“Take all that you are and run with it. Stay focused on yourself and make yourself happy. Because at the end of the day, who you are is who you are.”
Sheela Awe is a dancer and model. In addition to being a member of all-female dance groups Nailcuttahz and Flygrls, she currently teaches, choreographs and hosts fashion and lifestyle programs while creating her own comedic content.
Sheela Awe is no stranger to objections about her racial identity. Comments on her social media, where she shares her life as a dancer and model, can range from, “This white girl thinks she’s Chinese” to “I can’t believe this white girl is using that accent.”
And many are surprised when they learn that Sheela, who is of Chinese and German background, identifies with her Chinese roots more than anything, and that she can speak Chinese fluently.
To say that she comes from a multicultural background is an understatement: She was born in South Korea to a German-European father and a Chinese mother. She grew up in Southeast Asia, went to an international high school in China, attended college in New York and holds a German passport. Now she resides in Los Angeles, where she’s used her dance background and social media stardom to carve out a creative career that includes media content celebrating her Asian heritage.
In recent years, Sheela has been able to rapidly grow her social media following by sharing posts of music videos and fashion ad campaigns she had booked as a dancer and model. But it was an innocuous video in which she speaks Chinese that fueled her spark to full embrace — and ultimately express — her Chinese identity. Up until that point, daily actions like speaking Chinese had been something that was second nature to her, even more so than speaking English. It never occurred to her as being something special.
However, the response to the video was overwhelming, and it was in that moment she realized that when she shared parts of her culture, her audience related to her in a very personal way. Now, her Instagram page brims with content that not only showcases her creative abilities but also her Asian heritage.
While her childhood in Asia is the reason she’s always identified with her Asian roots more than her German roots, she embraces both cultural identities, having always seen her biracial journey as a positive one. But for others of mixed race, embracing a dual identity can be difficult. They may feel pressure to identify with one particular race or even be challenged on their racial authenticity, ostracized from one community for not being “enough.” It’s a unique dilemma that mixed-race individuals face, one that can only be dispelled by raising awareness. That negativity has never deterred Sheela from expressing her love for her heritage, but she does, at times, wonder — can a person appropriate their own culture? It’s an interesting question to ask.
Regardless of what online strangers may think, Sheela has visions of growing herself and her platform. She wants to continue creating experiences to share because it’s a way for people to come together and grow together. On a personal level, it’s also a way for her to keep in touch with herself. When asked about her message for young girls, her answer was one she embodies and lives by: “Take all that you are and run with it. Stay focused on yourself and make yourself happy. Because at the end of the day, who you are is who you are.”