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Mixed Emotions: Casha Doemland Discusses the Impact of Racial Ambiguity on Personal Identity

“I don’t know how somebody can look at somebody, without knowing anything about them, and just project all this negativity that then turns into hate,” she says. “It’s hard for me cause I just don’t get it because I don’t look at anybody and feel that way.”
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Casha Doemland doesn’t make small talk—she has conversations. It doesn’t matter if she’s meeting someone for the first time, or hanging out with a friend from birth, her nature is to nurture, which means from the get, she wants to find out what makes people tick. She curious, introspective and thirsty for both her own, and others’, truths.

“I tell people I’m not a surface-level person, so know that conversations with me are gonna get pretty deep because I don’t care about the weather,” the 28-year-old Lawrenceville, Georgia native explains.

Casha attributes her thoughtful, forthright communication style to growing up in a family where emotions were encouraged, not shamed. She never felt like she had to hide herself—the expression of feelings, whether her parents understood them or not, was always welcomed. She didn’t realize this was an anomaly until she was older and began dating and making adult friends who would often comment that she was too soft.

“I’m not soft,” she says she would tell them. “I think my softness makes you feel some type of way that you don’t want to feel. I’m just in tune with my emotions.”

Hers is a particularly useful approach to the world, and to humanity, given her multiracial origins. Casha’s mother is Filipino with a dash of Chinese, and her father, who passed away in June of 2019, was Italian, British and Native American. Translated into physical form, this ethnic blend created a lithe, freckled, brown-skinned woman with expressively large almond-shaped eyes.

“I’ve always been ambiguous looking to people,” she explains. “I think most commonly I get mistaken for Mexican or Hispanic, and people will come up to me and just speak full paragraphs of Spanish.”

Casha didn’t realize her appearance was, as she describes it, “a fat question mark,” until she was out of high school and began working. Growing up, her parents never talked to her about race, and her childhood friends had ethnic origins as diverse as hers, so her identity was never the brought into focus. What’s more, Casha’s a twin, with an identical, albeit four-inch shorter, sister.

“I think being a twin, people were more obsessed with that,” she says. “I think that’s where people’s attention was focused a lot throughout my childhood. It was all like, ‘What’s it like being a twin?’ ‘If I punch her do you feel it?’”

But as Casha began exploring outside the physical and perceptual boundaries of her early years, she quickly realized she was probably going to get asked the dreaded, “What are you?” question every day for the rest of her life. She began to see herself as a person of color because that’s how the world perceived her.

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While Georgia was a great place to grow up, it never felt like home, so in 2016 Casha moved to Los Angeles where she found her “pocket of people,” as she likes to say. Her bubble continued to evaporate, her inner hipped stretch its arms and her dad and grandfather took to calling her a tiny political activist. She surrounded herself with people who were doing the hard work and having the tough conversations, and, as a result, she began untangling her own personal identity and the effect being racially ambiguous has had and continues to have on her life.

“I’m not white enough for the white people, but not brown enough for the brown people,” she says. “I can try to dive into both, but it’s just hard, especially as an adult. I don’t know Tagalog, my mom never taught us, and my brain is like, ‘I don’t know if I have the capacity to add another thing to the to-do list.’”

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“I don’t know how somebody can look at somebody, without knowing anything about them, and just project all this negativity that then turns into hate,” she says. “It’s hard for me cause I just don’t get it because I don’t look at anybody and feel that way.”

“It’s just one of those things where you feel like you’re not enough,” she continues. “And it’s kind of weird because I never felt that way before somebody made a comment.”

From being told her racial ambiguity benefits her, to that she’s privileged for being half-white, the commentary peppering Casha’s life can be heavy. She was thrown for even more of a loop when someone pointed out that because her fiancé is white, she will receive even more privilege in the world.

“I just thought having a good heart and making a difference in the world was what mattered, and as long as I was speaking up for the causes and doing my part, but that comment made me realize: What is life? What am I doing?” she says. “And it’s hard to process it cause it’s the feeling like I’m not enough of either, so how do you find yourself in that?”

While she hasn’t yet been able to answer all those questions, she’s dedicated to the process, and to being a voice for herself and other people of color. She doesn’t hesitate to burn the candle on both ends, from protesting in the streets every Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Trump was elected and George Floyd was murdered, to actively having uncomfortable conversations with members of her family, including her father and her fiancé, Jack.

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She remembers talking to Jack about the inherent privilege he has in this world as an intelligent, charming white man, and how he’s been able to move through life with an ease that she will never know. She remembers being dismissed by her father as a hippie liberal when she brought up the trickle-down effect of Trump’s racism, but instead of letting him laugh her off, she challenged him to dig deeper and see things from her perspective. In the past four to five years, she’s regularly shocked people who are used to a tamer Casha with her passion for social justice.

“I do approach all that stuff with a more Socratic method, because I will not always agree with everybody, and they won’t always agree with me, but I think I can get people to at least start thinking,” she continues. “That’s what I did with my dad, I just asked him questions and then he did the work. Cause people don’t learn if you’re just like, ‘You will believe this.’”

“One thing has to spark for it to ignite this train of thought,” she continues. “It just takes sitting with somebody to be like, this is kind of fucked up, and this is why I think it’s fucked up, but why don’t you think it’s fucked up?”

After growing up watching her mom stay silent about the racism she experienced as a non-native English speaker, Casha will stay silent no more. She’s defying the model minority stereotype of the quiet and easy Asian woman who just keeps her emotions bottled inside and acts like nothing happened. And as a result, she’s not only become more protective of her mother, but also of the world at large.

“I don’t know how somebody can look at somebody, without knowing anything about them, and just project all this negativity that then turns into hate,” she says. “It’s hard for me cause I just don’t get it because I don’t look at anybody and feel that way.”

“Why are we putting people in any type of box?” she adds. “Humans are fluid and they’re allowed to be fluid and when you start to accept the fluidity of being human then your mind will open up.”

Casha’s dedication to make the world a more beautiful place isn’t limited to opening minds through tough conversations. She’s also passionate about the environment, and is currently a full-time student—in addition to her full-time work as a freelance set designer and prop stylist—studying geography, with the hopes of eventually earning her master’s in environmental studies. In 2017, she created an organization called Allies of Mother Earth, that hosts clean ups around the greater Los Angeles region. She hopes to one day elevate it to the next level by volunteering at schools in low-income areas and teaching students about the earth and sustainability.

“I think for change to really happen, we have to keep talking about it and I know with any type of change people are like, ‘It has to happen at the top, so I’m not going to do anything,’ and that’s the wrong mentality,” she says. “Cause it’s the same for environmental work—if we all do something that inspires somebody else to do something, then we create this whole blossoming of change. I think we are already doing the work.” 

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