Thumbnail: What ‘Steven Universe’ Can Teach Us About Living Between Two Worlds
Being mixed race is an endless, exhausting lesson in liminality. There are days you’re unshakably confident in who you are and your place in the world, followed by days you are wrecked by the ambiguity of your existence. Genetic caprice digs gulfs of experience between cousins, siblings, even twins. “Authenticity” is a bullseye you never quite seem to hit. And when immigration enters into it — well. You can be certain of disappointing everyone back in the old country just as often as you disappoint the community that surrounds you.
Perhaps the worst part of it is the silence. Maybe you have a few friends to discuss this with. Maybe your siblings get it. Maybe you’ve found one treasured piece of media that speaks to the shade of grey in which you live. But in total, there isn’t much that portrays this experience — and even less of it accessible to a wider audience.
Enter Steven Universe.
At first, Steven’s life as the only child ever born to a human father and alien mother is pretty sweet. He has all the pizza, video games, and guitar lessons a human kid could want, plus a magical pink lion. He’s content to teach his three doting surrogate mothers all about cartoons and beach barbecues, happy to dazzle his father and friends with healing powers and magical shields. He’s happy to be himself, unto himself.
But as alien enemies have advanced upon Steven’s idyllic existence, so have they eroded this stability. His father high-fives his friend Connie for being another human being entangled in the Gem’s alien exploits; Steven clutches his gem self-consciously and murmurs, “human beings.” The Gems insist he flee with his father to safety as an intergalactic warship approaches; Steven runs back to insist that he’s “a Crystal Gem too.” He heals his friends with magical saliva, but he cannot follow them to school. He heads into danger with his alien mothers, but he doesn’t share their memories of the Gem homeworld. Steven is utterly, inescapably singular.
For a long time, that was simply special. Lately, however, “special” looks a lot more like “lonely.” He’s tugged between two directions, two histories, two ways of life. He’s unable to settle, unable to be “just a Gem” or “just a human.” He’s finding, over the course of the series, that there are experiences he’ll have that no one — not his father, not his mothers, not his friends — will understand.
There are a lot of things about Steven Universe that make me smile. I wish many of those things had been on screen somewhere during my own childhood — chief among them Steven’s experience as a mixed person. But really, even at 25, it is a joy and a comfort to, at last, watch a character explore the struggle and joy of existing between two (or more) worlds. To watch him learn and fight and maybe, eventually, find peace in who he is. I believe in Steven. And I believe in everyone like him — including myself.
Best Steven Universe Fan Art Ever