Growing an Exotic Flower

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

She was talking about me.

 

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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


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.

 


Braid My Hair on the Train

you are not your hair it’s all political

drama, an intricate poking of brush

on canvas, of paint, of ink, black and light

brown—your skin, your blend of ethnicities is shadow,

and cuticle, nail, and bone a harvest

of marrow, tunnel, suction, severing —

dismounting—easy. claiming sides—easier,

but a climb upside down—takes grip. no one

allowed to touch, characteristics will hinge

on back and forth, to claim, to choose, to pick

sides. what other defining features will

you feature to define these edges

will shrink like the slow burn of paper,

and a shifting of colour—I’ll get used to the rippling.

you promised to keep it simple. Remember:

hair is entirely public;

but my background is not they’d say this hair

is a separate entity from the rest of my body.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.


Mouthing Along to the Words

…He turns the pages like this on purpose and it sounds like the loud screech of a crow’s claws sliding down a wall of freshly rained-on metal—that kind of sound that makes you want to cover your ears and slap someone all at the same time. He sits there reading “All the Light We Cannot See” while mouthing along to the words. His upper lip moving much slower than the bottom, he smiles at certain parts, clears his throat at others. Occasionally, he will stop to bite a piece of hanging skin by his nail, say “hmmm” then glance out the window and take a monstrous sip out of his giant mug of over-creamed coffee. He returns to his book, furrows his brows as if he doesn’t know what the words on the page are trying to tell him, but really, he’s probably just trying to look intense. Or maybe, it’s just a really good book. But what can be said about reading a book? There’s so much more to be seen that no one notices, but I notice. I notice the steady but slow rocking back and forth and the way he holds the spine of the book in his hands like one would cradle the neck of a new born baby and I wonder just then, what he’s thinking. I realize how beautiful he is and how the whiteness of his skin looks so soft from here and how I wish I was the spine of that book, that holds together all the pages that make him mouth along to the words.

The above is something I wrote while staring at my boyfriend while he read his book in bed with a morning coffee. I sat across this room from him, on the floor on a Saturday morning and simply watched him turn the pages. A simple act. A blink of the eye type moment. Something that would normally go unnoticed to most.

I have always struggled in relationships. There was always a fear planted, watered, and wedged deep in the back of my mind. This fear was like a hand-written sign, painted in blood-red ink that said: You’ll never be good enough, you’ll never fit the mold, you’ll never be what they’re looking for. Now whether or not race places a role here, I do not know for sure. What caused me to label myself as “not good enough”? Did this have anything to do with the confusion I felt growing up mixed-race? Again, I do not know for sure, but I did this in every relationship I have been in because I was never allowed to be myself… until now.

Something is different this time around. The things that I cannot answer, are wrapped in the comfort of my own understanding that for the very first time I am not worried about mixed-race relationships, or being in one because no matter who I decide to be with, it will always be a mixed-race relationship. I am not worried about how people see me, or what they may say about me, or us because something feels like it goes a bit deeper. For me to sit and write a description like the one above, to free myself from the clutter and blur, and see the details, from just glancing across the room, must mean something has changed in my life. Something must have clicked, or fell quietly in to place like a lost puzzle piece that was hidden under the bed for the longest time leaving that 10,000-piece puzzle incomplete for years. I feel like I found that piece, without ever realizing it was missing, or that I was looking for it.

Even though that description was written about him, I was only able to write it because I am seeing myself for the very first time, in all my entirety. I have all the pieces and I know exactly where they go.

I’ve judged myself and allowed others to judge me based purely on my exterior appearance for so long, that I began to paint—and even write—a distorted image of what I see every time I look in the mirror. I realize that what I see will always be different from what he sees, and different from what everyone sees, but he has helped me to de-blur and to look deeper. He has helped me to hug the details, cradle the spine, and shown me that I can turn the pages as loudly as I want and mouth along to the words—just as long as they are my words.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Hard-To-Place-Book-Cover-QianaMestrich-v2

Featured Artist: Qiana Mestrich

Photographer | Writer

http://www.qianamestrich.com/

HTP-QianaMestrich-Joe-Mother-London

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

HTP-Book-QianaMestrich_Page_42

Page 42 from the book Hard to Place (2016)

HTP-QianaMestrich-birthmark

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

HTP-Book-QianaMestrich_Page_46

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

http://booklyn.org/events/qiana-mestrich-hard-to-place/

RESPONSE

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.


BOOK REVIEW – Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post Racial World

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Sharon H. Chang’s inaugural book, Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post Racial World, lays out a blue print that outlines the history of white supremacy and how it has corrupted the way people treat each other, specifically Mixed Race/ Multiracial and Multiracial Asian individuals. She develops an important foundation that provides a glimmer of hope for moving forward toward improving our future world, despite the powerful suppressive system before us.

The title might make you think it is a parenting book, and it is (or could be), but it so much more! The language/verbiage used in the book makes this potentially academic/research strong book accessible for those who might have the most questions…parents. Though this book has a focus on multiracial Asian children, it is not just a book for parents of multiracial Asian children. It is a book for all children of color…and even for parents of white children! This book is for anyone who comes in contact with children in any way. This means if you are a teacher/educator, a child care worker, do research with children or on race and intersectionaility…or if you are a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or once was a child. This book is for everyone!

The book is based on Chang’s interviews with 68 parents of 75 young children living in Washington State. She does not go into detail about her recruitment and method, however she does discuss this in my recent interview with her (see Part 1 of 2 below). She intertwines her findings with current and historical events, existing scholarly research and reports, her expertise in tracking dialogue across social media, her own multiracial Asian experience and more.

The focus is on children from 0 to 5 years old. This is an age that has been neglected in most parenting books and research with a multiracial focus. This is also an age during which many parents think that their children do not recognize/see race; however Chang shows us that they absolutely do. Young children are learning from the subtle and often unspoken systematic racism that is infused throughout every aspect of our society.

Chang makes it clear that the understanding of race begins in the home. In a world that is fearful to discuss how white supremacy has been engrained into society and families generation after generation…it is time families start having these difficult conversations. Chang warns that race is not easy to discuss, but essential and does not have to be done alone. It can be done through community. Her last chapter provides specific examples of how to address race in the community, school, and home.

This is the first book that I have seen, that looks at racial identity development, and puts systematic racism and white supremacy where it belongs…. at the beginning and linked over and over again to the end. To understand and address race issues with our children, we must begin with its origin story. When attempting to comprehend the lens in which race issues are created, we must understand the frame in which that lens is held together – white supremacy. Chang tells it like it is. She lifts the curtain on age-old white ideas of race, breaks down history, language and concepts that have created divisions between people who look different or do not follow the prescribed norms. For example, she breaks down how the trending term microagression was created from a white lens and points out there is nothing small or mirco about them! She deconstructs terms used in medical spaces, such as “Mongolian Spots” that have racist origins; and many individuals have just come to believe that is what they are called (See Part 2 of 2 below for more on this). Additionally, she provides a fantastic response to the common question/idea “But aren’t we all mixed?” in one of the most eloquently written explanations I have seen. Watch Part 2 of 2 below to hear about how she responds to the question and her new elevator response to this question!

The book is coming out just in time for the holidays, and will make a great gift. It should be on everyone’s 2016 reading list! You can order the book on the publisher site  or on Amazon.

Be sure to join Sharon on December 11th for her Facebook launch party. She will be partying all day and giving away some great prizes. Don’t miss it!

You can find the Multiracial Asian Families community and blog page on Facebook, the book page on Facebook. You can fin her on Twitter @mutliasianfams, Pinterest, or on her blog MultiAsian Families.

 

Watch my recent interview with Sharon!

Part 1 – She shares her mixed roots story, how the book came to be and more!

Part 2 -We discuss content from the book including: “Mongolian spots”, miss-education and the need for reeducation around racist terms, how to respond to -“Everybody is Mixed”, Culture vs. Race, Anti-bias curricula, learning environments and more.



Chandra Crudup, PhD, MSW
 is a board member and co-founder of Mixed Roots Stories. She is the Vice President of MAVIN and the Production Manager for One Drop of Love. Chandra is full time Lecturer and Faculty Associate Coordinator in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She has over six years of practice experience in K-12 schools. Her research interests are centered on multiracial identity and interracial relationships. Her research utilizes video technology as a qualitative data gathering tool. She is also interested in using the arts as a medium to build positive self-esteem in youth.


MXRS Episode 5 – Jenina Gallaway

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Jenina Gallaway recently joined us for a MXRS Podcast – Telling the Story Behind the Stories. You can follow her on her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/jeninagallawaysoprano and support her http://www.gofundme.com/z7tuys. Listen to her interview (also found on iTunes). Read her full bio below.

Jenina Gallaway, Headshot

Soprano, Jenina Gallaway, has performed internationally and throughout the United States in a wide range of genres. Operatic repertoire includes: Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Vitellia in La clemenza di Tito, the title role in Suor Angelica, Serena in Porgy and Bess, Anna Maurrant in Street Scene, Mrs. Augusta Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe, and the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas.

 

Equally committed to the concert repertory, Gallaway has performed as the soprano soloist in Anton Bruckner’s Te Deum, Beethoven’s Ninth Syphony, Dvořák’s Te Deum, and Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder, among others.

A recipient of several awards, Gallaway was an Arizona District Winner and Western Region Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions where she received an encouragement award. She has also been a finalist in the Palm Springs Opera Guild Vocal Competition. In Tucson, Gallaway has been a first place winner in several competitions including the Ameilia Reiman Vocal Competition, Marguerite Ough Vocal Competition, and the Opera Guild of Southern Arizona’s Quest for the Best Vocal Competition. She has also received awards from the Opera Buffs, inc., Fe Bland Foundation Music Award, Society of Singers and the Village Voices Chorale.

Born and raised in Californina, Gallaway holds a Masters in Vocal Performance from California State University, Northridge, a Bachelors in Vocal Performance from Azusa Pacific University, and is currently working towards a DMA in Vocal Performance at the University of Arizona.

 


2015 MXRS Retreat

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Mixed Roots Stories team gathered for our annual retreat. We spent two days evaluating where we have been and planning where we want to go.

We spent time looking at our mission and vision and decided it needed slight revising to more accurately represent what we do. This is what we came up with:

 

Revised Vision

A world that recognizes how it benefits from otherness, one that both celebrates and challenges identity categories in order to create more liberatory possibilities for our collective futures.

Revised Mission

Supporting and advocating for diverse Mixed communities through the power of sharing stories. We seek to act as a liaison, creating space between storytellers across academic and non-academic communities, and international and national contexts.

 

We began planning for the upcoming CMRS events. We also finalized our plans for this year’s Loving Day online event, and began planning for 2016 and 2017 Loving Day events.

We were excited to have our new board members Kaily Heitz and Stephanie Sparling Williams join us! They bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and energy to the team and are launching new student, community, and organization outreach as well as Arts & Education programing.

The highlight of the retreat was working on a Loving Day Mixed Media project, which was designed by Stephanie. You can join us in Visualizing Loving Day.

Stay tuned for the roll out of this and many other programing to come!