My speech is a product of my upbringing and education- not a racial label

What is the defining attribute that we all have that signifies our racial and cultural background? For some it’s hair, skin tone, body type, and, for some of us, it could be our speech. When I say speech I think of accents, vocabulary, the presence of bi-lingual mixing and coding like Spanglish. To the outside world your speech can be the only way to identify your background and history. In my case, it was just the opposite because I dealt with what many minorities have and that is the belief I am white because I “talk white.”

I grew up in a rural community in the panhandle of Texas with a population of less than 2,000 people. The majority of my childhood was spent learning Spanish from my grandmother who in turn was learning English from my sister and me. The community I grew up in was majority White and Mexican since it was a farming environment where many Mexicans spent time as sharecroppers. There was one all black family in the town but the oldest child was in high school and his siblings were in elementary so I had little interaction with them. To my knowledge, my sister and I were the only mixed children living in that community and at that time we knew we were different, but didn’t know how much our living experience there changed our speech until we left.

We didn’t grow up in that environment being able to emulate Hispanic accents so instead we acquired the ability to learn, read, and write Spanish. I can say unfortunately that most people don’t even know I have a Latina background with my foreign tongue until I actually speak it. I wish I had a defining accent or slip of my vocabulary that could give the indication I had Latina origins, but that’s not the case. The same can be said for the Black side of my culture in that I don’t always sound the most accurate if I’m speaking slang or saying words specific to that heritage. I can try, mimic and falsely imitate at best, but I probably resemble Carlton Banks more than anyone.

So what I am left with being mixed? If I don’t sound Mexican until I speak Spanish and I don’t sound Black then what do people hear when they listen to me? For the better part of life when I moved away from grandmother, minorities labeled my speech as white. I sound like a “white girl,” if white people have a specific sound or vernacular akin to their race. The problem is I’m not white and I don’t try to sound “white,” my language is a product of where I grew up, what I watched, where I lived. I can’t change that anymore than I can change that people attribute “big words, education, and proper English,” with only one culture.

The most common misconception when I’m asked about my cultural background is that I am black/white. When I correct people I often get the reasoning that it’s because I “sound white,” but when I ask, “what does white sound like?” I’m often met with a mute response. It has always been a very complicated line to cross being mixed with two racial backgrounds I don’t sound like, but I’m learning that it’s nothing to be ashamed of or apologetic about. I cannot change or alter people’s perceptions of me because in reality those ideals already existed prior to me trying to educate or inquire why they define a group of people on speech alone. I am not defined by my speech and I don’t have to prove otherwise to someone because of what they assume my cultural background is. I would never trade my time with my grandmother and the environment I was in for an accent or being able to speak vernacular more akin to my actual culture. All I can do is keep educating and learning about both sides of my culture and incorporating that into my Spanish and understanding of where the speech comes from and how it’s origins are specific to each culture.


Desiree Johnson is Texan Lady living in the windy, sometimes temperamental city of Chicago where she is getting her MFA in Creative Writing.

She has publications with The Rivard Report, NSIDE Publications, Study Breaks Magazine and Unite 4: Good. Her approach to writing whether fiction or non-fiction is to keep it as eclectic and diverse as her interest so she is ambitious in wanting to have her writing cross all platforms. She seeks to continue to improve in her skill set as an author, writer, and storyteller while educating others on being bi-racial and interracial relationships. As she continues finishing her MFA she looks forward to the new opportunities that lie ahead and embracing whatever life throws her way. She is currently a contributing writer for Swirl Nation Blog, EliteDaily.Com, an Editorial Fellow with The Tempest, and created the new “Your Hair Story Series,” with Mixed Chicks Hair Products.

 


If I’m Mixed…Does my voice honestly count?

There have been times in my life that, I choose to give my input or opinion on a sociological, political, or socioeconomic issue specific to my race, I’m often told that “my opinion doesn’t count I’m not full___.” The common misconception with this phrase is that I cannot or do not understand the full weight of whatever the topic at hand is because I do not 100% represent that part of my culture. It is a hard argument to have with an individual who already has their mind made up that because I’m mixed, I don’t get it. Perhaps you have been the subject of said scrutiny or experienced a similar situation in which you feel invalidated and are cast off to that isle of misfit toys that many multiracial people find themselves on.

Being mixed with Black and Mexican roots I have often been told I got the best of both worlds. Sometimes that’s an actual heartfelt response, other times it’s sarcastic since these are two notoriously oppressed racial groups here in the United States. We are at a time period where social injustice is running amuck from police brutality to underrepresentation in literature and the media. Since I am half Black am I immune to feeling sorrow, anger, and despair for victims like Trayvon Martin because I am not fully black? No. I feel the emotions and call to justice just as much as the next person and should not feel bullied or belittled if I want to say Black Lives Matter, though I’m only half black. Being mixed does not mean I don’t understand or that I cannot help and I should be empowered to speak my opinion without judgment, but that’s not always the case. Instead I receive more scrutiny because I’m expected to show how committed to my race I really am through how I choose to express said opinions or sentiments. How black am I and by whose standards? Who is the ultimate judge that gives me a pass as being 100 percent Black and Mexican?

The presidential elections have front-runners like Donald Trump labeling Latinos “criminals,” and “rapists” with the discouraging notion this could be someone actually leading our country someday. Should I not be allowed to protest or have a discussion on Trump because I’m not all Latina? I am entitled to that conversation just the same as another Latino because I do understand. You are marginalized being mixed-and the constant act of trying to prove something to anyone who challenges your authentic self can be exhausting.

I understand the fear that comes with admitting you have family members or friends who are undocumented and people label them illegal or joke about getting money to turn them in. It’s unsettling knowing my grandmother did back breaking work being a janitor at a bank and earned the right to live in America but people only care if she has papers. I feel the hatred associated with being called a nigger because a classmate thought it would be funny to ridicule me when I was in fifth grade. I felt the expectations to prove how Black I was because my classmates used to challenge my speaking voice by laughing when I spoke slang. When I entered my first interracial relationship at the age of fifteen I remember being picked apart by my peers for dating outside my given races because my boyfriend was white. My hair is the largest representation of both my cultures and I’ve witnessed the wide eyes that come when I wear it big, down, and natural as if I’m a wild child.

I shouldn’t have to make an argument or pull some statistics, facts and figures out to audience to show how authentic I can be since I’m mixed. There is an infamous scene in the movie Selena with Jennifer Lopez in which her father is discussing how being Mexican American is tough because they have to be educated on their own culture and American culture. His popular quote is:

“And we gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are. And we gotta prove to the Americans how American we are. We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans both at the same time. It’s exhausting. Damn! Nobody knows how tough it is to be a Mexican-American.”

Quotes like these to me represent the struggle in being a mixed individual in society because there is a constant state of scrutiny, judgment, and the sense that we have something to prove to somebody. Everyone’s journey is different in being mixed in terms of identity and what we struggle with, but what’s hardest is when that judgment comes from within our cultures daring us to prove ourselves. It’s a challenge we shouldn’t have to face when we are already seeking to make peace with our complex identities and dual cultures.

The act of imparting prejudice on a mixed person because they don’t embody physically or genetically one race over the other creates racial superiority and exclusion within minorities that we don’t need. Who is the overall judge and jury over how important my opinion is? Is it the person who happened to be born to reflect one hundred percent of a specific race over the other? The assumption that mixed people do not encounter or understand discrimination on the same level as other minorities is false and excluding our voices is a direct reflection of that. Challenging our knowledge, picking apart our speech, color, hair type and how we choose to represent our most authentic self is exactly that. When you tell me I couldn’t possibly understand discrimination, struggle, or hardships from the outside world because you assume I get a “pass,” because I’m mixed excludes me from sharing my story with you. My story that understands racism, discrimination, disappointment, trials and triumph just like you because I am mixed and represent two races. Our voices count, they matter and if we are working to educate and empower ourselves within out prospective races that should be enough.


 


Desiree Johnson
is Texan Lady living in the windy, sometimes temperamental city of Chicago where she is getting her MFA in Creative Writing.

She has publications with The Rivard Report, NSIDE Publications, Study Breaks Magazine and Unite 4: Good. Her approach to writing whether fiction or non-fiction is to keep it as eclectic and diverse as her interest so she is ambitious in wanting to have her writing cross all platforms. She seeks to continue to improve in her skill set as an author, writer, and storyteller while educating others on being bi-racial and interracial relationships. As she continues finishing her MFA she looks forward to the new opportunities that lie ahead and embracing whatever life throws her way. She is currently a contributing writer for Swirl Nation Blog, EliteDaily.Com, an Editorial Fellow with The Tempest, and created the new “Your Hair Story Series,” with Mixed Chicks Hair Products.

 


Ahead of the Curve!

My mother was light years ahead of the curve. I am grateful that she had an understanding of what people are realizing today. We are realizing the importance for children to see themselves culturally reflected and represented in literature, film, and art. She recognized that growing up in in the U.S. meant my perspective, voice, and identity were not the norm or dominant voice of American culture. The flip side of this idea is also equally important. It is also important for children that do not belong to minority or underrepresented groups to be exposed to multi-cultural or diverse literature. “Multicultural literature also creates a community within the classroom because students learn not only the differences tolerated, they are also embraced.” (Boles, 2006)

My mother was aware of the potentially negative effects of cultural hegemony. Both Marx and Weber explain and describe the idea that in a culturally or racially diverse society, the ruling class will dominate and manipulate the culture of that society. The fact that flesh colored Band-Aids were initially introduced in only one color is a very simple and concrete example of this idea. If you want to have a very clear understanding of this, imagine a very dark-skinned person wearing a very white “flesh-colored” Band-Aid. This Band-Aid stands out in obvious contrast against the dark skin. This example illustrates how the ideas and values of a single class can be projected and enforced on all the other members of the society. No matter how diverse they are, there is only one flesh-tone for them all. Today, it is clear that this has a negative effect on everyone involved; especially members of the dominant group. Children born into the dominant culture are often unnaturally confined to have very limited experiences with diversity. “Children who develop in this way are robbed of opportunities for emotional and intellectual growth, stunted in the basic development of the self, so they cannot experience or accept humanity.” (Katz, 1978)

Talking about our obvious differences has led to heated debate and often resulted in people taking the easier approach of just avoiding the subject. Fortunately, we live in a time where we are now recognizing the potential damage this can cause to an individual, especially where young children are concerned. Racism and intolerance are not the inevitable consequence of a culturally diverse society. However, encouraging children to develop empathy at a young age has the potential to have a tremendous positive impact toward fostering cultural pluralism. This is the term that describes the existence of smaller groups that are able to maintain their own unique cultural identities and values.

“Minority students feel recognized and understood when their culture is acknowledged. Students from the mainstream culture learn that there are other perspectives and ways of doing things that are just as valuable as their own.” (Boles, 2006) This can be empowering for everyone involved. “The importance of multicultural literature is even more important with younger children because they receive the majority of their messages through pictures. If children of color never see themselves in literature, will they feel devalued? Also, if the ma- jority’s culture children never see children of color in literature, will they not develop nega- tive attitudes about children who do not look like them (Boles, 2006)?”

What made my mother light years ahead? It was the fact that she talked to us about race or differences in a positive and affirming way. She taught us as children to appreciate ourselves within context of our diverse family and comminity. The flip side of this was that she also taught us to respect others regardless of how different they may be. She recognized that the dominant culture did not reflect us by default. Therefore, she made sure we were exposed stories, ideas, and history that reflected who we are. In short, she provided a mirror in which we could see ourselves reflected in society.

However, it didn’t stop there. As children we were also exposed to a variety of cultures. For example, we were enrolled in a Spanish class outside of our normal studies at a very young age. Spanish does not necessarily represent our cultural heritage. However, it did give us a healthy feeling and orientation toward people for whom Spanish was an integral part of their culture. This opened us up and made it possible for us to connect on a deeper level with a variety of different groups. We learned and understood that different people have much more in common than one might at first glance imagine. Every child needs to be exposed to their own culture and other cultures to have a healthy appreciation of the world. They should be able to see themselves and others in stories and literature. Literature, film and art should accurately reflect the diversity of the society in which we live. Not doing so can produce an unconscious fear in children of people that are different from themselves. (Derman- Sparks,Higa,Sparks)

We grew up with the knowledge and understanding that the world is diverse and multi- cultural. We hope to bring this same understanding to children in our book Colorful, different and the same…like you and me. We hope that children everywhere can see themselves and others with an openness and understanding that is both informative and empowering. We also attempt to illustrate that differences are a fundamental part of nature. Understanding, accepting, and celebrating our differences as well as our commonalities is empowering. After all, we are colorful, different, and the same.

Sources:

Boles, M. (2006). The Effects of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom. Digital Commons @ EMU, Paper 62. Retrieved June 19,2016, from http://commons.emich.edu

White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training by Judy Katz (University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), page 12 – 14 Children, Race and Racism: How Race Awareness Develops By Louise Derman-Sparks, Carol Tanaka Higa, Bill Sparks


framemitfotoTemu and Elisabeth Diaab were inspired by love of their son to write children’s books. Writing has always been Temu’s passion and Elisabeth loves to tell stories with pictures. Their creative energy has developed naturally into artistic collaboration. Now they want to share their stories with children everywhere.

See more of their work at their website at http://diaab.de/en, and on Facebook


Rebooting beyond the idea of Race

“Remember how we always wanted to write a children’s book?” Elisabeth asked me one morning over coffee. “Let’s do it now, she said.” Our son had just moved into a college dorm, we were juggling two internet businesses, and even considering having a second child.

Although, I was born in Los Angeles, California, and Elisabeth, a world away, in Constance, Germany, we were amazed by how similar our experiences were. We were both of mixed racial heritage, our parents were both Muslim and Christian, we had both answered a long list of “interesting” questions regarding our ethnicity. We were drawn together in a very special way.

We met as students in college. Elisabeth studied Journalism, Photography, and Interactive Digital media at Cal State Hayward. I studied Political Economy of Industrial Societies, Sociology, and Poetry at U.C. Berkeley. Her passion for images and mine for writing presented an ideal combination. Our son was a powerful inspiration. We created 2 stories for him with hand drawn pictures when he was 3. We never seemed to have the time to pursue the idea until one morning over coffee, more than 20 years later. It is funny that our son received the first bound and printed version of a book we wrote for him as a young man.

“Race” has been an integral part of our lives. We are engaged in the effort of moving beyond the paradigm of “race” and into a more inclusive understanding of people as human beings. Our feeling is that the world is a colorful, diverse, and beautiful place. Our experiences as “people of color” or “mixed” or “black” or what-ever term you want to use is that these labels only represent a portion of who we are. Our humanity is a larger context and combination of emotion and unique intellectual development. We are living ideas and a unique historical context all in the same moment. Our biological, ethnographic, historical, and cultural inheritance is constantly juxtaposed to our ideological, moral, identity construct. Part of me believes that given the proper context, we are unlimited beautiful loving human beings capable of great empathy and compassion. I do not believe these beings are a sum total of the race construct that becomes fastened to the skin, fused with the mentality, or projected by cultural and institutional bias. People are simply who they are. They are beautiful brown, black, white, and so many hues in between.

There is beauty in difference. Talking about these differences in a positive and affirming way encourages healthy development in children; paving the way toward a world where mutual appreciation and acceptance is possible. Children that grow up without encountering other children that are different from themselves tend to be less prepared emotionally for the world in which we live. Conversely, children that do not encounter themselves in positive ways in literature or film tend to be at risk for developing low self-esteem. The idea that we should be “color-blind” tends to teach children that there is something wrong with color or being different. We wrote our book as a way to open children up to seeing themselves as part of a multi-cultural world where differences should be embraced and celebrated. Children of every hue should encounter each other in literature, film, and art in ways that are natural just as we encounter the same differences in nature. Our idea is that acknowledging these differences and encountering them is important and necessary for positive self-image and emotional development for children of every hue and nationality. After all, the world is Colorful, different, and the same…


framemitfotoTemu and Elisabeth Diaab were inspired by love of their son to write children’s books. Writing has always been Temu’s passion and Elisabeth loves to tell stories with pictures. Their creative energy has developed naturally into artistic collaboration. Now they want to share their stories with children everywhere.

See more of their work at their website at http://diaab.de/en, and on Facebook


How two Persian millennials remain culturally connected while playing by their own rules

Persian millenials

So I’ve been working on my documentary, Mixed Up, a little bit over a year. The film is centered on parenting someone of a different race. We’ve conducted over 70 interviews with interracial couples and their bi/multiracial children, as well as interracial families brought together by adoption, to ask about their understanding of their racial identity. Over the course of this year, I’ve become extremely interested in racial identity as a whole. Who are you? How do other people see you? Are the two related?

Every now and again I like to take my camera and rome the streets of Los Angeles to explore people’s experience in relation to identity and race. On this particular trip, I had a chance to talk to two Canadians visiting L.A., Silver Lucia (right) and Jay Changizi (left). They speak on remaining culturally connected and not allowing themselves to be defined by mainstream stereotypes.

 

Q: How do you feel you’re portrayed in the media?

JC: I hate how people talk about Muslims. I mean we are such an easy scapegoat everytime something happens. I remember when 9/11 happened I was in college and first I freaked out because, even though we are in Canada we all feel like we are on one soil. My second fear was they are going to stick this on us and I knew right away that my life as a Middle Eastern would never be the same .

SL: When you meet people and you tell them your Persian they are like ‘people are crazy over there.’ That’s always the only thing people say. People are not crazy they just put everyone in the same boat. It’s who is on top. It’s the government. It’s the dictator. It’s not us and people just don’t see the difference.

JC: You’re taking the most impoverished area and saying that is what represents the entire country. Imagine taking the most impoverished backwoods hillbilly Americans and saying ‘this is what represents all of the U.S. so don’t go there or don’t deal with them.’

 

Q: Do you feel the pressure to assimilate?

SL: I’m so proud to tell people I am Iranian, I am Persian and people like it. Most of the time it’s like omgosh your Persian and it’s only stupid people who are like ‘aww your Arabic well you guys are all the same to me.’ I will never lie about who I am to different people ever.

JG: I think there’s different experiences because living through 9/11 as an adult and trying to travel and trying to get around, I felt that there was pressure to make a little bit of a concession on who I was at times. Before coming here, one of the first things my mother told me is “shave your beard. Don’t try to pass the border with a beard.  Don’t say anything. Don’t get in anyone’s way.” There is always this idea of we will be the first to be pegged or pulled to the side and put into some kind of trouble.

SL: I’m never gonna change for anyone and I’m never going to lie for anyone. I feel like I integrate well. I’m not causing trouble to anyone. I’m really open minded. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. So if people want to judge me because I am Persian that’s their issue not mine.

JG: I think they judge you because you have tattoos.

 

Q: Do you think there’s a cultural generational gap between younger Persians, growing up in America and those who have immigrated here at an older age?

JG: I think it’s really funny because I have a younger cousin about 10 or 12 years younger than me and he speaks better farcy than I do and listens to Persian music. Where as me growing up, we were first generation immigrants and I tried to assimilate as much as possible. My cousin, being born here, he’s like I am Canadian so the prime objective is to become Persian.

 


Rose Espiritu

Rose Espiritu is a Nigerian and Filipino filmmaker from Louisiana. She has always had an interest in identity development in relation to race. In 2013, she began filming Mixed Up: The Documentary. The film is an interactive investigation into the parental influence of racial identity development in children of interracial families. Rose has conducted over 70 interviews with interracial couples and their bi/multiracial children, as well as interracial families brought together by adoption, to ask about their understanding of their racial identity. Rose also founded the company Culture Chest, which is a subscription service that carefully curates divers books for children ages 3-8. Find us at @CultureChest! You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @roseespiritu_

Mixed Up: The Documentary is an interactive investigation into the parental influence of racial identity development in children of interracial families. Follow us to keep up with our progress FB: Mixed Up Documentary  @mixedupdocu


1000 in 1

Sometimes I laugh at the impossibility of my experiences. I find humor in the challenges and privileges that shape the way that I uniquely carry myself in this world. I used to shy away from being special, now I own it before I let others try to own me. It has been a long process of coming to terms with my true self and exploring my identity, my roots, the blood that has made me and yet, now I find it so incredibly easy.

Thanks to love from some of my elders, mentors/femtors and a lot of prayer and time in nature, I breathe my truth without permission and find power in my occasional loneliness.

This Saturday was the 4th Annual Mixed Heritage Conference at UCLA sponsored by the Mixed Student Union at UCLA. For mixed folks, conferences like these and organizations like MSU are like coming home for the first time, like the opportunity to be reborn,  like being hugged in a new way. Like any community, being seen, heard, felt, and recognized by folks that identify the way you do is essential for survival. I have not been in a conscious and intentionally mixed heritage space in over a year. Sure, I have hung out with my mixed friends and have talked about the issues facing the community, but the formal recognition of our lives and the sharing of space dedicated to mixedness is powerful blessing all on its own.

I cried twice during the conference. The first time was out of being completely overwhelmed. I co-founded MSU at UCLA with my friend Tara Sweatt in the fall of 2010. We were two people. Two second year multiethnic women of color Bruins that were determined to feel safe, to advocate and to carve space into UCLA for mixed folks. We dedicated 2 full years at UCLA to getting this organization off the ground. We built a team, we made flyers, we developed a mission, and we got to talking. We talked a whole lot. We answered over a million questions, most of them were one of three common questions on a loop: “What is mixed?” “What do you do?” “Why do you exist?”… Soon enough we had a banner, a mailing list, regular meetings and slowly made a name for ourselves. We met at night, on weekends, texted during class and exhausted on campus and off campus resources. We defended our right to exist, explained more than we expressed and put on events attended by over hundred people. Art gallery shows, panel discussions, workshops with youth, and social outings became our lives. We were adamant, unrelenting in our messaging and fearless with our intentions. We had stories that we needed to be heard, we wanted to be there for one another, we wanted to put context to mixedness historically in order to politicize mixed folks on our campus.

It was a labor of love and sacrifice. It had never been done the way that were doing it. We shook the status quo, changed the game of campus even if only a tiny bit, and linked our struggles to other communities. We built it, and people showed up. Six years years later, a generation of new leaders that do not even know our (the founders) names, are fiercely upholding the legacy in their own way and paving new conversations on campus.

I cried at the beauty of the legacy. I cried at the perpetual fatigue I had experienced that was finally catching up to me from having to defend our right to exist on campus and explain our unique experiences as mixed people. I cried for the amazing students I mentored who have since graduated, I cried for the realization of the vision we had 6 years ago. I cried that we had been an organization long enough to apply for permanent office space on campus. I cried for all the incoming mixed Bruins who did not have to search too far for their first home at school. I cried at the fact that we are still claiming space in a political way. I cried because I was overwhelmed that a conversation that I had with my brother on a late Thursday night in the living room of the one bedroom L.A. apartment that we grew up in, actually turned into an organization and now is a force to be reckoned with. From a conversation, to a dialogue, to a space, to a presence, to a MOVEMENT. TEARS. I cried because this last year has been the worst year for me in terms of stepping out of anger and letting go of family members that foster racism in my proximity. MSU is the only space I can imagine that could help me heal in spirit, even if from afar and through memories. Half a day at this conference and I already feel more human in the midst of familial racism placed to tear me up. “M-S-U”sounded so new before, we would repeat it so often to convince ourselves that we were real. Now the letters sound confident in themselves, whole, grounded, based in 6 years of hard work and community building.

The second time I cried was because the closing performance of the conference held truths that I could so closely relate to. Fanshen Cox’s “One Drop of Love” performance piece was so personal and relevant to my experiences that I cried of relief.  It can be shocking to feel camaraderie with other people when mixedness can very often feel like an island. So often amazing, but an island nonetheless. To watch Cox’s calm as she settled into her performance for an audience that she knew she didn’t have to explain a whole lot to was inspiring. Relief is the only way I can think to describe it. The laughter that her performance ignited in us was full of empathy. The tears some of us shed came from knowing and understanding her. There is nothing quite like the impossibility and beauty of mixedness.

My tears from Saturday turned into words which turned into a poem on Sunday.

——————————————————————-

 

you can’t fathom

the

different

borders

boundaries

lines

divisions

compartments

departments

cultures

languages

phrases

teams

dreams

realities

victories

visions

feelings

perspectives

lessons

directives

dwellings

&

expectations

that I meet and master

simultaneously

built custom to the second

minute

hour

day

week

month

year

and decade when necessary.

I am practically a deity

with 50 arms

and endless fluency.

if I tried to explain it,

I woud fail

if I tried to show you,

I would collapse

and if you tried to be me,

you would fall fast, with bold blows to the

heart and head.

God must be MIXED

into me because I perform

miracles.

I do the impossible- braid together

souls that I was shown didn’t function in the same universe.

I surf prohibited oceans for fun

and flip the sky over just to see the other side.

I risk everything all the time

in name of my duty to myself.

I know no other way to spin the world

other than in between

planets causing chaos by meeting.

my name is hard to say

and it pains me to answer questions

but I am the only one I know who can

carry me.

Who can shape faces empathetically into family

when we are at war.

Who can take a house apart and reconstruct its

framework while sleeping.

Who can undo the haters

with the blink of the spirit.

Who can teach her parents.

 

I am skilled

highly qualified

and bursting with

sight.

If you tried to feel this

you might

cry for longing

your old home

with clear exit signs

and a fixed menu.

Change is the name of

my being

and adaptation

is clarity

in the form of

process.

Respect the dynamics

of a heritage of

shapeshifting.


3705b79f-4251-4db9-952d-c30ab189cff7Camila Lacques-Zapien  is a multiethnic woman of color born and raised in Los Angeles committed to local community organizing, youth empowerment and arts education thanks to her passion for social justice and artistic expression. She is an avid poet, blogger, and world traveler. She studied both Chicana and Chicano Studies and International Development Studies at UCLA (’14)  and co- founded the Mixed Student Union at UCLA in 2010.  She currently works in education serving high school aged youth in Los Angeles and is preparing for her move to Italy for a Fulbright English Teaching Grant for the 2016-2017 cycle.  You can follow her writing and reflections at: https://lacamilatlzblog.wordpress.com 


Growing up Biracial in the South

 By Rose Espiritu

So I’ve been working on my documentary, Mixed Up, a little bit over a year. The film is centered on parenting someone of a different race. We’ve conducted over 70 interviews with interracial couples and their bi/multiracial children, as well as interracial families brought together by adoption, to ask about their understanding of their racial identity. The majority of my interviews have been in urban locations such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York etc. I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to interview folks in my home state of Louisiana. Here is a sneak peak of one of the interviews.

Q: How do you identify and why?

A: I identify as black. I think it’s because I grew up in the south, so we’ve always had the one drop rule. Growing up at a very young age my dad explained to be that although my mom was white the world would always see me as a black girl first. The best example I can give you is

“I’ve never been in a room of black people where I felt like I’m the only white person here, but I have been in rooms full of white people were I know I am the only black person there.”

 

Q: What factors influence how people choose to identify?

A: We live in a society where race is learned. So it really depends on the community you come from. I think if you grow up around black people a lot of times you identify with certain cultural things that are happening within that community. But beyond that even when you are in a diverse or white community, if people see you as black than that is what you begin to identify as.

 

Q:  Why would you be reluctant to marrying a white man?

A: My grandmother wants me to be able to identify with and always remember that I’m black because she went through a real struggle and she wants to relate to me. She’s like you’re so beautiful, you’re so smart. She wants to think of me as an extension of her legacy. She was born a sharecropper, she didn’t have a lot of education but she did the best she could. But because I’m getting an education and I’m traveling it’s like everything she did wasn’t in vain, and she wants my kids to relate to her. If at some point I marry white. My kids might feel like they can’t identify with my grandmother. I think that’s my biggest fear.

 

Q: Do you think mixed children are reducing racism?

A: I don’t necessarily think that mixed children are reducing racism. What I think is that the more mixed kids that we have the more people will relate to two different races or three different races. And I read somewhere recently that the reason why the LGBT issue has really taken off and grown exponentially is because everybody knows someone gay. But not every white person has a black person in their family. Well my white family does have a black person in their family, they have three, me and my sisters.

 


Rose Espiritu

Rose Espiritu is a Nigerian and Filipino filmmaker from Louisiana. She has always had an interest in identity development in relation to race. In 2013, she began filming Mixed Up: The Documentary. The film is an interactive investigation into the parental influence of racial identity development in children of interracial families. Rose has conducted over 70 interviews with interracial couples and their bi/multiracial children, as well as interracial families brought together by adoption, to ask about their understanding of their racial identity. Rose also founded the company Culture Chest, which is a subscription service that carefully curates divers books for children ages 3-8. Find us at @CultureChest! You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @roseespiritu_

Mixed Up: The Documentary is an interactive investigation into the parental influence of racial identity development in children of interracial families. Follow us to keep up with our progress FB: Mixed Up Documentary  @mixedupdocu


Growing up Half Mexican and Half Chinese

By Rose Espiritu  Photo by Kierston Clark

So I’ve been working on my documentary, Mixed Up, a little bit over a year. The film is centered on parenting someone of a different race. We’ve conducted over 70 interviews with interracial couples and their bi/multiracial children, as well as interracial families brought together by adoption, to ask about their understanding of their racial identity.

When talking about multiethnicity, most of the existing literature focuses on the experience of folks who are half black and half white. We had the opportunity to speak with Joseph Acez on his experience growing up half Mexican and half Chinese. In this interview he speaks on what it is like growing up as a second generation immigrant,  assimilation, and other observations related to race   relations. Double minority is the term for someone who is mixed with two minority races in the United States.  

Q: Do you feel like you have more diluted sense of culture because you are biracial?

Joseph: I feel like my sense of being Mexican or Chinese are both diluted because I live in America. My parents also didn’t want me to stick out like a sore thumb so they really wanted me to embrace the American culture and fit in. Any interest I had in my culture mostly came from me being interested in the things about being Mexican and Chinese, rather than my parents instilling it in me.

 

Q: What challenges have you come across in relation to your multiethnicity?

Joseph: I was with my black friend the other day and we went somewhere and we were with a lot of black people and he said ‘this is great. We’re with a lot of black people; I’m comfortable.’ In that moment I realized I’m never going to run into a bunch of people who are half Mexican and half Chinese and feel “comfortable”.

 

Q: Do your parents have any opinions about your dating life?

Joseph: Growing up, my parents made sure that I knew I could date anyone outside of my race. They also let me know that they had troubles being together and that people didn’t want them to be together. Not just each other’s family, but people in general would think it was strange. They told me that I should be able to date whoever I wanted to date so it was never a thing for me.

 

Q: Is it possible to assimilate and hold onto your culture?

Joseph: My parents came from Mexico and China. They were poor so they came here to try to make a better life for themselves and they did which was great but while they were doing it they didn’t have fun because they were both immigrants and they didn’t fit in. You go to America and it’s your new home but it doesn’t feel like home. It’s interesting my dad has a Spanish accent when he speaks English but he has an English accent when he speaks Spanish because he’s lived here for so long. Same thing with my mom. What they wanted was for me to be very comfortable wherever I grew up, that’s why they didn’t teach me Spanish or Chinese, which I wish they did. Their hope was that I wouldn’t have to deal with any of the feelings of being an outsider.


Rose Espiritu

Rose Espiritu is a Nigerian and Filipino filmmaker from Louisiana. She has always had an interest in identity development in relation to race. In 2013, she began filming Mixed Up: The Documentary. The film is an interactive investigation into the parental influence of racial identity development in children of interracial families. Rose has conducted over 70 interviews with interracial couples and their bi/multiracial children, as well as interracial families brought together by adoption, to ask about their understanding of their racial identity. Rose also founded the company Culture Chest, which is a subscription service that carefully curates diverse books for children ages 3-8. Find us at @CultureChest! You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @roseespiritu_

Mixed Up: The Documentary is an interactive investigation into the parental influence of racial identity development in children of interracial families. Follow us to keep up with our progress FB: Mixed Up Documentary  @mixedupdocu


What Does my Body Mean?

As a student of jazz at my university, I often occupy white male dominated spaces. I am the only woman of color (a black/white biracial woman) in a jazz history class, “Jazz Musicians as Composers,” a course that explores the gray areas of jazz as a concert music. Sometimes, I wonder if I can give myself permission to be a woman of color in this space. In a discussion surrounding the “Freedom Now Suite,” Max Roach’s response to the Greensboro sit ins, I have 75 minutes to say something—anything— so that my professor doesn’t think that I’m “just a shy student.” Rather, I negotiate with myself for 75 minutes what I am allowed to say, how what I say is a reflection of the body I occupy. Pressure mounts as someone questions the rigidity of jazz as a “black” art form. Pressure mounts as students discuss the auto-exoticism of African-American jazz musicians. Pressure mounts as the professor asks if anyone has ever felt that they had to represent a group of people, to act as a monolith. I scream silently: “Yes, every time I enter your class. Every time, for 75 minutes, I measure the amount of voice and the amount of blackness that I allow myself to have.”

What does my body mean here?

. . . . .

Liminality.

 

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

audre lorde, a litany for survival

 

Liminality is vast, infinite. There are no impossibilities. In liminality, there is enough room to breathe.

Liminality is the top of the breath. It is filling your lungs, oxygen massaging their pink lining, brushing into corners that you didn’t know existed, air pressing into ribs. You could fill your lungs forever, but you don’t—for convention’s sake.

Liminality is the asymptote. It’s the space between two curves closing in on an axis. No matter how far it travels, it can never touch zero: a value that is both a number and the absence of a number. Zero, the asymptote, is both/and.

Despite its confines, there is room to breathe in liminality. But in this infinite space, never-ending combinations and intersections can also feel like limitations—boundaries defining what you are not. These intersections, azure lines on graph paper, can box us in until this liminal space feels suffocating. Sometimes in intersections, there is no room to breathe between these walls.

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After the end of World War II, Germany—a battered and broken nation—was left to the political players still standing. In this time of post-war wreckage, Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union divided the land into East and West Germany. The capital, Berlin, too, was subject to division despite its physical location in East Germany under Soviet occupation and thus became two halves: East Berlin, under the eyes of Soviet soldiers, and West Berlin, within the hands of American, British, and French troops. In 1961, the Berlin wall began to take shape.

West Berlin became a dim light in darkness as the Soviet’s occupation on the other side of the wall resulted in poor treatment of its citizens. As East Berliners sought freedom by “illegally” crossing into West Berlin, the wall became a sight of loss and memorial for those killed in their attempts. Eventually, to increase security, the Berlin wall transformed into a multi-layered structure: between two walls fortified with barbed wire existed a no man’s land in which guards would shoot wall hoppers. Between these walls lived a space with no definition: a space that was neither West Berlin nor East Berlin. No one lived between these walls: the lucky ones moved between, across, in transition while guards did death’s work… until their shifts ended. How could any identity exist without life in the space between these walls? Who are you “in doorways coming and going / in the hours between dawns?”  Are you a transition?

 

. . . . .

Bridge.

1,950 mile-long open would

dividing a pueblo, a culture,

running down the length of my body,

stalking fence rods in my flesh,

splits me splits me

me raja me raja

 

…Yo soy un puente tendido…

“I am a bridge,” writes Gloria Anzaldúa, voice of intersections. In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, she describes how her body—its mass, its fullness, its veins pumping blood—connects cultures, languages, people. I imagine her soft, naked skin sprawled across 2,000 miles of desert borderlands. Her body, nearly 2,000 miles long, lays down as her calves, back, shoulders rise hundreds of feet in altitude. I imagine small people sinking their fingers into her soft skin, gliding across her back. Into Anzaldúa, the border disappears. Whatever wall existed melts beneath her breasts and under her breath. Her skin, a skin made for this desert, connects space.

The mestiza, mulatta, her body becomes a bridge. In her body, she adapts, translates, code switches. She becomes the bridge upon which others—the less adaptable, the more comfortable—walk, small steps on plush skin.

Robert Park’s Marginal Man Theory positions a biracial person “outside of the two races to which he belongs, a stranger in both worlds. His personality to the development is based on how he adjusts to the crisis, which is a permanent crisis because he is socially located between two irreconcilable races” (Rockquemore 36).

A stranger in both worlds. Not a bridge but an outsider “socially located between two irreconcilable races.” Anzaldúa and Park offer contrasting positions: she connects and he excludes. She reconciles and he dissociates. She constructs a bridge across two walls and he lives between them. Both are unnatural.

“A Borderlands is a vague and undetermined place,” writes Anzaldua, “created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition” (Anzaldua 25). Where do connection and isolation meet? Are you a bridge?

. . . . .

Fullness.

Like a glass of water, you fill it till its whole. Full. Completely adequate.

“What are you?” Nine times out of ten, I respond with: “I’m half black and half white.” It’s easy, it’s true (more or less), and it’s habit. But speaking in fractions is a dangerous territory, risking a sense of incompletion, insufficiency, fragmentation that I might impart upon the person who asked. Two halves and twice as incomplete. Now how is that possible?

Most days I wake up full. My body contains no gaps—I fill my lungs until infinity. I have a full body.

I step out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I turn on the light and greet myself in the mirror. On some days, the gaps appear. My hair seems to resemble that of my straight-haired friends, with a just few more coils and frizz. When did that happen? I look for my mother in my face… then I give up. What am I missing? Fluorescent lights make my skin look pale. I wonder: Maybe I do need more sun.

On these days, the gaps eventually fill in. I hope not to feel them tomorrow.

Biracial: two races. Biracial: a binary. Biracial: one body between walls, across borders, in vast liminality.

. . . . .

 

I sit at my desk. My breath is still. I inhale slowly, feeling my ribs expand, my back pressing into the chair. I fill my lungs until somewhere, the top of my breath—the minuscule space of stillness between inhale and exhale—turns into a release. I raise my hand and speak.

 

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 1999.

Lorde, Audre. The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. 1st ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. Print.

Rockquemore, Kerry, and David L. Brunsma. Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littelfield, 2008. Print.


Carly Headshot

Carly Bates is an artist emerging from Phoenix, Arizona. With a background as a pianist and vocalist, she is active in the Arizona arts community as a creative collaborator with musicians, dancers, poets: storytellers. Carly is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a minor in English Literature from Arizona State University. Towards earning her degree, she is one of three women using the body, voice, and narrative who wrestle with questions of heritage, disbelonging, and specifically her identity as a mixed race woman in a performance titled Negotiations.

[Photo by: Bethany Brown]


Mixed Race Love

When I think about love, it’s for the mixed race. Many years ago, people hid who they really were just to please society. People who loved one another romantically had to endure hatred from those who were against one’s human right to love whomever their heart desired. Society has always placed persons who are mixed race in a box, never allowing a human to identify and embrace who they truly are.

At a young age my mother taught me who I was. In addition she taught me how to love, acknowledge and be proud of who I was. The history of my mixed race was taught to me by mother. She explained the history and culture of our, Native American, Black and European heritage. In addition, our ancectors and her parents were of a mixed race people. I was given an ancestry book which contains information and stories about my ancestors who were considered mixed race. She warned me on how ignorant the world is with their opinions. Keep loving, embracing despite what society says.

During my school years I only had one friend from each school; one school was predominantly white and the other multiethnic. One of my schools was located in a small town and the other in the inner city. My experience at each school taught me to sustain my love for myself as a mixed race person. Both of my friends were, mixed race just like me. Their parents taught them just how the world viewed us. They learned the same about being mixed race and the love for one self was already instilled. We had a strong back bone to sustain the love for one self. To this day I’m so thankful my mother taught me early on how to embrace my mixed race heritage, and not to change who I am for anyone, or to be placed in a racial box that was created by this world.

My advice for fellow, mixed race people is to never change who you are. Accept who God created and it is you. Learn the history of your ancestors; show them respect and pride. Love who your ancestors were, as it will sustain the inner love in you. Continue to show the media positive examples of people that are mixed race. Most importantly connect, work and change the mixed race community. We want our legacy to continue from generation to generation.14f1811b-34e0-4171-a120-7e5c76f5b600

Love always,

Lakia Shavon Lightner- founder Mixed Chicks Sorority

 


 

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Lakia Shavon Lightner is my full name. I was born in Connecticut. My mother was a single parent and a professional teacher.  I’m the eldest of eight. And I have a new role as aunt.

Professional in: Public Relations/Women’s Studies.
Founder of, Mixed Chicks Sorority  .