Mixed Roots Stories Performance Sampler @ CMRS 2017

Mixed Roots Stories Performance Sampler 2017

February 26th, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

At the 4th Critical Mixed Race Studies conference, four dynamic performers will share a sampling of their work followed by an open discussion with the artists on craft, process and engaging with themes of the mixed experience.


Elizabeth Chin and the Laboratory of Speculative Ethnology

The Jefferson-Hemings Complex
Elizabeth Chin is an ethnographer and anthropologist with a multifaceted practice that includes performative scholarship, collaborative research, and experimental writing. A professor at Art Center College of Design in the MFA program Media Design Practices/Field, she has published widely on children, consumption, anthropological practice. She has performed and done ethnography in the United States, Haiti, Uganda, and Cuba.

Gregory Diggs-Yang

Becoming Korean, While Growing Out My Afro: A Personal Narrative about a Moment in My Own Identity Development as a Mixed Korean and Black American
Gregory (Chan-wook) Diggs-Yang has a Bachelor’s (BA) in Education from Illinois State University and a Master’s (M.Ed.) in Educational Administration from UCLA. Greg has most recently moved from South Korea where he worked at Seoul National Universities as the Curriculum Coordinator for the IETTP (Teacher Training) and was a co-host of the Arirang Radio segment, ”Footprints of Korea with Chan-wook”. In addition he served as the President of the M.A.C.K. Foundation (Movement of the Advancement of Cultural-diversity of Koreans). A grassroots organization that supports multicultural schools and increases recognition and awareness of the diversity of Koreans. His areas of interest include multicultural education, mixed-heritage, and social justice. Greg is currently a doctoral candidate in the College of Education, Multicultural Education program at the University of Washington, Seattle. His dissertation looks at the support of biracial identity development through educational spaces.

Genevieve Erin O’Brien

Sugar Rebels

Genevieve Erin O’Brien is a Queer mixed race Vietnamese/Irish/German/American woman. She is an artist, a filmmaker, an organizer, a cook/private chef, and an educator who lives and works in Los Angeles. She holds an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. O’Brien was a Fulbright Fellow in Vietnam, a recipient of the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles and Center for Cultural Innovation’s Creative Economic Development Fund. in 2016 she went to Hanoi, Vietnam as a US Dept. of State/ZERO1 American Arts Incubator Artist for a project highlighting LGBTQ visibility and equality. Her newest work More Than Love on the Horizon: West Coast Remix and Sugar Rebels were recently commissioned and presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.


For additional conference programing and other details visit the CMRS website.

Mixed Roots Stories LIVE 2017 performers

Mixed Roots Stories LIVE Performance 2017

February 25th, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Mixed Roots Stories will open the 4th Critical Mixed Race Studies conference with live performances by the following:

karimi-standing-72Robert Farid Karimi

Disco Jesus – new work TBA!

Robert Farid Karimi is a community engagement specialist and comedic storyteller. He works with everyday people in cities, companies, and health centers worldwide on making healthy messaging delicious using comedy, culture and food with his culinary cultural engagement project: ThePeoplesCook Project. And, he speaks on issues as mixed race/consciousness, food politics, community deliciousness and the power of the Fool/Trickster to change the world. www.KaRRRimi.com

crystal-alad-3Crystal Shaniece Roman

Black Latina the Play

In 2008 Ms. Roman launched The Black Latina Movement, LLC (BLM) and began performing BLM’s first written theatrical piece: a one woman show about the lives of dark-skinned Latinas and African American Latinas entitled Black Latina. In early 2013 Black Latina received a new format featuring an all female ensemble cast starring Judy Torres; during the fall the revamped Black Latina saw the success of multiple sold out shows. Since 2013 Black Latina the Play has been on tour in the Northeast at campuses such as: Hamilton College, Penn State University, Community College of Baltimore County-Essex and Lehigh University. Most recently Crystal revised the one woman version of Black Latina the Play after being invited to perform at the Smithsonian Institute for Hispanic Heritage Month Festival Latinidad- Looking into Latina Women’s American Experiences September 2016.


carly-headshotCarly Bates

Musings of Rachel Dolezal

Carly Bates is an emerging artist from Phoenix, Arizona. With a background in music and piano performance, she is active in the Arizona arts community as a creative collaborator with musicians, movers, poets, actors: storytellers. Having recently graduated from Arizona State University, Carly is currently working with a local playback theatre company called Essential Theater and is also the editor for the Mixed Roots Stories Commons.


zave-martohardjono-mr-5-2-16-6337-credit-david-gonsierZavé Gayatri Martohardjono

Untitled (Balinese dance study)

Zavé Gayatri Martohardjono makes intercultural, geopolitical, boundary-defying, high glam performance, video, and installations. Interested in embodied risk-taking and cross-cultural imagery, they combine improvisation with their own cultural roots: Indonesian mythology and dance, queer iconography. Brooklyn based, Zavé has shown at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Boston Center for the Arts, Center for Performance Research, Center for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Movement Research at Judson Church, Recess, SOMArts, Winslow Garage, among others. They have been an artist in residence at the Shandaken Project at Storm King, La MaMa Experimental Theatre, Chez Bushwick, and an Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Workshop Fellow.


dsc_7157_tLisa Marie Rollins

Performing an excerpt from SIDE CHICK: This ain’t no Harlequin Romance

Lisa Marie Rollins is playwright, poet, freelance director and dramaturg. Most recently she co-directed Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment (Crowded Fire Theater) and a reading of Tearrance Chisholm’s Br’er Cotton (Playwrights Foundation). She is the director of All Atheists are Muslimby Zahra Noorbakhsh and was co-producer of W. Kamau Bell’s “Ending Racism in About and Hour”. Lisa Marie performed her acclaimed solo play, Ungrateful Daughter: One Black Girl’s Story of Being Adopted by a White Family…That Aren’t Celebrities in festivals, universities and academic conferences across the US. She was Poet in Residence at June Jordan’s Poetry for the People at U.C. Berkeley, a CALLALOO Journal London Writing Workshop Fellow and an alumni in Poetry of VONA Writing Workshop. Her writing is published in Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, River, Blood, Corn Literary Journal, Line/Break, As/Us Literary Journal,The Pacific Review and others. Currently, she is finishing her new manuscript of poems, Compass for which she received the 2016 Mary Tanenbaum Literary Award from SF Foundation. She is in development with her new play, Token. She holds degrees from The Claremont Graduate University and UC Berkeley. She is a Lecturer at St Mary’s College in Performance Studies, and a Resident Artist with Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco. Lisa Marie is a 2015-16 playwright member of Just Theater Play Lab and Artist-in-Residence at BRAVA Theater for Women in San Francisco.

sasaki_fredFred Sasaki EAT TO JAPANESE: Achieving ethnic authenticity by eating, shopping, emojis

A step-by-step guide to being genuine authentic

Fred Sasaki is the art director for Poetry magazine and a gallery curator for the Poetry Foundation. He is the author of Real Life Emails (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2017) and the zine series Fred Sasaki’s and Fred Sasaki’s Four-Pager Guide To: How to Fix You.



The Performance will be held at the Norris Cinema Theater 850 W 34th St, Los Angeles, CA 90089

This event is Co-Sponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts

Free tickets will be limited. Check back for a link to register.

For additional conference programing and other details visit the CMRS website.

Day of walk-ins will also be welcome pending ticket availability.


But You Don’t Look that Black

“But you don’t look…that Black”

What do comments like this mean to a mixed-race writer, woman, Canadian, artist, and creator? What would it look like to occupy a second body that is essentially her own, but in duplicate? Isn’t a first draft just trial and error? Theories are simply the beginnings of stories, and for that we should have the right to these fragments, just as I have the rights to the pieces that make up who I am. I have nothing to prove be it my blackness, or lack thereof.  This is an exhausting feat, but through the journey, the hard work, muscles form. Repeat a constant repetitive motion over and over. This creates strength. In creating a strength builds a confidence. In building a confidence comes trust. In trusting a writer’s words, theories become extremely plausible.

From theories, we form categories. More specific and refined. When we put writers into neatly organized and very strict boxes, we start caring more about meeting the requirements of that particular category, versus the quality and content of the writing. We stop listening to the author’s voice, words, message, and story. Instead we focus on whether or not they have the right to tell it.

When I am asked what it is like to be a woman of colour writer in Canada, I find that an overwhelming question to try to answer. Think of all the categories I fall into. Woman of colour. Writer. Canadian. Woman. Canadian. Canadian Woman of colour. Which category do I identify with?


I typed “Women of Colour” into google:


“Col-oured  (redirected from Women of colour)


  1. Having color: colored tissue paper.
  2. also Colored Often Offensive
  3. Of or belonging to a racial group not categorized as white.
  4. Black or African-American.
  5. Of mixed racial descent.
  6. often Coloured South African Of or belonging to a population grouping made up of persons of mixed racial descent or of certain other nonwhite descent, especially as distinguished during apartheid from blacks, Asians, or whites.
  7. Distorted or biased, as by irrelevant or incorrect information.
  8. pl. colored or coloreds
  9. also Colored Offensive
  10. A person belonging to a racial group not categorized as white.
  11. A black person, especially an African American.
  12. A person of mixed racial descent.
  13. often Coloured South African A person belonging to the Coloured population grouping, especially during apartheid.
  14. coloreds Pieces of laundry that are not light in color.”


These definitions confuse me. Even definitions have trouble finding a place where they fit in, and make sense. Many Canadian mixed-race women struggle with finding a sense of belonging within themselves as well as within their own families and even communities.  I think when you come from two different cultures, and are denied one half, you spend the majority of your time questioning everything in your life, from parenting to education, careers to social groups, and even dating and marriage. In some pieces, I use a character’s voice as narrator, and even though a particular poem may not be about me, I’m always sure to remove my mask and question if this is where I’m supposed to be. I am writing the way I am supposed to be writing in this moment.


Had poetry not grabbed me by the throat, I seriously wonder if I would even be writing at all. Just like Amber Dawn said, “Poetry saved my life.”


continuing studies shots of chelylene for brochure

Chelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion MagazineSassafras Literary MagazineemergeThe Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.

February 2016 Commons: Hard to Place


Featured Artist: Qiana Mestrich

Photographer | Writer



“Untitled (Maura and Joseph in Trafalgar Square), 1965” From the series Hard to Place (2016) Vintage photographic print


Page 42 from the book Hard to Place (2016)


“Untitled (Birthmark)” From the series Hard to Place (2016) Archival Pigment Print


Page 46 from the book Hard to Place (2016) From the series Hard to Place (2016) Archival Pigment Print

Through still photography my work exposes hidden or denied histories, giving visibility to stories shaped by immigration, assimilation and the perceived failures of multiculturalism. I work primarily within documentary photography but have also employed archival photographs, texts and found digital imagery to create conceptual, constructed pieces.

My practice is research driven and I often use my own personal/family history as a place of reference because it is both what I know best and what I know little of. Driven by the Buddhist philosophy of interconnectedness by which I was raised, I make work because I don’t believe in coincidence. Always seeking to uncover seemingly tenuous connections, I believe the photographic image has the power to relate the personal with the universal.

My latest series, Hard to Place traces the journey of an orphan boy of Nigerian and Irish parentage growing up in 1960s/70s London. A “half-cast(e)” child in 1960s and ‘70s England, Joseph was considered “hard to place” amongst the mostly white, adoptive families. Consequently, Joseph was placed “in care” at eight different times from age three to seventeen.

Joseph is my husband, we met online in 2007. On our first date he nervously told me his lifestory, continuously pulling at his sleeves to hide the ink of bad decisions made during his teenage years as a black skinhead. That night he told me about how he was born in the UK to immigrant parents, eventually growing up in an orphanage located in the posh London neighborhood of Hampstead. We were both born on the 8th (of different months), both only children and we were both “mixed” with unanswered questions about our family origins…that night Joseph and I immediately connected and we’ve been together ever since.

As a wife, over the past six years I’ve witnessed Joseph become a father with little guidance and only an instinct of love. The little boy in the color, documentary images seen in Hard To Place is our son. As a photographer, my lens has captured tender and curious moments with my son and in these images he often becomes that precocious, yet lonely little boy I imagine his father was as a child. As a mother, I’ve developed the utmost compassion for Joseph’s mother and I can’t fathom the (inner and outer) struggles she endured as a single, Irish woman with a black child in a xenophobic and racist society.

Through the United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act of 1998, in 2013 Joseph Robert Cullen received two legal-sized books stuffed with photocopied files documenting the years he spent as an orphan. The documents include typed and handwritten text written by social workers observing both Joseph and his mother Maura aka Maureen who often needed financial and housing assistance. Combining confidential government documentation, archival photographs, personal possessions and documentary images, this series reveals the social and moral forces that denied Joseph his birthright to a family while imagining an alternate (albeit uncertain) narrative. This series includes photographic, archival material and other possessions belonging to Joseph’s parents which he inherited after their passing. The inclusion of these personal archives counters the inherent definition of the orphan child as someone who comes from nothing and no one.

The dominant narrative of mixed-race orphans is that they are all born of wars, the product of illicit love affairs (or rapes) between women and the soldiers that occupied their countries. Some popular examples of these “occupation babies” include those born during/post World War II in Japan and the Korean War. It’s interesting to note that although white soldiers fathered children (often at higher rates), the offspring of black soldiers were far more ostracized.

A relationship between two people is fostered and sustained not only by the love that each person has for one another, but by the support it receives from their community and others outside their union. Even the general social sentiment plays a role in validating their union, allowing for such simple pleasures yet symbolic gestures such as holding hands in public.

I’ve self published Hard To Place as a photography book and the first spread features a portrait of Joseph’s father on the left and his mother on the right. The reason why I chose the book form to represent this series is in relation to the family album or scrapbook, mediums meant to preserve memories. For me this pairing of parents was important to create as it is a familiar photograph found in family albums.

This coupling, preserved in photographic emulsion, has been a constant in the history of the medium. So much so that people who’ve been raised by both parents often take this kind of photograph for granted not realizing how many people worldwide do not have this visual affirmation of the love that created them. I don’t know why Joseph’s parents were never photographed together, but I do recognize the power of this formal arrangement (specifically in the shaping of a mixed-race identity) and have even replicated it on the walls of our home.

The orphan is a common human archetype. There have been many notable celebrities, world leaders, figures within classical history and religious scripture, in literature and even comic book heroes who began life as orphans. Yet there has been very little within popular culture, international news or the arts about ordinary children made orphan because of the strain of historical and everyday racist attitudes. We don’t often hear of the children abandoned by one or both parents because of the stress of discrimination from society and often their respective family members that has fractured their unions.

Alone and marginalized, these children bear the intolerable weight of their parent’s failed love and that of mankind’s dark, unsettled history with race. I’m not sure which hurts worse.

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. Are mixed-race orphans (i.e. bodies) considered more desirable today for adoption?
  2. How can we leverage visual art and culture to publicly affirm mixed-race identities?

Additional Reading

Essay on Hard To Place by writer Paula Kupfer



Assemblages convey stories through their grouping and positioning of objects, and Qiana Mestrich’s work Hard to Place weaves the narrative of her husband’s past, present, and future through the lens of acute observation and love. The title, Hard to Place, references the difficulty of placing Joseph in adoption because of his mixed heritage, but also the title alludes to the physical ambiguity of the multiracial body. “What are you?” is a frequent question a mixed body hears because the ways our bodies present themselves make us hard to place as well. What struck me was the speculative elements of Mestrich’s piece, particularly how the piece fill the gaps where Joseph’s story is unclear.  Through imagining a holistic narrative, the places where Joseph’s family story is incomplete is filled in with abstractions and the beauty of the everyday and mundane. The quotidian elements of Hard to Place show how Joseph’s story is at the same time very unique and quite ordinary.  

-Dr. Alexandrina Agloro

Dr. Alexandrina Agloro is a game designer, community-based researcher, and media artist who believes in the possibilities of the decolonial imaginary using digital media as an emancipatory tool. She is an Assistant Professor of Interactive Media and Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Find more about her work at http://agloro.org.

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  .

A Cowboy Thing

Some things are forever intertwined.

It was February, early spring in Tucson – cool, dry and pleasant. A slight breeze whistled through Palo Verde and Cottonwood trees. Barbecue grills were fired up – kids were playing in the streets.

Our neighborhood was bursting with unbridled anticipation, murmurs gaining resonance with the news that the Fiesta de Los Vaqueros Rodeo was in town. Soon, there would be a parade, marching bands, majestic horses, and a celebration of Mexican and American cowboys. For a desert kid, this was a very big thing. Cowboys were bigger than life. But this year, I would not attend. I was at another event, not far from the planned festivities.

I was five years old and too young to be allowed into the ground- floor hospital room where Francisco, my Abuelo, an authentic cowboy – lay dying. He was old now, sick and frail; and his passing not totally unexpected.

Relatives arrived, throughout the day to pay their last respects. They would pass by my twin sister Linda and me in the hallway, compelled by relation, to cup our faces, or pat us on the head as they came and went. All preoccupied with private thoughts, a lapse that left us momentarily unattended.

Given the oversight and driven by a heartfelt desire to see our grandfather, Linda and I didn’t dawdle. We bolted out the building – me in my little-boy cowboy boots and chaps, Linda in her tasseled vest and matching skirt, and into the pomegranate tree-lined courtyards that dotted the hospital grounds.

Too short to peer into the rooms directly, we jumped, hopped and crawled up brick ledges, peering into windows, startling patients and visitors alike. A menacing looking nurse in a stiff, starched, white linen uniform caught us peeking, stuck her arms out the window and attempted to grab us.

Scolding us, she waved her finger and shouted, “¿Qué estás haciendo niños, ¿dónde están sus padres?” (“What are you doing, children? Where are your parents?”).

She was a big woman, with a prominent mustache and crooked yellow teeth, and she scared the bejeezus out of us – but it only served to hasten our search for our grandfather.

We knew our parents would certainly be looking for us by now. One last courtyard, one last hospital wing to check; not this one, not that one. Wait… “I found him,” I shouted. Linda was across the courtyard, tired and walking slowly now.

I crawled up to the window ledge, and there was Francisco propped up in his bed, alone and abandoned, everyone else no doubt frantically searching for us.

I tapped on the window, and he slowly turned my way. At first he didn’t see me, the top of my head barely visible over the window ledge. But I climbed higher; my chin pressed against the glass. And then with a raised eyebrow, he saw me, and his eyes locked onto mine.

The old man still had some magic in him. He sat up erect, smiled, winked, picked up his sweat-stained cowboy hat that lay on the nightstand and waved it high above his head.

From one cowboy to another, “I see you, little man,” he seemed to say. Tears rolled down his weather-wrinkled face. I thought, “Is he happy, or sad?” But he smiled again, as did I. A moment forever shared, frozen in time.

By now my Aunt had entered the room, and my Mom and Dad in hot pursuit were in the courtyard with Linda in tow. They walked up to the window I was clinging to, and as parents are wont to do with disobedient children, swatted my behind. Small price to pay for finding Francisco. I climbed my Father’s arm until he and Mother relented, and lifted us up so we could wave and say goodbye to our Abuelo. Sadly, he died later that day – peacefully – with family surrounding him.

I’ve thought of him often over time, heartened in no small part by my resemblance to the old man. I always wondered how he ended up in the southwest. I discovered Francisco Wilson’s clan had its origins in the Celtic Euro-Iberian Peninsula (northern Portugal & Spain); his ancestors eventually voyaging up the Atlantic coastline to southern England.

Francisco’s father, Baldomero, was the son of a Cornish miner who immigrated to Mexico from the Southwestern Brythonic region of Great Britain in the early 19th century. The Cornish miners were the best hard-rock miners in the world, but depressed economic and metal markets in Europe forced many to emigrate to mining regions throughout the world. Specifically, to Latin American silver mining locations, of which Alamos, Mexico, was one, and where Baldomero lived and worked and where Francisco was born.

Our Celt ancestors were from an ancient civilization, and according to chroniclers, emerged from the lower Danube region. They can be traced back to what are now Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Iberian Peninsula. They sacked Rome in 387-386 B.C. and the following century destroyed the armies of Macedonia in Greece.

Proponents of the Druid religion they believed in the immortality of man. The Celtic Clan, specifically the Cornwall and Cornish peoples, were documented to have lived from circa A.D. 400, half a Millennium prior to the origin of England, until around A.D. 890. They are a distinct ethnicity separate from most of England’s Anglo-Saxons. The Cornish part of our family emerged from this civilization.

The fact that Francisco was Celtic Cornish, a Mexican native and didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived in the United States, was equally surprising and enlightening. (The irony, of course, is that the Cornish people also had their language before their assimilation into the dominant English-speaking culture.)

He eventually emigrated from Mexico to Arizona, a U.S. territory, in 1909 to escape the Mexican Revolution that pitted the repressive dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz against a populist uprising led by Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata. Francisco enlisted in the U.S. Army during WWI and eventually settled to a life of farming and ranching in southern Arizona.

Having discovered all of this gave new meaning to me about Francisco’s life. I’ve come to believe his waving his hat farewell was a final attempt to bond with his niños pequeños. He wanted to make certain he had linked the past with the future before he left. He was his father’s courier, with a history to pass on, and I’ve accepted as true, a belief that I was his chosen if at the time, unknowing recipient.

Over the years, I’ve sheltered and safeguarded the significance of Francisco’s mortality and transience – it has kept me grounded and provided me with purpose and perspective.

I revisit my Abuelo when in need of counsel and when my relationship with my son needs affirmation. My eyes, or are they Francisco’s? – Lock onto his. There’s no escaping legacy – prescient in knowledge and history.

My son, you will listen to and remember what I say. Many people have come before you. A host of fathers with different names from different lands foretold your life. They crossed continents and braved perilous sea voyages across the world. They trekked on foot through mosquito-infested Yucatan jungles and swamps, survived tropical diseases, climbed over the Sierra Madre Mountains and across the Sonora desert to give breath to your life.

You are their legacy. Don’t run away from it. Embrace it. It’s your inheritance. Pass it on.

My childhood memory of Francisco helped put my family tree into focus, connecting the links between mixed-race and multicultural people proud of their origins and working class, embodied by miners’ hard hats and ranchers’ Stetson hats. Kindred spirits, a cowboy thing.

I’ve long since traded horses for Subarus and Jeeps. But the memory of Francisco remains forever sheltered in this little boy’s heart.

It’s been many years since I last attended Tucson’s Fiesta de Los Vaqueros Rodeo. But I will, if only to pay homage to Francisco’s (and my) heritage and the lifeline he bequeathed to yet another Wilson generación.

Frederico Wilson Photo

Frederico Wilson is currently the owner and President of an International Fluid Power Procurement and Sourcing Company; founder of a non-profit organization (under development); blogger at mestizoblog.com, focusing on multicultural perspectives and issues. He is a USAF veteran (environmental/missile inspection specialist); and former domestic and international professional in the Airline, Telecommunications, Sales, and Financial Securities industries. Originally from Arizona, he is a lifetime student of cultural anthropology and applied behavioral science. He attended Arizona Western and the University of Arizona and holds numerous military technical, and corporate management certifications and licenses.

He is of mixed Mexican, Indian (Yaqui Tribe), Euro-Iberian, and Cornish Celtic ancestry. He lives, works, and writes in metropolitan Seattle, Washington.

He is best described by a quote attributed to Anthony Bourdain when recounting the preparation of a Burgundy wine-base rooster entrée.

“So, they take this big, tough, nasty-ass rooster, too old to grill, too tough to roast. Marinate and simmer the shit out of it, before it’s tasty.”

Frederico is the author of a new book, Escaping Culture: Finding your place in the world. Find out more on his website: mestizoblog.com

Liminality as Inheritance: On Being Mixed and Third Culture

The following is adapted from previous posts published at Discover Nikkei and Best American Poetry.

“To be hybrid anticipates the future.” —Isamu Noguchi, 1942

Noguchi’s prescient words are manifesting on every level in our time. Just look around you: rigid binaries and categories continue to shift, dissolve, and flow into one another, creating a new “third”. As a woman of mixed heritage I’m compelled by the process that unfolds in this liminal space—a space that isn’t this or that, but is its own realm—a borderland of both/and. It is a space of fluidity and potentiality where all my “selves” are free to be, where I’m beholden to no one culture, camp, or tribe, but can instead move between and among them. It’s an exciting, and destabilizing, time in which to be alive.

The symbolic and psychological meanings of “borderlands”—both internal and external—have been my preoccupation for years. It’s a preoccupation that comes with the territory. I am the daughter of a Japanese mother born before World War II in Tokyo to an upper middle-class family and a French Canadian-New Englander father who grew up during the Great Depression in a working class, bilingual family. My parents raised my brother and me with both cultures in various locations in California, Micronesia, and Japan. This last is why I also consider myself an adult Third Culture Kid—a person who’s been raised in places and cultures other than her parents’ passport country/countries. TCKs internalize aspects of all the cultures in which they’ve been immersed while not having full ownership in any. Consequently, I’m adaptable, curious, restless, and can live pretty much anywhere. My least favorite question is “Where are you from?” because it is impossible to answer. If I were to use a food metaphor to describe my internal experience, Asian hot pot (or nabemono in Japanese) probably comes closest. Although I often felt “other” as a younger person, in midlife I’m finally learning to settle into and appreciate my unique background and have mostly let go of struggling to fit in. I’ve come to learn that I prefer the in-between.

Months after my birth in Kobe, Japan, my father moved us to Southern California and then on to Santa Barbara, Guam, and Tokyo. This regular uprooting, combined with my bicultural upbringing, contributed to my feelings of otherness. In the sixties there were few children like me, even in California, where I spent my first nine years. As a child, I felt I was different from most of the people around me, but didn’t yet understand how or why. Not until I lived for seven years in Guam, where my father taught high school music, and then spent a year of high school in Tokyo did I have regular contact with other mixed and Third Culture kids.

Mom + DadMy otherness, I was to learn, is a family legacy. My mother, who left Japan alone as a young woman in the mid-1950s to follow her dream of living in America, and against her parents’ wishes, was not cut from traditional Japanese cloth: ambitious, outspoken, creative, and intellectually curious, she felt constrained by the limited options available to women in post-World War II Japan.My father, whom my mother met in Boston where they were both students, was “other” in his family by being the only one of seven children to attend college and to live outside of the United States.


My strong-willed mother, socialized in post-World War II Japan, was, paradoxically, also dutiful and self-sacrificing. Like many of her generation, she taught me to read and to play the piano at home by the age of three and before I began any formal study in either; patiently tutored my brother and me to read and write Japanese; and read to us in both Japanese and English. I now marvel that my mother, who struggled herself as an isolated immigrant woman in her adopted country where she was interchangeably devalued and exoticized, managed to do these things for us from her deep sense of love and duty. Her innate strengths, cultural values, and, yes, otherness made possible her later career as an entrepreneur, where she moved easily between diverse business and social groups, successfully negotiating multiple, and sometimes conflicting, sets of interests and expectations.

Guam 1970 - Tumon Beach

When we made the rare family trip to Japan, my mother made a point of introducing me to traditional Japanese arts and culture. Among my favorite memories were our visits to the vast, colorful, and cacophonous basement food floors, or depachika, of Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya, my mother’s beloved Ginza department stores. Wherever we went in Japan, I could sense her wordless love for the country and culture she’d left behind. Although it would be years until I could appreciate what she’d given me, I absorbed what she offered until it became a part of me.

My father has said that what saved him from the limited prospects of his Depression-era, provincial, and conservative Roman Catholic upbringing was being drafted to serve in the Korean War. There, as a young soldier living away from New England for the first time, he was introduced to Western literature by his bunkmates who’d attended college. On leave in Japan, my father fell in love with Japanese culture and, much later, returned to permanently live in that country, where he has remained for nearly 40 years, occupying the unique borderland of the long-term expat. After his military service he attended college in Boston on the GI Bill and later completed a Master’s degree in music education, eventually taking a risk by embracing his lifelong passion for directing choral music as a full-time vocation and sharing his passion with an international community of singers and music lovers in Tokyo for 30 years. It’s amazing to me that my father, a man of humble origins, went on to cultivate such an expansive and creative life, despite many early setbacks. His otherness became a resource.

family, Upland

In my early twenties, living in L.A. after college, I began to feel curious about Japan and my Japanese self and moved to Tokyo in 1985. There I worked at tedious jobs, but the visa they afforded and the money I earned allowed me to explore Tokyo, travel within Japan, and socialize with my Japanese friends, who, although they were very kind to me, mostly regarded me as gaijin (“outsider”) and periodically wondered aloud when I would return to my country. People of mixed-Japanese origin—known as hafu, or “half” in Japanese—were not as common in Japan as they are now, and increasingly so. Although I learned much about Japan and valued what I learned, it became clear to me that I would never—could never—be considered Japanese, even if I read, wrote, and spoke the language fluently, married a Japanese man, adopted a Japanese name, and lived there for the rest of my life. After a couple of years of this marginal and marginalized existence, feeling lonely and at loose ends, I returned to the U. S. I now periodically travel to Japan to visit my family in Tokyo and Kamakura when I can. Today, we can see that Japan’s deep-seated and rigid boundaries against “other” are being strongly challenged, both within and without its borders. Dynamism is working against stasis and change is inevitable.

Like many TCKs and persons of mixed ancestry, I have searched all my life for “home”. In late 2012 I relocated to the Los Angeles area after more than two decades in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. L.A.’s a good place for in-between-ers like me. In this sprawling metropolis with no center, a place that’s in a perpetual state of fragmentation, disintegration, and transformation and whose population represents every culture and nation, I can enjoy a sense of internal and external spaciousness. But it’s a restless city and its vast size lends itself to tribalism. As a relative newcomer, it’s been challenging to find a place of belonging. But then I’m reminded that, as an adult TCK who’s moved over 40 times since my birth, I’ve always felt this way, no matter where I’ve lived. I belong everywhere and nowhere.

I’m grateful that, in addition to beautiful mountains and beaches, L.A. has a significant presence of people of Japanese descent. When I’m not in Japan—a country that I consider my spiritual home—my primary contact with Japanese culture here has been via my excursions to downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo. I don’t consider myself Japanese American because that’s an identity, a community’s history, that my mother’s family doesn’t share. The Japanese American experience seems, to me, to be essentially tied to the internment on U.S. soil of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. That said, there is something deeply nourishing about spending time in J-town, an urban borderland that’s not America and not Japan, but a liminal space where I find solace—a feeling that’s almost belonging—in familiar objects, images, and food.

These many years later, I am still learning how to make peace with the big questions: Who am I? What am I? And, more importantly, how do I want to be known, first and foremost, to myself? I feel like I’m finally approaching a kind of clarity and hard-won self-acceptance. As a friend recently wrote to me, being mixed seems not just liminal, but is a space of its own that’s not quite defined and maybe never will be. In Japanese British filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s excellent documentary Neither Here Nor There, she movingly describes her own struggle to define and integrate the various strands of her mixed heritage and growing up as a Third Culture Kid between Japan and England. Like Yamazaki, I am learning how to be “other” and yet find “home”.

Note: I was re-introduced to the notion of “borderlands”, as it applies to mixed-race experience, by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, author of When Half is Whole: Multiethnic Asian American Identities (Stanford University Press).

Mari-LEsperanceBorn in Kobe, Japan, Mari L’Esperance is a poet, writer, and editor and lives in the Los Angeles area. Her poetry collection The Darkened Temple (2008 University of Nebraska Press) was awarded a Prairie Schooner Book Prize. An earlier collection, Begin Here, was awarded a Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press Chapbook Prize. With Tomás Q. Morín, she’s co-edited an anthology Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine (2013 Prairie Lights Books/University of Iowa Press). You can find Mari online at www.marilesperance.com.


“I wish I had white skin,” my three year-old daughter said, swinging breezily at the park.

Gulp. “Why do you say that, Sweetheart?” I asked, outwardly calm but inwardly exclaiming, Shit! What do I do with this?

“Because all of the friends at school have white skin.” Very matter-of-factly.


I think about race a lot, both professionally and personally, and perhaps more than the average person. I work as a professor teaching race-related literature classes and grew up as a “brown-skinned white girl,” as France Winddance Twine has called mixed race girls raised in white households and predominantly white communities. I remember as a preschooler myself in the 1970s telling my teacher that I wished I had long, blonde hair (and presumably pale skin) and, though I’m embarrassed to admit this deep-seated desire I held at the time, pastel underwear. So I wasn’t entirely surprised that my daughter, the beautifully brown-skinned child of her mixed race father and I, would develop feelings similar to those I’d had as a child, given the predominantly white school she attended.

But so soon? And how did she internalize the idea that dark skin is undesirable when she hasn’t been a TV watcher and has been celebrated with Doc McStuffins and brown baby dolls?

Fast forward to five:

“I love my brown skin,” she tells her gymnastics teacher one day, but on another day this boisterous girl turns timid around her brown paternal grandfather and great grandmother. Or she hides behind her father’s back when she meets other brown skinned kids at the park. He tells me she seems afraid of black people and that she needs to know she “comes from this,” as well as from whiteness.

I’m feeling defensive, like my choice to live in the town I chose and have my daughter attend a Catholic school is being called into question because it effectively surrounds her with whiteness. And the cultural critic in me is nagging behind this more visceral maternal response. “Wait a minute. What do you mean, ‘She needs to know she comes from this’?” Not until later, when my maternal angst is temporarily calmed, can I tease out the implications of this remark. No, I don’t want to raise my daughter to believe she “comes from blackness and whiteness” as if they are some geographical location we can visit in time and space, as if they are a location where all of this cultural coding and conditioning just is and therefore makes sense, as if this ephemeral blackness and whiteness she “contains” could be pinned down to the pseudo-science of racialized blood or moral character.

What I want her to know is that she comes from people. These people love her and she needn’t be afraid of them because of the various colors of their skin. By extension, she needn’t fear people she meets in the world simply because of their skin; if there are people to fear in the world—and there certainly are—it’s because of their actions, not their appearance.

When I talked to her about “black people” after talking to her father, she stopped me. “Black people?” she asked, and I knew she was imagining someone the color of her tennis shoes or the car ahead of us. Having preferred more literalness with descriptions of people, I’ve always talked to my daughter about our brown skin and others with brown skin; even white people aren’t the color of notebook paper but more variations of sand and tan. I’ve challenged her when she describes the peach colored crayon as “skin color,” and I’ve asked her to hand me a skin colored crayon, holding out my hand to indicate I mean a certain shade of brown. I point out the people she considers having “white skin” don’t look like that peach-colored crayon or summer day clouds.

To her question, I replied, “I think that’s a confusing term, too, but that’s a term used for people who look like your Grappa and even your dad and me.” Although many people find my daughter hard to peg, usually asking if she’s from India, I’m sure there will be times when she’ll be called black as well.

We know racialized terms are used to classify people; unfortunately, these terms are also used to define and often limit people. We know white power and privilege exist. We know racism exists. We know unspeakable things have been done in the name of these realities. We know, too, that black triumph against these atrocities also exists. Black people have done amazing things throughout history. So have white people. Black people have also done some terrible things, as white people have, and in these statements, I’m not forgetting the power that’s coextensive with whiteness in the United States and elsewhere. Still, these terrible acts that have been (and continue to be) done are the acts of people, performed in the name and game of race, even when their ideologies become institutionalized to the point that we forget their original presence at the root of injustice.

I would rather my daughter come to the realization that race is an imperfect and often detrimental way of talking about perceived differences, whether these are biological (like skin color) or socio-cultural (like language use) and that these differences don’t map neatly onto so-called racial lines. Nor can these differences be equated with anything inherent, including a person’s worth, potential, intelligence, character, behavior, or proclivity for violence and therefore worthiness of our fear.

So the conversation will continue. I don’t want V. to be afraid of her family or to internalize this culture’s racism, which is certainly what’s happening when she shies away from other brown skinned kids on the playground or her own grandfather when she hasn’t seen him in a year. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that she’s somehow diminished because of her skin or, conversely, more special because of it. Given the sometimes subtle yet pervasive negative associations our culture makes with dark skin, and given the predominantly white community in which I’m raising my daughter, I want to normalize skin color difference, to help her see skin’s “meaning” as equivalent to that of hair or eye color, hair texture or eye shape—in other words, in itself meaningless though laden with historical baggage she needn’t help tote.

This past Christmas, V. was visited by an “Elf on the Shelf,” and, significantly, hers was brown with a short pixie cut that favored her own. When she first noticed it sitting on the bookshelf, V. morphed into a human pogo-stick, bouncing up and down like our floor was a trampoline: “I got my very own elf!!! And she looks like me!!!” A few days later, we found The Gabby Douglas Story on Netflix; since V. enjoys gymnastics and I’m pointing to positive images of black people, we watched it. Early in the movie, she noticed the family.

“They look like me, ” she remarked, smiling.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “they look like us.”

I’m comforted at this stage to know she’s seeing these affirmations of brownness and that, by extension, she can feel affirmed not just in our home but hopefully in the world as well.

Still, I wonder whose responsibility is it to affirm children’s worth? Surely the parents are primarily influential in this regard, but are we alone in valuing our children? What role do schools play? What role does culture? I’m not trying to reinforce the current cultural climate of over-affirming children to the point of narcissism, but children do deserve to have their worth and potential affirmed and encouraged, respectively. Given my daughter’s sometimes negative responses to her skin, I’d say schools and culture are clearly influential. This influence should not be taken lightly but consciously crafted so that socially we can move away from images and ideologies that suggest singular notions of beauty or worth. In so doing, we can move toward a time when individuals such as my daughter won’t look at their skin in order to define themselves or determine their value in the world.

By: Guest Blogger Tru Leverette, PhD


[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]adrap_logo [/rescue_column]Tru Leverette works as an Associate Professor of English at the University of North Florida where she teaches African-American literature and serves as director of African-American/African Diaspora Studies. Her research interests broadly include race and gender in literature and culture, and she focuses specifically on critical mixed race studies. Her most recent work has been published in Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora and the edited collections Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speaking Out and The Search for Wholeness and Diaspora Literacy in Contemporary African-American Literature. She served as a Fulbright Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, during the Winter 2013 term.

MXRS Episode 4 – The Singer & The Songwriter

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TSATS & MXRS 2We were finally able to sit down with the wonderful duo who created our MXRS Podcast jingle: Rachel Garcia and Thu Tran – also known as The Singer & The Songwriter. Be sure to listen to the end, when they share a special treat with us – a live performance in Mark’s living room!

Here’s where you can find more info and purchase their debut album: http://thesingerandthesongwriter.com/