Holly Camisa Shares her Experience with Being Multiracial
Holland & Knight's Diversity Council and Asian/Pacific Islander (API) Affinity Group is proud to celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and pay tribute to the generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and continue to play a role in its future success. This year, we took time to reflect on how we could better support our API colleagues, sitting down with attorneys and staff to have important conversations about racial justice and allyship. We now present a video series showcasing some of these conversations. We hope that the stories conveyed in these videos help advance dialogue around API Heritage Month as well as lead to further discussions of how we can be better allies to our API friends, family and colleagues.
In this episode, attorney Holly Camisa reflects on her upbringing as a multiracial individual and how she experiences society's perception of race. Holly explains that growing up, her mother and grandmother taught her to embrace her Korean roots. However, she has struggled with her identity as an Asian American and Italian American. She shares that from a young age, people told her she did not look Asian or wasn't Asian enough, even at protests against anti-Asian American violence. In this video, she explores how she has dealt with these struggles and what she has learned from them.
More Videos in this Series
Episode 6: Becoming an Ally with Jennifer A. Mansfield
Episode 9: Explaining the Model Minority Myth
Episode 10: Holly Camisa Shares her Experience with being Multiracial (You are currently viewing Episode 10)
Holly Camisa: My name is Holly Camisa. I'm a first-year associate in the Real Estate practice group. I'm in the Philadelphia office, and I wanted to talk today because I am Korean-American. I'm multiracial. I'm also Italian-American. My grandmother came here from Korea. She went through some really horrible things during the war. And my mom was raised in Korea until high school. And so for me, that just means growing up with, you know, that's your family identity. For me it was a huge thing. I grew up learning how to make kimchi with my grandmother, which is something so important to me, and learning how to make pagogi and chap chee, and a lot of food traditions. I also grew up watching a lot of Korean TV and movies before that was popular. So I've been really excited that is picking up also. And this one is a little bit silly, but it's true. The Korean beauty industry is now huge. But growing up, my grandmother always loved sending us things from Korea, so I was always like the sheet masks, everything. So, then also growing up, I loved when we would have events for school where it was Culture Night, where you were supposed to do a potluck and bring something from your background. And I was always excited to have my mom make Korean barbecue meats or something like that to bring in and have people try. It was always really exciting because it felt really unique to me, and being able to share that then has always been really fun. You know, my whole life I've had people say to me, "But you're not really Asian." Which to me, I know, is just because I don't look like what they perceive to be, what they think someone should look like who is Asian. And that is really hurtful and kind of confusing, especially as a kid, because I am growing up with all these traditions and all this pride, and it really makes you realize how much appearance means to other people versus the reality of how you identify in your culture and what you're living. I had a really hard time hearing that and would often respond with a joke or something like, "Well, you know, you should have the pressures of having a Korean grandmother and Korean mother who are pushing you to get perfect grades," and, you know, kind of make a joke that I honestly really regret looking back now. A lot of times I was picking up on something sort of stereotypical to make a joke, and I feel like it was offensive, and I really regret it. And now I kind of have a lot more strength to say it more boldly, like, "Well, I am, and it's something I'm very proud of," and I kind of push back. Questions rather than jokes now, as, "well, what makes you say that?" Because it kind of forces people to say, "based on how you look," because they don't know anything about you and your background when making that statement. And I think it's good to push back with a question rather than a joke.
In the wake of the huge rise in anti-Asian American violence last year, I was so moved and disturbed by that and became quickly very actively involved. There was a big march in Philadelphia, and I had a big sign that said, "Proud to be Asian." And I had some people say to me afterwards, "It was kind of weird that you did that because you're not really Asian," and it caused these really difficult feelings and questions that I had inside myself because to me I thought, well, OK, that's just offensive. I am. And part of me just wasn't even willing to hear that. But it also did make me think about the concept of perception and how people see you. And I did think, OK, these attacks are happening, they are based on people's appearances, and I would not be attacked. And so I went from feeling so personally affected by it to sort of questioning myself and if I was being offensive or if I was stepping on anybody's toes or, you know. I don't know, it caused a lot of difficult identity questions. People do have perceptions, and it's something that people can't really help. But the way that you respond is tremendous. And so it's fine to ask questions like, "Oh, that's so interesting. I didn't know that. Tell me more about it." Obviously, I think it's good for people to find that to be interesting, but I think assertions more are the problem. A huge part of like how I identify and feel is just thanks to my mom and my grandmother and their pride in being so proud and always reminding me of who I am and where they came from and some of these sort of difficult stories from my grandmother's background. And I think that when someone has had a difficult life and they've had to leave their country because of that, but they still love their country so much, and add on to that, that pride carries on for generations. And so I think that my grandmother's experience definitely lives in me, and it's something so important to me. And that's a huge reason why this matters so much in my life.