How My Parents Shaped My Mixed Race Identity

Parents are often the stewards of our development and the beacons of morality. So, how does one navigate themselves when their imparter does not share the same experience? My internal self-reflection of my own racial identity as a mixed race individual has been and will always be closely linked to my two monoracial parents, but I have also come to the realization that I did not have the same experiences as my parents growing up and they will not have the same experience as a mixed race individual despite their proximity to it. I believe this is important because this understanding of identity formation is not hard, fixed features like race, gender, class, or the intersection of thereof, but a continuous evolving amorphous object that changes over time. Many articles argue that locale of the minority parent as it relates to gender and to a smaller degree, if at all, social capital factor in the racial identification of mixed race individual (Xie, 1996; Schlabach, 2013), but I do believe that in the socioeconomic context of people’s lives parents play a part to children’s racial identity indirectly and directly (Heard, 2006).

My parents never married and had me at a relative young age (23 for my mom and 25 for my dad.) Both grew up with each other in suburbia Orange County in a city called Huntington Beach and knew each other through school. They suffered through teenage angst, suffocation and entrapment of the suburbs, and uncertainty to endure similar and different tragedies in their lives. My dad, who is white, was a military kid that never stayed in one place too long except for Huntington Beach and dealt with the family curse of alcoholism. My mom is Japanese American and she had to navigate a predominately white space while being a minority, unwind the historical trauma of internment and post-war Japan that my Nisei (2nd generation) grandfather and Issei (1st generation) grandmother carried, and negotiate the pressure of acculturation. In their inner circle of friends and family they had to deal with teenage pregnancy and suicide. This is important because it lays the context of having me at a young age, growing up while negotiating parenthood, and eventually my racial identity. It wasn’t until I understood this context that I began to really accept my mixed roots.

Shortly after my birth, my father’s whiteness opened an opportunity of upward social mobility by leaving his dead-end jobs in California and becoming trained as an airplane mechanic in Indiana. I ended up only seeing him during the summer and his presence was only felt through child support checks. I grew up mostly in his absence and because of that I understand the impact of the locality of the minority parent being a mother. During this time my mom eked a living on food stamps and medi-cal, while taking care of her children and my grandfather’s failing health. It was at that time I strongly identified with my Japanese side and became hyper-demonstrative to prove my “Japaneseness”. I understand when Martis wrote in a Salon article that she, “despised [her] father; his absence humiliated [her]. Not only did [she] loathe his withdrawn parenting, but I hated his genes. I inherited his dark skin and large nose” (Martis 2014). The absence of a parent for a mixed race individual can cause that individual to align themselves exclusively with their remaining parent’s racial identity.

T

he inescapability of your mixed identity despite your relationship with your parents become apparent through phenotypical markers like being branded by a tattoo. Your body becomes a signifier and an invitation for people to ask, “what are you/where are you from?” As Martis eloquently explains that she, “realized that inheritance is attributed with likeness; to belong to your family, you must look alike. Not alike in the eye shape, frown lines or smile, but alike in skin color. In our society, skin pigmentation is the greatest marker that sets us apart from one another. When a child looks different from her family members due to that pigmentation, her inheritance is questioned” (Martis 2014). Hair, body type, eyes, and skin color become a mosaic that links you to your parents and adds another layer to your racial identity. I was born with brownish curly hair that grew out to be black with slight curls only noticeable once it reaches a certain length. But those blonde/brownish hairs didn’t die at a young age, they occasionally pop-up as body hairs and in my mustache and beard as a little reminder to not forget my mixed roots. My hair and body type/ shape are imprints that link me to my father. My complexion, eyes, and other obvious features are things that I have inherited from my mother and embraced when I was younger because it was a tangible connection to being Japanese. Although Blackness and whiteness, therefore power, in American society is closely linked to the amount or lack of melanin in your skin, the one thing I didn’t overtly experience was colorism. I tended to be one of the darkest in my family; my color does change with the season and amount of time I spent outside. This was probably because my families grew up in Southern California with beaches and didn’t receive the same social cues or stigma to stay indoors or conform to white beauty standards. Understanding the relation of my body as it relates to my parents, along with self-love and body positivity, allowed me to accept my mixed race identity and challenge the notion of phenotype as a marker for race or ethnic background.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself as white passing, the socioeconomic differences between my dad’s life in Indiana and my mom’s in California taught me about white privilege and your association to whiteness. Even though race is socially constructed, we live in a system in which race plays a key role in power, accessibility of upward social mobility, and interpersonal interactions/ level of microaggressions. For example, my father had access to product signifiers of middle class America; He didn’t need to worry about food insecurity and could afford to buy brand names and the standard iphone/ipod/other products that help define the middle class. That was not the same lived experience as my mom, who hustled to get things on sale. I would get the occasional stares and comments, “who’s the Chinese kid with that guy?” but my proximity to my dad’s whiteness shielded me from far worse microaggressions. People in Indiana were friendly, kind, and hospitable to me.

 

It took me till I was 23 years old developing my career, that I developed an appreciation of what my father and mother did for me. Though I would have wish things were different and my father was around more often, I could not imagine having a kid before 25 and making a tough decisions regarding career and providing for a child. This allowed me to let go of my resentment towards him and acceptance of my mixed race identity. In looking back he did ease the racial divide the best he could. He spent time in Japan growing up while my grandfather was stationed there, even going to elementary school which bridged the gap. There was shoyu and furikake always on hand and our go to places to eat out was sushi. We always connected through baseball, despite him being a Yankee fan and me an Angel fan. I’m grateful for what my mother and father did for me, even though they are no longer together. It lead me to a deeper understanding of myself and how parent and child relationships affect the development of racial consciousness and identity formation. If this story connects with you, please comment or share your own experience on how your relationship with your parent(s) or chosen family shaped your identity.

 

Sources

  • Heard, H. and Bratter, J. 2006. “Racial and Ethnic Differences In Parent-Child Relationships: Does Mixed Race Matter?”Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. <http://paa2006.princeton.edu/papers/61875 >
  • Martis, Eternity E. “Owning my mixed-race identity: Why I don’t have to choose sides.” Salon. N.p., 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.
  • Schlabach, S. (2013), The Importance of Family, Race, and Gender for Multiracial Adolescent Well-being. Fam Relat, 62: 154–174. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00758.x
  • Xie Y, Goyette K. The racial identification of biracial children with one Asian parent: Evidence from the 1990 Census. Social Forces. 1997; 76:547– 570.

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Chris Weir is a haifu (half Japanese half white) community organizer that is part of KmB Pro-people youth (a progressive grassroots organization in Historical Filipinotown in Los Angeles) and Nikkei Progressives (a progressive organization based in Little Tokyo). Chris is an avid cyclist and his next project is organizing bike rides in Japantowns in Southern California with the hope to share local Nikkei histories, link communities together through biking, support local businesses and community programs, and share a vision for equitable and sustainable development and transportation. Professionally Chris works at APAIT (a local non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization that works to positively impact medical underserved communities through culturally competent and linguistically relevant programs) as an Outreach and Testing specialist. On his free time Chris likes to run, play with his Australian cattle dog named Kora, and try new things.


How Historical Trauma and Acculturation Affect my Haifu Identity Formation

The incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans left an indelible mark on America’s history and the narrative of WWII, but the repercussions reverberates within the Japanese American community today. The historical trauma of economic loss of jobs and houses, displacement, subjugation to a loyalty questionnaire, being drafted out of the camps, the no-no boys, draft resisters and “specific cultural values that shaped their internment coping included gaman (persevering through hardships), shikata ga nai (a fatalistic attitude of “it cannot be helped”), enryo (self restraint/reserve that discourages emotional expression)” have been documented in papers and films (Homma-True, 1997 as cited by Nagata 2007). Underlying this tragedy was a pressure cooker of acculturation. When American society viewed Japanese Americans as un-American and purposefully imprisoned them people based on their cultural background, there was an undue amount of pressure to demonstrate their American-’ness’ and melt into America’s melting pot, despite internal and external pressures of racism and concerns of national security raising the heat of the pot. This can be seen when 33,000 Nisei served in the military (442nd regional combat team, 100th Infantry battalion, and Military Intelligence Service) risking their lives and becoming one of the most decorated units of that time, despite having their family incarcerated (Niiya 2014). Even those who resisted the draft or said no-no to the loyalty questionnaire were exercising their constitutional freedoms and patriotism despite having being stripped of their civil liberties (Nagata 2015). The height of assimilation seemed to be achieved as Japanese Americans were crowned as the “model minority,” achieving success despite decades of racial prejudice (rise of Asiatic Exclusion League, segregation in San Francisco public schools, Gentlemen’s agreement, Alien Land Law, 1924 Immigration Act, and Internment during WWII). As Nagata writes, the historical trauma of incarceration should be viewed throughout time based on the “interaction of personal, intergenerational, and social forces” (Nagata 2015). The interconnections of our experiences and politics as it relates to microaggressions and institutionalized racism are stitched into the next generation and progress can only be seen when the next generation exposes it and heals from it.

As a haifu/ hapa/ biracial (half white and half Japanese) individual I not only have trouble balancing my mixed racial identity, but often find myself filling in the gaps of my family’s historical trauma of incarceration and war in Japan (my grandfather was incarcerated and my grandmother was in Japan during WWII) and navigating the pressure of acculturation. I’m starting to realize that my social interactions and identity are often performative and I have to ask myself if it’s because I’m trying to be ‘Japanese’ enough or fit in as an ‘American’. Growing up playing baseball, my favorite player was Ichiro Suzuki and I tried to play with a certain flavor that reflected Japanese side in an American pastime sport; playing smallball, being strong defensively, and fit in as much as I can as a team player. In terms of language I haven’t necessarily felt comfortable speaking English or Japanese. In elementary school I spent years in speech therapy because I couldn’t pronounce certain consonants sounds and I was navigating school as well as intergenerational communication with my grandmother with a thick accent that couldn’t make those same consonant sounds. Also, despite years of Japanese courses in high school and part of college, I am not fluent nor comfortable enough to carry a conversation in Japanese. I find my work in community organizing and attending community events as a way to fill the gaps in my own family history, by listening to stories and experiences that I wished I had the chance to ask my grandfather before he passed. Being self-reflective of your intentions of your actions is a skill set you develop to navigate a complex world, but becomes even more important when your haifu and have to navigate your intersectional identity while balancing historical trauma and acculturation.

Being mixed raced and/or bi-racial, we straddle a thin line between their ethnic/cultural identities and physically as well as emotionally know the tolls of acculturation and historic trauma. My experiences have demonstrated that both the rat race to assimilate and/or melt your unique individual identities into the white hetero cisgender hegemonic melting pot (America’s hegemonic narrative) as well as the hyper demonstrative of your “otherness”, can lead to a hole in your physical and spiritual self that manifests itself as mental and physical health disparities, such as depression, suicide, increase risk for cardiovascular disease, ulcers, and etc (Nagata 2015). Mixed race individuals can facilitate these conversations of how acculturation and historical trauma are linked, the health disparities that arise from dissociation of one’s identity, and process of healing.

If this is something that resonates with you, please comment or share your personal stories of assimilating/fitting in and how it may be connected to your family history as it relates to trauma (war displacement, genocide, transmigration, economic instability, and etc.)

 

Sources:

  1. Nagata, D. K., Tsuru, G.K. (2007). Psychosocial Correlates of Self-Reported Coping Among Japanese Americans Interned During World War II. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 77 No.2, 221-230.
  2. Niiya, Brian. “Japanese Americans in military during World War II.” Densho Encyclopedia. 5 Mar 2014, 16:43 PST. 30 Jul 2017, 16:32 <http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Japanese%20Americans%20in%20military%20during%20World%20War%20II/>.
  3. Nagata, D. K., Kim, J.H.J., Nguyen, T. U. (2015). Processing Cultural Trauma: Intergenerational Effects of the Japanese American Incarceration. Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 71 No.2, 356-370.

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Chris Weir is a haifu (half Japanese half white) community organizer that is part of KmB Pro-people youth (a progressive grassroots organization in Historical Filipinotown in Los Angeles) and Nikkei Progressives (a progressive organization based in Little Tokyo). Chris is an avid cyclist and his next project is organizing bike rides in Japantowns in Southern California with the hope to share local Nikkei histories, link communities together through biking, support local businesses and community programs, and share a vision for equitable and sustainable development and transportation. Professionally Chris works at APAIT (a local non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization that works to positively impact medical underserved communities through culturally competent and linguistically relevant programs) as an Outreach and Testing specialist. On his free time Chris likes to run, play with his Australian cattle dog named Kora, and try new things.


Similarity is Not a Requirement for Compassion

I am whitish — a white-looking mixed person, specifically of Irish and Haitian descent, the Irish being more obvious than the Haitian. Black experiences aren’t my experiences. I am not denied job interviews because people see a typical sounding African American name and make false assumptions about my competency and intelligence. If a retail clerk approaches me, I don’t worry that it’s because they assume I’m shoplifting. If I’m stopped by the police, I assume it’s because of my speed and not because of the color of my skin.

In short, I pass.

I am a mixed person with white skin and white privilege. My white privilege gives me a lot, but being mixed shows me the world. It showed me that my mom and dad get treated differently at the same store, or that nobody believes that my cousins and I are related or that I’ll always have to answer the “what are you?” question, always accompanied by an uncomfortably quizzical look. It showed me that when we talk about experiences, we are almost always talking about The White Experience. POC pain is met with an insurmountable amount of skepticism by white people. Video after video of police brutality has been leaked and #bluelivesmatter remains as strong a rallying cry as ever.

I used to wonder if I would be as aware of racism if I were born to a strictly white family, but after a lot of painfully awkward conversations about race I no longer believe that. I believe if you want to learn about race you can start by asking yourself intelligent questions and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Next time a fellow human says that something is racially offensive to them, ask yourself why you get to decide what is hurtful to someone? Ask yourself why your opinion about their experience is more valid than their opinion about their experience?” Ask yourself why it’s easier to label someone as the “PC police” or a “social justice warrior (and for the record, I wear that badge with pride)” than it is to own your words and the mistakes you make with them? We’ve all said the wrong thing at the wrong time to someone before and someone has said the wrong thing to us at the wrong time before. It shouldn’t be so unfathomable to us that the same thing happens in racial discussions…a lot. Until we become as invested in fighting racism as we are defending it, we will remain a country bitterly divided.

Understanding America’s racial issues begin with compassion. A person shouldn’t need to be the same color or have the same experiences as you to be respected. Practice listening to the experience of women, LGBTQIA people and POC without defending, dismissing, distancing or denying their experiences. Read books that aren’t just written by white men. Elevate female and nonwhite voices by sharing and thoughtfully discuss an article on social media.

White people, it starts with us–it can be anything from gently challenging your friends’ prejudicial ideas to vehemently calling them out on their racist bullshit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had white people assume it was “safe” to start talkin’ racial smack only to be shut down by yours truly. It’s not just because racism is a family issue for me, but because I don’t want to let that shit slide anymore. I don’t want to create a safe space for your racism. All of us need to be challenged and take responsibility for our words, you know, like adults.

I want us to start having better collective conversations about so many things, especially race.

I want us to start with compassion.

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Alexandra Shiels is a native New Yorker currently living in Austin, TX. By day, she works as a financial services marketer, by night she is a freelance writer, taking on such topics as race, feminism, immigration, and mental health awareness. Alex hopes to dispel some myths about being biracial and start uncomfortable conversations about race.


Dancing with My Roots

The music is loud, the music is good, the groove of the song is working its way to my soul, it’s only twenty minutes into this party and here I am, forcing myself to sit still and not sweat it out before the party even begins or before everyone has arrived. I can’t help it. My household growing up always had music playing, my mother encouraged my siblings and I to dance before we could even walk. Through movement and dancing, I was always comfortable. On the dance floor I felt like I could be all of me while celebrating where I inherited the gift of rhythm and using my body as an instrument to bring the music to life. Before I knew about the rich history of my family and who I descend from, before reading the mind expanding work of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, W.E.B DuBois, Angela Davis and others, I was learning to connect to my roots through rhythm and movement.

The earliest memories I have of engaging with the complexity of race and my identity just so happened to occur at times where people witnessed my dancing style. These early memories in dance battles, performances, and cyphers, were never void of questions and astonishment related to my racial identity. With comments like “That white boy got soul!” to “He moves like a Black man”, and to questions such as “Do you have any Black in you?”, I can count on getting such reactions and questions following each time I dance in front of a new group of people. There are times where I relish in that moment of shock on peoples faces when they see me dance. It is almost as though they cannot understand how a man like myself, with how light I am, can catch the rhythm and beat to a song so well and mold it into his very own movement. My dancing was and is a way to show who I am. Although I do not mind the questions of my racial identity from someone simply trying to understand my movements further and why I move like I do, there is a fine line I draw with how much I let people in to see my talent nowadays.

As I danced my way through life, and into my identity, I began to be known as “The Dancer” around the parts I grew up in. I would dance in any and all events that were happening around my school and around my town. For a time it felt good to be recognized for the passion I had for dancing, but as I grew into my twenties I started to feel a sense of unease. I felt uncomfortable with groups of people telling me to dance for them. Uncomfortable being the only one dancing at a party, while others look to me to entertain them as they are plastered against a wall. When I’m called to dance in a party-particularly parties that resemble the racial makeup of Trump supporters- I start to feel like the dancing monkey. The feeling hits too close to what my ancestors went through when they were forced to be the entertainment for a slave masters party. I am not here to accuse Caucasian individuals for being racist for enjoying my dancing ability, but I am here to explain that the act of forcibly asking me to dance at your party for a group of white faces does not sit well with me and who I am, racially. Just as it’s not socially acceptable to walk up to someone and expect them to share their deepest passions and beliefs upon first meeting them, asking me to get up and dance for your enjoyment and curiosity is every bit as unacceptable. When and where I choose to share my art should solely be up to me. The way I dance, is the way I let people know who I am and where my family comes from, and that’s sacred. It is the connection I form with my ancestors and how I choose to celebrate the linage of my family. As Martha Graham once said, “Nothing is more revealing than movement.”

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Kenneth Miks was born in Tracy, California, a small town right outside of the Bay Area. He is in his final year of his undergraduate studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Kenneth will be graduating with a major in sociology paired with a minor in African-American studies and will be continuing his intellectual journey into graduate school, with a focus on the social and cultural impact of the African diaspora that is felt globally.


Keep Yo Mixedness In Check…

Being the product of an interracial relationship you can engage both sides of your racial identity. You can form strong bonds with both sides of your family. There are times when you find out that that uncle you loved so much and thought was so cool when you were younger, actually is guilty of making nasty racist remarks towards people of color, the same people of color you share family ties with. There are also times when you’re sitting with a new group of friends and a woman goes on a tirade over afro-pessimism and how we, as black people, should not associate with caucasian people, yeah that means my caucasian father and his family too. Sorry, pops.

I strongly believe that the duality of experiences experienced by mixed individuals is an important conversation to contribute to our analysis and discussions on issues that contribute to race. But, with that said, we must continue to keep our mixedness in check.

While it is a terrible habit to have, one of my favorite things to do while I am passing the time is scroll my Facebook feed for the unnecessarily long arguments on issues regarding culture and race. I get a kick out of these arguments because they always end up resorting to the racial logic of the past. The past logic of Jim Crow, miscegenation, and de jure segregation. It is both sad and amusing to witness the logic people create on these threads. Although arguments over Facebook always end up in the wackiest of places, there are times where I pay special attention to the people arguing and how they handle certain issues of identity. It is always a treat and a cringe fest when I see a post read, “I am mixed so I can say…[insert issue on white police officers, Republicans, Black on Black crime etc..]” if there were a statistic on the amount of feedback these posts get I am confident that the stat would be very high indeed.

These particular Facebook posts are both intriguing and cringe worthy because I become obsessively interested in how their “friends” respond to the post, and I cringe at the poor choice of privileged words. Prefacing a post or a thought with “I am mixed so I can say this…” is a way of turning up your nose as if you’re at a higher advantage over everyone else. We as mixed individuals might have a different perspective as others, but that does not give us the right to invalidate others opinions because they do not share a mixed experience. Just because we are mixed does not give us an exclusive backstage pass into a discussion over certain issues. Those of us who are mixed and lighter skinned should constantly be aware of and checking the privileges we hold, and should be cautious when trying to convey our perspectives into issues that relate to our multiracial experiences.

No one experience or perspective is going to be the fix to our American racial issues. Contrary to popular belief, mixed people and mixedness are not going to be the magical cure to racism in this country. Sorry mixed Americans, we are not some special medicine to cure our wacked out racialized system. Our perspectives are no better than the Americans who don’t define themselves as mixed. I enjoy discussing issues and theories on racial identity, we can go for hours on the topic, but using your mixedness as an advantage over others to further prove why your argument is on the correct side is something that we as mixed people need to keep in check and leave at the door.

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Kenneth Miks was born in Tracy, California, a small town right outside of the Bay Area. He is in his final year of his undergraduate studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Kenneth will be graduating with a major in sociology paired with a minor in African-American studies and will be continuing his intellectual journey into graduate school, with a focus on the social and cultural impact of the African diaspora that is felt globally.


Blackness Behind White Skin

Professor: Now everyone stand up

Class: [shuffling around to stand up]

Professor: Take a look around at all the Black men standing around you.

Class:[Everyone begins looking around awkwardly]

Professor: Now, everyone sit down, but all the black men remain standing…

It is in this very moment I begin to panic. My mind starts to race at a 100mph and I begin to nervously look around as I see everyone sitting down, but all the black men standing tall. “Do I keep standing? Maybe I’m not black enough? Will I get the ultimate side eye from the class and from the black men standing up? Will my professor kindly remind me to sit down?” What my professor wanted to show to the class was that young black men are a presence on our college campus and that these young men should not be unjustly handled or killed for acting out their youth, just as a 17 year old Jordan Davis did as he was shot and killed for playing loud music with his friends back in 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. While this was indeed a tense, but important, moment in our class, I could not help but to question my own racial identity in those short moments of panic. In case you’re wondering, I ended up sitting down, and not standing tall with my fellow black men.

If you were to see me on the street you may not stop to look twice in wonderment of what or who I am. I am a mixed man but it’s an invisible mixedness, or blackness, whichever you prefer. I don’t look like your token mixed men like Colin Kaepernick, Drake, Michael Ealy, or even Barack Obama. I am such a “high yella” brotha that I actually look more like my father, who is a white man. The only time my blackness shines through is if i pick out my light brown hair into my cherished “mixed fro” or shave my head all the way down. When I do either I get comments such as, “oh, you actually look black with your hair like that” or “Oh my God! You weren’t lying, you are black!” With so many “white” features one can begin to guess why I couldn’t get myself to stand in class. I believed that it was wrong of me to stand up and proclaim myself as a black man who shares the lived experience of a fellow black man who can get stopped at any moment just for the complexion of his skin. I have never been stopped by a cop based off of my skin color, who am I to stand tall with my classmates? I believed in that moment that I was not black enough.

“You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself!” were the first words my mother spoke when I told her about my identity crisis in class. My mother, who I inherit my blackness from, was livid at my choice to sit down and choose not to take away from the experience of being a black man with darker skin. While I don’t have the lived experience of a darker skinned black man, my mother made it very clear to me that we should never deny who we are and we should always stand up for our family, our blackness. Following the discussion with my mother, I began thinking back to when men and women had to hide their blackness to great extents just so they could pass the racial color lines into a better life. These men and women were forced to deny a whole part of themselves because that part of them was looked at as dirty, unclean, not white. I can’t get back my decision to sit down in class that day. To live with my decision is to never forget the feeling I felt as I denied an entire part of myself, and all of my family that made it in America as a black man or a black woman. My blackness may be invisible behind my white skin, but the next time I am called to stand up for my blackness I will stand proudly. If not for me, for the men and women who were forced to deny their blackness, and for my ancestors who were brought over from the coasts of Africa. I am because they were.

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Kenneth Miks was born in Tracy, California, a small town right outside of the Bay Area. He is in his final year of his undergraduate studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Kenneth will be graduating with a major in sociology paired with a minor in African-American studies and will be continuing his intellectual journey into graduate school, with a focus on the social and cultural impact of the African diaspora that is felt globally.


Growing an Exotic Flower

I grew up in an entirely White neighborhood, in a predominantly White school system, and interacted mostly with my White family members. I watched decidedly Western TV (read: Hannah Montana) and read books with similarly homogenous characters (I still have all 58 of the Hardy Boys books). As I grew older and began my life-long obsession with historical fiction, I identified my history more with the stories of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I than I did with those of Princess Chikako of Japan and Princess Jahanara of India. My second grade Ancestor Report described the immigration of my father’s grandmother from Germany to the United States; no mention of my mother’s family was made on that sky-blue poster board.

American and European history, however, do not represent the story of all my ancestors. Half of me is graced with my mother’s rich Filipino blood that incorporates heavy Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish influences, a far cry from the Irish and German traditions of my father.  Although I was blessed with multiple trips to the Philippines, frequent Tagalog between my mother and aunts, and monthly get-togethers with the local Filipino community, throughout childhood I continued to identify myself as an enthusiastic and whole-hearted Caucasian-American. For a while, I never felt torn between two cultures or thought that others separated me from my neighbors and their blonde hair, freckles, and fair skin.  In her essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde introduces the idea of a mythical norm, which in the United States is most often defined as “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, and financially secure.” She claims that most people acknowledge in some part of themselves that they do not fit that norm – that they are an “other” who identifies differently than that unspoken norm. I did not feel that way. My mother’s heritage simply served more as an interesting accent to spice up my traditional, White, Midwestern upbringing than an inherent part of my own identity.

It was not until the fifth grade when my “otherness” from my own community became a truly salient factor in my own identification. Two young girls about four years my junior, one from Spain and the other from Nigeria, approached me as I waited impatiently in the lunch line for my coveted Thursday ravioli and asked me, with huge smiles on their faces, if I spoke another language. A little taken aback but nevertheless pleased to once again add a little sprinkle of Filipino to my Midwestern community, I replied the negative. Almost as an afterthought, I asked them why they chose to ask me – out of all the other kids in the line –such a question.

 

“Well – your eyes are a little different,” one replied before scampering off with her friend.

 

I ran off to my best friend and urgently asked her if she saw something different too. She awkwardly avoided eye contact and told me that “yea –  they’re a little smaller than usual.”

And so began my decade-long process of self-definition. Erik Erikson, a psychologist known for his theory on psychosocial development, described this process of identity formation as a “process of simultaneous reflection and observation” in which a person constantly judges herself with reference to how she thinks others judge her in comparison to themselves. That is, I was constantly deciding between which race I “felt on the inside” and how others viewed me. Before that moment, I never thought that I saw something different in my reflection than what my classmates and friends saw. But now I had to choose. Until high school (when “more than one race” finally became an option), I alternated between “Asian” and “White” on standardized tests. It was not an option to embrace both identities simultaneously. When in the United States, I was undoubtedly Asian, as my olive tone and eye structure quickly gave away. When in the Philippines, my towering 5’ 9” frame and fair skin (not to mention that I don’t speak Tagalog) revealed my Whiteness. It was simply a battle I could not win.

As I transitioned out of high school, I intentionally chose the University of Michigan to escape that battle. Beverly Tatum, a prominent psychologist and educator on racial identity, argues that individuals belonging to a “dominant” group do not truly know the experience of “subordinates” due to extensive social segregation in both communities themselves and the wider social sphere (e.g. TV shows, books, movies, etc…). At Michigan, I wouldn’t be in a small, Catholic, White-washed school. I could interact with people from all different heritages and begin to challenge the epistemic dominance prevalent in my own experiences. I immediately enrolled in the class “Growing up Latino/a” because I wanted to engage in a discussion between myself, a self-identified privileged White woman, and those who oftentimes do not benefit from that same privilege. As Audre Lorde argued often occurs with those from dominant communities, I did not want to make it the responsibility of the oppressed to teach me about my mistakes; I wanted to seek out my own role in the cycle of systematic oppression.

The class was a small seminar of about 20 students seated around a round table arranged to facilitate student engagement. Roughly half of the students were Latino or African-American; the other half were Caucasian. As I quickly learned transitioning between Caucasian-American and Filipino-American communities, those who belong to the majority group often do not realize they are the majority until they’re suddenly not. This was certainly evident as I stepped into the classroom for the first time. The unusually high ratio of minority to Caucasian students was immediately salient; the atmosphere was not the same vaguely-interested flavor common to many first days of class. Normal lackadaisical attitude was replaced by an inexplicable edginess. As we each expressed why we wanted to take the class, some students fidgeted uncomfortably. Others did not make eye contact with their peers. Few looked absolutely relaxed. Regardless of their demeanor, the resounding theme was that each one of us wanted to learn about a culture with which half of us had limited to no exposure. It was exciting! I was finally with people who all had different perspectives and were excited and willing to hear about other interpretations of the American experience.

 

By the next week, every single White student had dropped the class.

 

Again, I was faced with the dichotomous choice of my racial self-identification. I had identified myself as an “other” in that class, an individual who usually passes with White privilege. I was a White student who enrolled in that class to learn about different minority experiences. But I did not drop the class, as my White peers did. The African-American students did not drop the class, even though they too were delving into a Latino experience different from their own. Did that mean I was actually a minority student, because I did not feel uncomfortable enough to drop the class? Or was I a White student who just happened to be more open to the unusual racial distribution? Or was I actually teetering on the edge of White and non-White, because I was alert enough walking into the room to notice the high proportion of minority students, but not uncomfortable enough to drop the class? I could not go beyond that form of binary thinking. To which group did I belong? Whom did I represent?

As I finished my junior year of college, I finally felt like I had found a rhythm in my college experience. I had found close friends, a welcoming faith community, and a field that I felt passionate about. Never before had I felt so included and welcomed in the university setting. As I sat down with a White Ann Arbor mother in a local psychological clinic, she expressed concern that her young child wasn’t making any friends. That is, he was making friends – just not friends they would usually “find in their neighborhood.” I brushed her oblivious microaggression off, chalking it up to the overprotective tiger-mom persona she clearly conveyed to the psychologist and myself. She was only one mildly racist woman in the otherwise welcoming Ann Arbor. As soon as she left the room, the psychologist turned to me to express her dismay at such a blatantly racist comment. Especially, she said, when someone “not from her neighborhood” was sitting right in the room with her. I looked at her for a moment, confused. Who was she talking about in the room who wasn’t “from her neighborhood?”  Only the three of us had been present. Then I realized.

 

She was talking about me.

 

I was the person my supervisor (a lovely, kind, intelligent woman) considered “not from her neighborhood.” Never mind that I had grown up in the upper-middle class of Lansing, MI. Or have a two highly educated parents. Or only speak English. Again, my identity formation was challenged as I was forced to confront the difference between how others perceive me and how I perceive myself.  To many, I am an “other.” To myself, I was indistinguishable from my Caucasian peers. I believe I have a pretty hefty invisible knapsack that allows me to pass with unearned privileges that many are not privy to. But do I, really? I’ve been pulled over three times and never received a ticket… so yes? I’ve had people tell me to go back to China… so no? I’ve had strangers call me an “exotic flower” … so maybe?

Perhaps the answer, though, isn’t so easy. I am Filipina. It would be an insult to my mother and our family to deny the history that has been such a formative part of my mother’s life, and consequently, my upbringing. Yet I know without a doubt that I do live a privileged life. I’ve always assumed that neighbors will be pleasant to me. I feel comfortable wearing used clothing without people attributing that choice to my race. I’ve never had trouble finding makeup that fits my skin tone. So, perhaps, this dichotomous approach between White and non-White does not fully account for the identities that shape who I am. Maybe, after all, I am not either White or non-White. Maybe I can be an “other” in the communities in which I live, yet still experience White privilege because I am not only an “other.” And I am not only White. I am an entire being made of the intersection of experiences that have formed my world perspective, including experiences of privilege, marginalization, and some hazy in-betweens. These experiences cannot be so easily binned into two categories. Perhaps then, social expectations that so definitively categorize entire identities, including entire social movements, do not give justice to the depth of the populations they serve and their intersectionality. Maybe social justice itself, at least in part, is the process in which individuals acknowledge and engage in their intersecting identities, combine them with those of others, and use that more comprehensive viewpoint to instigate change and awareness in their communities.

Everyone has a variety of intersecting identities that shape the way he or she views the world and interacts with others. Gender, sexuality, race, and able-ness are only a few of the identities that people can claim to be their own and that can affect the way individuals interpret their world. Many people grow into adulthood fully aware of their many overlapping identities. I did not. I am continually adjusting my interpretation of myself in terms of both race, womanhood, social class, and education and reflecting on the ways different interpretations of these identities affect how I present myself to society and how society views me. And this, in a narrow lens, is the foundation of social justice. Social justice relies on both the process through which individuals and communities can reflect on and acknowledge themselves as a coalescence of many identities as well as the progress we’ve made to empower that coalescence. I have realized that I don’t need to neatly bin myself into White or non-White. That simply doesn’t do my person justice. I am a White, Filipina, educated young woman…and so much more.

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Andrea Maxwell was born in raised in the Lansing, MI area. Her mother grew up in Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines, and her father is originally from Indiana and is of Irish and German descent. Andrea is currently a senior at the University of Michigan studying Neuroscience and Psychology and is interested in the intersection of biology, psychology, and social justice. She hopes to serve as an advocate for human rights through both clinical and research involvement in the mental health field.

A Letter to Mom

Dear Mom,

Although it is always a good laugh remembering the stories you told us when people thought you were our nanny because we looked so different as children, we are so lucky to have you as our mother! Now that we are older, we want to say thank you! We will always appreciate the moments and lessons that have helped us find acceptance with ourselves.

You never relaxed our hair! We remember a few times as children when we asked to relax our hair. We thought that if we relaxed our hair it would always be straight and we could then look like the other girls in school. But, we are glad you did not agree and taught us there was no need for that because natural beauty is most important. You helped us learn to love and take care of our curls and that our curls were just another unique part of who we are.

You taught us that we are all one race, human. When faced with adversity in regards to race, you taught us how to we stand up for ourselves! It does not matter who you are, respect and love for all cultures/ethnicities is what brings us all together, a life and world world without boundaries.

You pushed us to challenge societal stereotypes of gender and race. You have always been an independent and powerful women for us to look up to. You didn’t let anyone hold you back from achieving your goals and you taught us the same. You taught us not put limits on what we can achieve  because of our race or gender and you have always been our biggest supporter.

You didn’t allow us just to rely on our looks, but you encouraged use to be intelligent beings too. We are not objects or exotic trophies and just because we are shades in the middle of white and black, it does not make us anything more or less than the others. When you received the compliment “Oh such pretty girls” you never failed to let people know we are not defined by our “prettiness” for we are intelligent too!

When you speak of our background, you remind us to proud of all of our ethnicities. We are proud  to have ancestors who came over on the Mayflower and a Polish last name. After an ancestry test and research we are proud to claim that we have origins from multiple regions in Africa and are of Native American descent. All of these fascinating stories are fun to learn and know that we are our own melting pot of amazing races!

We thank you mom for raising us and teaching us how to love every side of us. To be leaders so that we can inspire others and for holding us accountable to carrying ourselves as respectable young ladies in our community. We thank you for being that role model in our lives to alway look up and that we aspire to be. We love you and thank you mom!

 

Megan, Amanda, and Alexis <3

#tothemixedkid

www.ruleofthr3e.com

Check out more of our stories at www.ruleofthr3e.com

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Megan Rudnik received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Spanish and her MBA from Winthrop University. Since graduating, Megan spent 2 years in the eace Corp, serving in Panama. She also recently completed 4 months in China teaching English.

Amanda Rudnik received her B.S. in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting from The Citadel. While at The Citadel, Amanda played all four years on the Citadel volleyball while serving in various leadership roles in the South Carolina Corp of Cadet. Amanda now currently works for a large company and pursues her dream of modeling.

Alexis Rudnik is currently a student at Winthrop University, studying Middle Level Education Math and Social Studies. Alexis was a member of the 2016 Winthrop Volleyball team and is currently coaching volleyball at the club level.

We all grew up in Minnesota for 10 years before moving to our current residence in South Carolina. Our mother is African American and Native American and from Alabama. Our father is Polish and German and originally from Minnesota.


Interracial Dating

Being the products of an interracial marriage, we never felt the need to limit ourselves to a certain race when dating. Being interracial meant just about any and all relationships we engaged in would be an interracial relationship, but this didn’t stop society from having a say in our dating lives.

Alexis’ Dating Story:
My friends always used to asked my why I never dated “white” guys, and my response was always “they’re just not into me”, and we’d end up laughing it off like it was nothing. But then one of my “white” friends told me that “they’re just intimidated by us”. So I always wondered am I really that intimidating? I’d always hear from others and my mom “don’t lower your standards, you can have any guy you want”, but I never really captured the whole essence to that advice that was given. It’s like in society, we put mixed kids in a category of “out of this world”, like we are “the catch” to have. I have had a friend tell me that he likes dating mixed girls because “we’re a challenge”. It is as if we’re unicorns among a herd of mustangs, standing out some way because our hair and skin color is just different. Our background is a little bit of both worlds so it’s follows the whole “get you a girl who can do both” as they say. I am currently dating an African American guy in relationship that isn’t seen as a challenge or a game, but a companionship where we help each other to improve, and grow to be the best versions of ourselves.

Amanda’s Dating Story:
Through high school and my first years of college it just so happened that I dated mainly African American (black) guys and even one guy that was interracial like myself. We never received any odd stares or comments about being together because of how we looked. It wasn’t until my Junior of college that I began dating my current boyfriend, who just so happens to be Caucasian (white). Things just clicked between us and we are happy to be together, but I have realized the perception of our relationship changes before and after they see us together. We get odd looks from time to time, and the occasional question, if our families approve of us being together, but neither of these were typical when I dated the African American guys. Friends have admitted that after meeting my boyfriend, or seeing him for the first time, they were expecting for him to be a black guy. After spending time with us, they understand better what brought us together; again, this is a companionship that we wish to grow and improve to be the best versions of ourselves, together. My boyfriend and I are blessed with family and friends that are so supportive of our relationship.

Megan’s Dating Story:
Interracial dating can be tricky! During my service with the Peace Corp I began dating my current boyfriend, a local Panamanian. Aside from the obvious language barrier, there was major cultural differences as well. He doesn’t understand the same racial references, the significance of “soul” food, or that I grew up in a time when I prefered to listen to Britney Spear and 90s pop songs over rap. He is more passive, while Americans, like myself, can be more aggressive because we have grown up in a society where have been taught to seize opportunities as they come. Interracial dating has helped for me to keep an open mind and to have patience. While I continue to grow in my relationship, I have learned new things about Panamanian culture while being able to share my mixed culture and how it has shaped me into who I am today.

Now, all three of us are dating someone along the race spectrum. Someone who’s Hispanic, Caucasian, and African American. To love and care for another should not be limited to only those that look and have similar skin tones like themselves. We all agree that relationships should be based on the respect we have for each other and the trust and genuine connection we share together. We truly feel when that happens you won’t see relationships as “interracial”, we will see them just as two people together by love. #lovewins

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Megan Rudnik received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Spanish and her MBA from Winthrop University. Since graduating, Megan spent 2 years in the eace Corp, serving in Panama. She also recently completed 4 months in China teaching English.

Amanda Rudnik received her B.S. in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting from The Citadel. While at The Citadel, Amanda played all four years on the Citadel volleyball while serving in various leadership roles in the South Carolina Corp of Cadet. Amanda now currently works for a large company and pursues her dream of modeling.

Alexis Rudnik is currently a student at Winthrop University, studying Middle Level Education Math and Social Studies. Alexis was a member of the 2016 Winthrop Volleyball team and is currently coaching volleyball at the club level.

We all grew up in Minnesota for 10 years before moving to our current residence in South Carolina. Our mother is African American and Native American and from Alabama. Our father is Polish and German and originally from Minnesota.


Monkey in the Middle

Growing up we always got the “Oh! Such pretty girls you have!” compliment. Growing up it was fun knowing we were “pretty” and being told that everywhere we went. However, as we got older, we started to see what it really meant, or at least our perception started to shift on our meaning of that compliment. We knew we were very blessed and thankful for our skin color, and hair we were lucky to have, but we didn’t want to be just another “pretty” face in society, we wanted to make a difference. Some made it seem like we always had everything given to us because of how we looked. Yet, we could never quite fit in with the black kids or white kids because of our background. We were either too white, or too black, so it was as if we were the black girl when with the white kids in school or the white girl with the black kids and too “boujee”, like everything was just handed to us on a silver platter and we couldn’t understand what being black really meant. We were like a walking target of jokes, of “oh, you won’t get it, you’re not black enough”, or “it’s a white people thing, you won’t understand”. It seemed like no matter what we did, we could never get it right; and the fact that we’re all 3 years apart and still heard the same thing from our peers bothered us. It just really shows that no matter what age or generation we’re a part of, it’s like those mixed kids will get those comments. We’re forced to be only one side of ourselves to fit in, or if we don’t, then we don’t belong to either group. Just a monkey in the middle. As we continue to grow, we don’t want to be just pretty faces for we have goals and ambitions. We want to do something in our lives to not prove to not only others, but to ourselves as well, that we are somebody in this world, and we don’t have to pick a side to do it.

As sisters, we conquer in our own unique ways and in many different aspects of our lives. We don’t want to be just “pretty”, we want to be smart, intellectual, proactive, leaders, and role models. We are heavily involved in our community, giving back to our church, schools, and teams that we are a part of. Graduating high school and going to college, we each have our own niche.

Megan, the oldest, studied abroad which led her to more adventures in Panama. She completed 2 years of service in the Peace Corp and now speaks fluent Spanish. With that, she will now be going on a mission trip with our church to help translate.

Amanda, the second oldest, graduated from the military college of South Carolina, The Citadel, as a top student-athlete. She dominated on the court and academically, which led to her currently work for a large company while pursuing her dream of modeling.

Alexis, the youngest, is currently working on her degree in education to teach middle level math and social studies. However, in the meantime she has shown her presence by playing on the volleyball team and she continues to give back to her community, while balancing the job of student athlete, and coaching club volleyball.

All three of us work very hard to make an impact on each individual we encounter. We strive to do great things in life and follow our dreams, yet many think it comes easy for us, when in reality it doesn’t. We all have our stories, our own unique struggles and victories for we’re human just like everyone else. We want to start with the movement #Other. In society, we have all encountered numerous of times where we are asked to select our race and when we are only allowed to choose one race, we are once again forced to pick a side; shadowing half of who we are. We challenge everyone, whether white, black, hispanic, asian, biracial or multiracial to choose Other. We want to get rid of being labeled by skin tone, gender, or backgrounds and just see each other as human beings. We all live in this melting pot of different backgrounds, all connected by the love and respect we are to share with other beings. We hope to stop bullying no matter what race, gender, religion, or sexual preference. We want to challenge society to see people for who they truly are in their mind and soul and not their predetermined labels. We’re all just human.

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Megan Rudnik received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Spanish and her MBA from Winthrop University. Since graduating, Megan spent 2 years in the eace Corp, serving in Panama. She also recently completed 4 months in China teaching English.

Amanda Rudnik received her B.S. in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting from The Citadel. While at The Citadel, Amanda played all four years on the Citadel volleyball while serving in various leadership roles in the South Carolina Corp of Cadet. Amanda now currently works for a large company and pursues her dream of modeling.

Alexis Rudnik is currently a student at Winthrop University, studying Middle Level Education Math and Social Studies. Alexis was a member of the 2016 Winthrop Volleyball team and is currently coaching volleyball at the club level.

We all grew up in Minnesota for 10 years before moving to our current residence in South Carolina. Our mother is African American and Native American and from Alabama. Our father is Polish and German and originally from Minnesota.