popular interracial pairings worldwide. It is so common that entire groups of Asian males lament the loss of ‘their’ women to white men. Actual dating agencies have sprung up which pair Asian men with Black women. Do I feel bad that such agencies need to exist? Yes. Do I still find myself most attracted to white men? Also yes.

I’ve often asked myself why this is, and the truth is equally painful and embarrassing. My preference for white men is not a rejection of Asian men. It is a rejection of myself. Growing up, I hated being Chinese in a white-dominated world. I wanted to be an actor, an Olympic swimmer, an author, a vet; all professions with very little diversity. Although representation is getting better with time, these professions remain disproportionately white. It’s difficult to express how tiring it is to always have to push that little bit harder than everyone else in order to be successful. 

I always wanted children, and like all parents regardless of species, I didn’t want my offspring to suffer. In my twisted logic, having half-white kids would spare them 50% of the struggles I faced growing up. The effect of my ethnicity could theoretically be diluted down the generations until it ceased to be an issue at all, and therefore my descendants could enjoy a life free of race-related struggles. Now, as an adult, I realize this is pretty nonsensical. All humans have the capacity to suffer, whatever their skin color. But as a child, this dangerous messaging became so deeply ingrained in my psyche that I’m sure it shaped the very synapses governing my attraction to the opposite sex.

My unspoken assumptions backfired somewhat. I thought I’d spare my biracial children race-related suffering (and simultaneously gift them a fortunate combination of genes that would render them attractive). But having biracial kids opens up a whole realm of equally worrisome issues. Personal tales abound from biracial people who never felt they fit in. Or worse, who are teased for being ‘hapa’ or ‘half-breeds’. 

Then there’s the concern they’ll be fetishized as much as I was as a full-blooded Asian woman. Eurasians are lauded as being “exotic” and “beautiful” (remember the comments of my parents’ friends?). I worry that my kids will become symbolic tokens, just like I was. 

Once, a white male friend said that with all the interracial couples nowadays, humans would one day “become a gray race”. I realized how deep-seated that worry was when I watched my daughter Ada standing next to her doppelganger namesake. It’s one of the complexities of being a marginalized human. On the one hand, you want to be like everybody else. At the same time, you can’t stand being boxed up with everybody else, because then you become a faceless representation of your entire culture and stop existing as a real, individual person. It’s like the time I found out my ex-boyfriend had replaced me with another short, Asian woman. All of a sudden, I was no longer flesh and blood. I became a caricature, a carbon-copy, a romanticized version of an Oriental ideal.

Exactly how damaging is it to have children born out of self-hatred? I once read a devastatingly long, bitter essay written by a half-Asian adult man, who raged not only at himself but at his mother for her perceived “rejection” of his own kind. After all, he reasoned, how could she love him, a half-Asian, when she obviously hated Asians so much she refused to marry one? Apart from the obvious paradox that if she had married an Asian, he wouldn’t even exist, he had a point. How can I, an Asian woman who only ever dated white men, instill in my children the type of self-acceptance that I desperately wish I possessed myself?

How can I, in a society that constantly, subtly glorifies white men and fetishizes Asian women, teach my children to truly see beyond color? Not in a blessedly ignorant way, like my partner. But in a way that acknowledges their heritage without forcing them into a pre-conceived category. Already the language of my parents is fading. The traditions, the recipes, the superstitions… In less than one generation, it will be all gone.

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Is it enough of a start that I’m asking?

When my son was born, I was relieved. Not just because he was a nine-pound baby with a 97th percentile head birthed out of my barely-dilated cervix in just over an hour (the anesthesiologist arrived too late to deliver pain relief). I was relieved because through the bloodied, matted mess of bodily secretions I saw his hair was blond. I’d never expected to have a blond baby, and — having absorbed Mendelian genetics as gospel all throughout high school — it still perplexes me to this day. It hurts me to say I was relieved he looked like my partner. My blue-eyed partner, who never asked for his privilege, but has it anyway. My partner, who never saw color because he never had to.

I can only hope that one day my children, or at least their children, will experience the same blissful ignorance as he. But I hope that ignorance will be from genuine progress. That somehow, society will have moved so far ahead we can acknowledge the richness of our ethnicities without stratifying them. That we can create a world that isn’t gray, but is replete with color, culture, and diversity.

A world where my partner and I wouldn’t be a stereotypical couple. 

A world where we’d just be a couple. 

[1] Names have been changed to protect privacy

Artist Statement

“I’ve always been a writer in some form and capacity, but it’s only recently that I’ve really committed to “recreational writing”. And it’s only even more recently that I’ve felt empowered to write about my experiences as a woman of colour. Growing up in white-dominated Australia meant that, despite my parents’ best efforts, I grew up feeling more white than Asian. It’s this disparity between the internal and external that I’ve recently wanted to explore in my work. This non-fiction piece is an exploration of the way I (and greater society) have been conditioned to view whiteness as being the ultimate beauty standard. I figure it’s an issue that is uncomfortable for most―certainly it is uncomfortable for me. Writing this piece was very personal and, in many ways, extremely difficult. What I’ve found is that the times when

I’ve felt free to be vulnerable, to use my authentic voice as a woman of colour―these are the times I have produced my strongest work.

I was the 2020 winner of the Perito Prize, a short-story contest centred around diversity, for an allegorical piece of speculative fiction based on my experiences of racism. Since then, I’ve been short-listed and long-listed for various prizes, and been published (or have work forthcoming) in Maudlin House, Okay Donkey Magazine, Rust + Moth, Hobart Pulp, and others. I spend my days chasing around two kids, two cats, and various other animals, and spend my nights tinkering on a novel amongst other writing projects.