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, 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
























that I meet and master


built custom to the second







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


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


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


Respect the dynamics

of a heritage of


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: 

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?

. . . . .



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.


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?


. . . . .


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?

. . . . .


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




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  .

Academia and the Identity of Mixed-Race Women

I am a 35-year old mixed race woman (Black Jamaican, Nigerian and White British), born and living in Leeds, Yorkshire the UK and I recently completed a counselling diploma. As part of the work I had to do to achieve my diploma I had to do a great deal of work around examining my racial and cultural identity. It was also part of the course requirements that I had to do 20 hours of personal counselling.

I didn’t know it when I started the diploma but I had a massive amount of work that I needed to do around exploring my identity as a mixed race woman. This emerged when I started my personal counselling. I began to realise I had a lot of unresolved feelings around past experiences of racism and the lack of understanding and acknowledgement I had met as a mixed race female. I also needed to look at issues to do with race within my family as well as ancestral baggage. It was extremely difficult, however, for me to find an appropriate counsellor to work with. Prior to starting the counselling it hadn’t really occurred to me that it may be difficult for me to have my counselling needs met if I needed to discuss being mixed race in any detail. My experience (and this includes working with both a white and black counsellor) was that my counsellors really struggled to work with me. My first counsellor defended against hearing my experiences of racism and the second had his own ideas about how I should see myself as a mixed race person which were incompatible with my own views. So after two abortive attempts at counselling I decided to help myself and went away and did a significant amount of reading on mixed race identity. Most of this was academic research from the U.S as research in the U.K on the mixed race population is incredibly thin on the ground. Worryingly there has only actually been one UK academic paper published on mixed race identity and counselling and this was published in 2014!

The reading I did on mixed race research from the U.S was enormously helpful to me. I found quite a lot of it fairly easily online but I did have to buy some books which were often very expensive and in some cases hard to get copies of. The research was somewhat limited in that being mixed race in the UK is obviously different to being mixed race in the US due to different political landscapes and histories. Slavery is much more tangible in the US and this significantly influences perceptions of race there. The UK’s history of slavery and colonialization still massively impacts thoughts around race here but has some different implications for UK Britons of colour. I still found the US research helpful, however, and I did manage to find enough literature on race and cultural issues in general in the UK to receive positive benefits.

Armed with more understanding of myself from the reading I had done I went back into counselling and managed to find a counsellor who did have some specific understanding of mixed race identity. I was able to do some good work on my identity with her.

It feels important to point out though that for counsellors in the UK there is no specific requirement for them to demonstrate any meaningful level of competency or knowledge about working with the mixed race population or working with racial issues in general. My own negative experiences in counselling are certainly not unique and it is widely acknowledged that counsellor training is falling short in preparing counsellors to work competently in this area. I would recommend anyone reading this who is considering counselling around racial issues does their homework regarding their counsellor’s level of skill and comfortability when it comes to the topics of race and culture.

Without the help of reading academic texts on mixed race identity I think my understanding of myself would realistically not have advanced as far as it did. It was crucial for me in developing a fuller understanding of myself as a woman of colour as was my increasing interest in intersectional feminism. Particularly I would say academic research helped me to see my experiences were completely normal and were experienced by many women. The research also gave me ideas about how I could improve my self-esteem and my life.

The problem I would highlight is that reading academic texts can be challenging at times, even for people who have the privilege of a university education. I feel very aware that the mixed race population in the UK will more than likely be deprived of the benefits of academic texts, which would serve them because they are not readily available, not always easy to read and also specifically UK research on mixed race identity is minimal anyway. It takes dedication to commit to searching for appropriate texts.

The answer seems to be that mixed race people urgently need to be more represented in UK social policy and mental health experts need to do the groundwork of converting academic texts on mixed race identity into their practice. We are in a quandary though as for this to happen more academic research on mixed race identity is needed in the UK in the first place. The future for the mixed race population is currently not looking very bright in my opinion where academia is concerned.

The mixed race population is a rapidly growing in Britain and is the third largest ethnic minority group.Both black and mixed race people are over-represented in prisons and the mental health care system. Mixed race people have been reported as more likely to be victims of crime. Mixed race children are the most likely to be put in care and also over-represented in youth justice and child protection systems. I think it’s fair to say right now that academia is definitely failing us.

This piece originally published at the Ain’t I A Woman Collective.

The Mixed Roots Stories team is, like Nicole, eager to see more mixed race representation in global academic discourse. Stay tuned with Mixed Roots Stories this year as we release the Mixed Roots Commons, our forthcoming online forum for invited scholars to gather around central themes and debates taking place in Critical Mixed Race Studies today. 

photoNicola Codner is 34 years old and currently training to be a person-centred counsellor in Leeds, UK. She is biracial and her heritage is White British and Black Caribbean. She has a strong interest in difference and diversity which led her into re-training as a counsellor. Prior to training as a counsellor she worked as a publisher in academic publishing. She’s keen to continue to develop my writing experience hence part of her interest in blogging. She has a degree in English Literature and Psychology.

In her spare time, she loves reading, music, art, theatre, traveling and cinema

White Dads

Being brown and having a white dad means something, whether people want to acknowledge it or not. Right now, I’m working on an anthology project—“WHITE DADS: Stories and experiences told by people of color, fathered by white men.” I’ve been loving the ways people are taking this idea, supporting it, and helping it grow. Thing is, though, absolutely none of us have the same story to tell about what it’s like being brown, raised by a white guy in a society that ranks validity based on melanin and race. This is a part of my story and the story behind WHITE DADS.

Answers are never just black and white–but in the case of biracial identity, sometimes, that’s exactly what they are.

When I was about five years old, I learned the phrase, “Pedestrians have the right of way.” To me, this translated to, “I am going to walk into the road, and you have to stop.” So with all the wonder and arrogance of a new kindergartener, I unfortunately made habit of walking out into traffic with the confidence of a queen. My mother calls this my “Bad Seed” phase. My older sister had to literally grab me by the shirt and yank me from harm’s way as cars backed out of the driveways I didn’t care to notice.

One evening in 1996, I was on out on a stroll with my dad downtown. While I don’t recall it being a particularly bustling evening, I know there must have been enough cars buzzing by to practice caution when near the road. What I do recall, though, is that I was being a brat, most likely because I didn’t want to hold my dad’s hand. I was probably insulted by the sheer fact that he thought I needed help crossing the street at all. Didn’t he know I had the right of way?

I broke away from his grasp and took off tearing down the darkening street. My dad, 6 foot tall, took off running right behind me, no doubt yelling for me to “get back here!” You’ll have to catch me first.

And then, right as the chase was getting underway, I almost ran right smack into a young couple out on a date. The woman was almost frantic.

My dad has told me about the brief interaction he had with that man and woman, all those years ago. Now, he laughs at this story.

“Those people thought I was trying to kidnap you!” he bellows.

It’s funny, you see, because I was little brown girl, being chased by a big white man on a darkish, half deserted downtown street.

I laugh at this story, too. My dad may be a lot of things—someone who, for example, doesn’t fully understand racial fetishization or the panicked terror of police brutality against people who share my skintone—but a stranger or my kidnapper is not one of them. How could those people not see that?

I’m African American on my mother’s side, and I’m a Russian, Polish Jew from my father. In a world where we’re so often told black and white issues don’t exist, I have been coerced into telling the world that’s exactly what I am: A black and white issue.

I don’t have my father’s hazel eyes or his ruddy, pink cheeks. I’m a brown girl, not as nearly as light as my father or quite as dark as my mother. I’ve got my mother’s melanin and big, brown eyes. My sister has the high forehead of the Native Americans we’re mixed with from our mom’s side of the family, and I’ve got the babushka face from my ancestors in Eastern Europe from our dad’s. You probably wouldn’t guess that’s why my cheeks are so round, though. And why would you? I’ve got my mother’s melanin and big, brown eyes, and that’s what people see. When I’m asked that degrading, yet common and impolite question, “What are you?” I know what they’re really asking is not “Who are you?” but, “What made you that color?”

The idea of having my father mistaken for a stranger wasn’t something that really registered with me until I was older. My mom and I were both brown, but my dad and I were both Jewish. Two of a kind on either side. It wasn’t until I was older that the fact that I didn’t get to be in control of how other people saw me, and by extension what they saw when they looked at my dad and I, honestly came as a shock of hurt. Because we didn’t immediately register as looking like the family unit norm, society told me that he and I weren’t two of a kind after all; not really.


I came to realize that rather than being seen as unique individuals, people of color are seen as a blur of the narratives and stereotypes centered around our ethnicities. This is the kind of faulty thought process that has led so many people to ask me, “How can you be Jewish if you’re black?” Or worse, the definitive, “Black people aren’t Jewish.” There’s always this opposition of my identity. I’m either too black to be Jewish, or too Jewish to be black.

In our society, black people don’t get to be dynamic. Black people don’t get to be seen as diverse within the general population. We’re seen as one big lump mass of the same experience, “The Black Experience,” it’s often called. And if you don’t fit neatly into that preconceived fold, the immediate conclusion is that there’s something wrong with you, not something wrong with the narratives that have been concocted around race identity. There’s this false idea that we all have the same, one story to tell from start to finish. We don’t even get to claim an ancestral nation most of the time. People simply say, “Africa,” like it’s all the same. And because we’ve been stripped of the privilege of knowing those nations, that’s almost  just what it’s become. We don’t get very many opportunities to be seen in the mainstream as individuals. We’re used as diversity, but not seen as diverse.

In parallel strides to the systematic and institutionalized racism that’s rampant in our country, this is a colorist society. “White” is typically and continually seen as the default race—even down to little things, like the color “nude” being a light skin tone—and it’s seen as the opposite of brown. Again and again in our male-run world, white men are the gatekeepers who make the decisions for us all. It’s obvious and undeniable that they’re the demographic with the most privilege in our country, and more often than not, the antagonists in stories about seeking social and racial justice.

These are things I know to be true about the climate of our world. My dad and I both know that they’re true. But what it also means, on a personal, individual level, is that I, a young, black woman, am seen as the the opposite of the older white man who is my father.

Enter WHITE DADS. This is the push back, the retort, the response, the healing process. This is a chance to share, laugh, process, and expose the immense diversity that exists in our communities, even within this one sliver of racial identity. This is a chance to tell our stories and say that we, the people of color with white dads, are valid, strong, and that we are not fractions of mismatched cultures inside a single being. We are whole, and who we are is enough.

Don’t let the specificity of the title fool you. In fact, it’s meant to be provocative. In some ways, it’s at odds with itself. Having to preface “dad” with a label, an explanation, can be an othering experience all it’s own. The theme may be specific, but it is by no means narrow.

On top of that, these days, so many brown folks are united under the “people of color” umbrella. This kind of budding unification is an astounding display of support. By choosing an often overlooked focus, potential is created to expand that unification in new ways and to publish those who are bursting at the seams with untold stories.

WHITE DADS is accepting all forms of creative expression from black, brown, mixed race, adopted and/or POC who have the unique experience of having a white father. This is meant to be an intentional, creative opportunity to speak on truths, tell stories and share art that fall within the thematic focus.

I’m tired of defending who I am. Fighting white supremacy and patriarchy, two things I care greatly about,  are political issues I invest a lot of myself into. At the end of the day, though, theory, “-isms,” and social constructs are not going to make my dad less of the father who raised and loves me. These are political issues. My relationships with my family are not.

It’s isolating be unsure of where your identity lies.There is not a universal truth or a simple answer. This project, like identity itself, is far too nuanced and complicated to ever be restricted to binary modes of thought; to ever be about just one thing or another.

These are matters I recognize to be authentic about my own story and experience, but there’s so much more to say. WHITE DADS can be a place for those stories to be told. It’s a space to explore the crossroads of where social and political constructs intersect with personal experiences and family, loving or otherwise; an opportunity to look into the nature of identity and family ties that are anything but black and white.

Submissions are open from Dec 1st, 2015 – Jan 15, 2016. Check out the WDZ Tumblr page for more information. Email with questions. Find more writing from Sarah here.



white dadsSarah Gladstone is a writer based out of Oakland, California. In addition to being a contributor for online sites such as Ravishly and The Huffington Post Blog, she also works on personal writing endeavors. WHITE DADS, a new zine anthology of stories, art, and experiences told by people of color fathered by white men, is her most current project. Most of her writing is creative nonfiction, poetry, and prose on topics relating to identity, race, and orientation. She appreciates all great forms of storytelling, magical realism, and the interconnectedness of art with social justice and humanity. When she’s not entangled with the written word, you can find Sarah debating the merits of pop culture, indulging in discount cinema, and generally trying to live a story worthy life.

Visit for more information on Sarah’s latest project, or email


Huff Post Blog


Twitter: @happyrocktalk

Fringers Part III

Part III- Journey Back Home

From the time I was very young I can recall wanting to meet my dad. I would eagerly wait for postcards and letters from him filled with photos and talk of meeting each other. Sometime in elementary school all contact fell off and by the time I was in college I still had yet to meet him. I had this fantasy that once I met my dad and went to Turkiye to meet the rest of my family it would suddenly change my life and I would find the place where I’d finally fit in.

After years of waiting to contact my father I decided to try finding him via the internet through a search engine. Surprisingly, I found his contact information on a website about his art. I emailed him at first simply asking for my grandparents’ current address as I hadn’t communicated with my grandmother in many years. This eventually led to my visiting him a couple times in Florida. During one of these visits I met my aunt and uncle who were visiting. My aunt is not an emotional person by any account, but we both found ourselves crying when we had to part ways after just a few days of laughter, exchanges in broken English and Turkish and  exchanging gifts. It would be a few more years before I would see her again.

Part III Pic 1

One of the things that stands out the most to me about my visits to get to know my dad was how aware I became of my racial/ethnic identity when I was with him. Growing up in a white family as someone who can pass, race never really came up. However, when I would go out with my dad I was acutely aware that his phenotype and strong accent highlighted my difference to others. I can recall actually being frightened after 9-11 that people would attack us as many people make no differentiation between any of the countries or people in the Middle East, seeing them all as American enemies. In an odd way, despite my constant claiming and assertion of mixed identity- these were some of the first times when it was done for me. What was often an invisible identity to others became extremely visible in a way I did not have control over. To make things more complex being in my dad’s presence not only brought my race/ethnicity into question, but his accent brought our nationality and citizenship to the forefront. Despite all of my concerns, I cannot recall a circumstance in which I experienced anything negative due to race/nationality while with my dad, but this too is likely due to his racial ambiguity and being in multicultural areas.

As time quickly passed and my grandparents heard of my interactions with my dad, they had my cousins contact me and eventually get a trip setup to visit. After over 20 years of my grandmother ending letters with, “God willing (İnşallah) we will meet one day,” it was finally happening. For my mother and future husband this was not exactly the ideal time as the U.S. Embassy in Turkiye had recently been bombed, however I had this overwhelming sense of peace and confidence that this was where I was suppose to be at that exact time and there was no harm that would come my way.
I also knew that another chance may never present itself and was determined to go.

Funnily enough my biggest fear was getting lost in the airport and not being able to get help due to a language barrier and not recognizing my cousins who were coming to pick me up. My mom had also helped me practice what to say to customs agents about coming to visit family so as not to raise any suspicions given the recent political terrain. After all of my worrying not only did the customs agent not ask a single question, but everything in the aiport had an English translation and my cousins and I immediately recognized each other despite never having met and only one or two phone calls and a handful of photos. On the ride back to the Asian side of Turkiye I was surprised not only at how beautiful and surreal the country was, but that I was hearing American music on their airwaves.

I spent the next few weeks between Istanbul and Antalya. The country was as beautiful as I’d been told and my family collectively worked to make sure I met everyone and was treated wonderfully. One of my cousins used much of his vacation leave to spend time taking me  around and we instantly bonded; it was as if we’d known each other forever. However, when I was not with my cousins, who could provide translation or when discussions would slip into Turkish or there appeared to be a disagreement of sorts I was reminded that I would never truly understand the family dynamics or feel that I one hundred percent fit-in no matter how hard they tried to make me feel included.

Part III Pic 3

The most difficult part of the trip was spending a week with my grandparents and uncle where we were unable to communicate with each other. By this point I had finished the only book I’d brought, which ironically was Malcolm X’s biography detailing his trip to the MECCA, read every book in English that my family owned and written and recorded countless diary entries. My grandmother spoke to me in Turkish at a rapid speed with a smile on her face, while my grandfather took a silent approach by grabbing my hand and taking me along while pointing at things.

One of the memories I cherish the most was when my grandparents took me into town. We went into jewelry store after jewelry store where trays of gold were pulled out and they would look at me and point to the gold bracelets being displayed, while I would get extremely uncomfortable because I had no idea how much the jewelry cost. Finally we entered a store where one of the employees was able to translate and let me know that they wanted me to pick out a bracelet. I chose the smallest one. It had delicate circles that reminded me of the waves at the beach in Antalya.  I watched as my grandfather pulled out what appeared to be an extremely large amount of money after they weighed the bracelet. My uncle and grandmother motioned for me to kiss my grandfather on the cheek as we walked out and as I did a very large grin spread across his face. Shortly after buying the bracelet my grandfather took a trolley back to the apartment and it was clear that his only purpose in coming along was to get me a special bracelet. When it was time for me to leave their home and return to stay with my aunt they each pulled a “typical” grandparent move, pulling me aside and “sneaking” me money.

Part III Pic 4

The trip taught me two things. The first was that my family in Turkiye loves me simply because we are related; they don’t care if we speak the same language, live in the same country or have hardly spent any time together. They love me because I exist and nothing can stand in the way of that. I had heard about family being of extreme importance within Turkish culture, but experiencing it was quite another thing. The second lesson I learned was that at my core I am truly American and always will be. Even if I learn the Turkish language, spend every summer abroad and immerse myself in Turkish culture every second of the day I will still be the fringer within my family.





At the beginning of my journey I focused on finding an experience or place that would instantaneously make me feel one hundred percent understood and accepted at all times. I lived based on the premise that I was lacking something that I needed to find and only then would I be complete. What I found along the way was a series of confirmations that I am a life-long fringer and that my experiences and occupation of strange spaces—somewhere between Europe, Asia and America, between Christianity, Islam and spirituality, being a white passing Middle Eastern woman, yet identifying as mixed because I understand this experience more than my own culture— are what make me who I am.

One of the most powerful revelations I came to was at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity a couple of years ago. After watching the documentary “A Lot Like You” I became very emotional and asked the biracial filmmaker Eli Kimaro if after traveling to Tanzania and shooting a documentary about her journey she has ever truly felt like she fit in with her Tanzanian family. Her response was profound. She told me that maybe our purpose isn’t to fit in. She gave an example of how she kept asking her aunts about their lives and cultural practices that she would have known never to ask about had she grown up in Tanzania, but through her outsider status she didn’t and persisted. Eventually her aunts opened up about being raped and brutalized. She told me that it was by her being an outsider that she unknowingly asked inappropriate questions, which ultimately resulted in her aunts finding some healing from what they had experienced. She then proceeded to tell me that her daughter has seemingly from birth had an innate and profound connection to Tanzania, so maybe that connection is not part of our purpose, yet our purpose of being fringers is just as important.

Now, instead of focusing on lacking knowledge and experiences I think about what I do know and who I can touch and connect with as a fringer. I understand a mother’s desperate love to protect a child from a culture she did not understand how to navigate, so somewhere in a synergy of love and fear she did her best, which meant distancing the child from the rest of her family and identity. I know what it’s like to “reclaim” your name and heritage and find a parent using Google. I know what it’s like to be raised by a biological parent, yet take the journey of a transnational/transracial adoptee to find their biological family members only to realize how much you are like them, yet how you are so completely shaped by the family that raised you. I know what it’s like to take a life-changing journey that is simply a beautiful exotic extended vacation to those around you, meant to be discussed for a week or so upon return before being shut away in photo books to be discussed on a rare occasion. I know what it’s like to be an adult in academia and still get that feeling of discomfort when asked how I identify or worse yet, have my identity policed by others. Most of all I know that the validation and acceptance I flew thousands of miles to find was never something anyone else could provide. That’s the ironic thing about journeys, we frequently come to the realization that what we believed to be lacking and searched for externally, has in fact always resided within the core of who we are patiently waiting to be realized.

bio elmsNaliyah Kaya is the Coordinator for Multiracial & Multicultural Student Involvement & Community Advocacy at the University of Maryland College Park where she works closely with Multiracial/Multiethnic and Native American Indian/Indigenous student groups, serving as an advocate for the needs of these communities. She currently teaches TOTUS Spoken Word Experience and Leadership & Intersecting Identities: Stories of the MULTI racial/ethnic/cultural Experience.

As a poetic public sociologist, Naliyah utilizes poetry as a medium for teaching and social change. She encourages students to engage in artistic expression as they examine their own identities, beliefs and values and as a form of activism in promoting social justice. It is her hope that through this process of self-exploration students will embrace cultural pluralism, find commonalities across differences and engage in research and dialogues that seek to benefit the greater good of society through positive social action.

A native of Washington State, Naliyah grew up just outside of Seattle. She earned an A.A.S. from Shoreline Community College, a B.A. in Sociology from Hampton University, and received her M.A. & Ph.D. in Sociology at George Mason University. Her poetry has been published in Hampton University’s literary magazine The Saracen, George Mason University’s VolitionVoices of the Future Presented by Etan Thomas and Spindrift Art & Literary Journal.

Learn more about Naliyah and her work on her website.