Published: November 2, 2016
Sharon H. Chang remembers the odd looks she got when she was a little girl. She remembers the pain of feeling out of place in the world, whether it was in the town where she grew up in Connecticut, or visiting family in Taiwan and China. Most of all, she remembers the question that would never go away: “What are you?”
Those early experiences stayed with her as she embarked on a journey that brought her to Pacific Oaks College. And she graduated in 2013 with more than just a master’s degree. Chang’s in-depth research into the Asian diaspora and what it means to be multicultural in America culminated in a book that has launched a career for her as an activist, blogger, and public speaker.
“I credit Pacific Oaks for accelerating my journey,” says Chang, explaining that her master’s thesis was the start of her book, Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Children in a Post-Racial World. “I knew I wanted a school that would give me room to breathe and think about how my personal experiences could shape my professional ambitions. I didn’t realize my training would move me in the direction of book writing, critique, and analysis.”
Chang received a M.A. in Human Development with an Early Childhood Education specialization and serves as the Community Dialogues Program Manager at Families of Color Seattle. Based on her own experiences and academic training, she helps others address the complex questions that race and ethnicity pose in the U.S. today.
“When I had my son, Kazuo, I found myself facing questions I’d faced my whole life,” says Chang, explaining that her son is of Japanese, Taiwanese, and Caucasian American ancestry. “I could see what happened to me happening to him—he had those same questions. ‘Why do people stop and stare?’ ‘Why do people ask where my parents are from?’ ‘Why does it feel irritating after a while? And exhausting?’ ‘What does it mean to be mixed race, and what is race?’”
The dialogical approach to education in a Pacific Oaks classroom, she says, prepared her well to engage in these raw, sometimes emotional and complicated discussions with her own son and many others interested in understanding how they fit into the world around them.
In fact, Chang was still a student at Pacific Oaks when she launched her blog, Multiracial Asian Families. In her first posting in October 2012, she wrote about the experience of Kazuo at a children’s birthday party. A few adults couldn’t get his name right, saying “Cosmo.”
“Every mispronunciation felt like a gut punch to me,” she wrote. “I wonder what he took away from that party. Does he already hate his Japanese name? Does he already feel different?”
Through her research and writing, she wants to help multiracial Asian families sort through questions like that, and help to create formation of a positive identity.
“I aim to provide others with the tools and vocabulary needed to more readily navigate the waters of racial identity,” she says.
“By developing more of a questioning, critical awareness of how race impacts and shapes our lives, we can all contribute to making the world a more racially just place.”