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.

 


Switching it Up: Mixing Identities Over Time

I couldn’t understand why my mother was so outraged. I was eight, perhaps nine, and my great-aunt – my mother’s aunt – had just graced me with what she clearly thought was a compliment: “She could pass for Spanish!”

My great-aunt thought I could “pass for Spanish,” and that was enough to make my mother invite her own aunt to leave our house. I was young and probably even more naïve than some of my peers and had no idea what “pass” meant or why it would make my mother so angry. It was obviously a bad thing – I sure never wanted to pass, whatever that was! I didn’t see much of my great-aunt after that, though my mother fumed about that comment from time to time for years after.

Let me give you some background. I have two families of origin. I’ll talk about the second one first because it is the most important. I was adopted as an infant by what some would label “light-skinned” African American people and I was raised as Black. I was seven when my first adoptive mother died, my father remarried soon thereafter – again to a light-skinned, African American woman. But here’s where it started to get complicated. I learned I was adopted when my first adoptive mother died. The shock of that still echoes five decades later. I remember clearly that I desperately wanted to understand my story. My WHOLE story, not just what happened after my first few months in a Chicago orphanage. This is not a comfortable conversation for most adoptive parents, especially those who adopted in the 1950’s when birth parents were erased from birth certificates and new parents were assured that, through the miracle of careful matching, no one need ever know that their child wasn’t born to them, that their adopted child could pass as a birth child. But my place in the world had suddenly changed very painfully, my anchors ripped away, what I knew to be true turned into lies, two mothers lost before I was a decade old. And I needed to put the pieces together.

My new mom – who will just be called my mother from here – didn’t know much about my story. I heard several variations of my origins; my favorite was that my parents had met as college students; my birth mother was white and my birth father a student from Africa. He was Black, of course. Clearly that could never have worked out so I was placed for adoption. Even within the variations, the races remained the same and, suddenly, I was a mixed race person. My mom was mixed, too, with Caucasian, Creek and African American heritage, but she was raised and identified as black so, when I tried to talk about this new revelation and my identity with my equally mixed new cousins, I was informed by my mother to drop that, I was Black and that was that. My new family primarily identified as black, even though I know that they were sometimes perceived as perhaps of another background. No one thought about passing, as far as I know. We were proud of being black. So, I never brought it up again, though I frequently wondered about that missing mom, the first mom, the one who’d carried and birthed me and then gave me to another family.

I secretly tried on this mysterious identity. But I didn’t know anyone who identified as mixed; there were no popular figures, no classmates, no characters in the many books I read, who called themselves mixed. So, without some model as to what that identity meant and looked like, that youthful flirtation with a different racial identity did not have any way to take root.

Two decades or so passed. When my first child was born one of my first thoughts was that here was the first person I knew who was related to me by blood. We try to pretend that it’s not, but blood is important in American culture. Adoption is outside our norm and often not even on our social radar. People who didn’t know otherwise, always saw a resemblance between me and my adoptive family – I’d hear, “you look like your cousin,” “you’re tall like your dad,” or “you have your mom’s hair.” The miracle of careful matching. I recall once having to do a biology assignment in which we had to trace a specific inheritable physical trait through our family tree – I never knew if the teacher realized that I made all of my information up, or if she guessed that I or someone else in my family had been adopted. Even my mother would occasionally use the phrase, “Blood is thicker than water,” to stress how family should stick together. I don’t think she ever realized the irony.

After having a child, I decided to find my roots, if I could. I had been grafted onto another tree – a wonderful, welcoming, hospitable tree, but nevertheless, not the place I’d started. The saga of my search is a long story in itself so we’ll skip to the happy ending – I found my maternal side, the long-lost womb and first love. I was extremely fortunate that I was welcomed into the family with wide open arms as if I’d only been away for a while. Suddenly this only child had siblings, a host of new cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles. It was overwhelming and wonderful and mostly white. My two (older) half siblings were also mixed and there were other family members who were people of color, all welcomed in the family, but still very much a minority.

My birthmother and I were pretty taken with each other and that meant, for me, finding an identity that included her. It was easy to start calling myself mixed then. My older sister, who had grown up with our shared mother, identified as mixed – check both boxes or check other, don’t let yourself be forced to choose. We weren’t white and didn’t want to be or to try to pass as such, but we both embraced the mixed heritage that contributed to who we were. I reveled in this new identity because it gave me a connection that I had never experienced before. I gleefully checked both boxes when that pesky demographic question showed up. Not, as my mother had feared, because I wanted to be less black, but because I wanted to connect to my biological family.

Fast forward again to today. My connection to my first family of origin is solid. We see each other from time to time, talk on the phone, send cards, share via Facebook. And my identity has drifted back. I now check one box, Black/African American. It’s not because it’s what people see when they look at me, but because it’s who I feel I am. Maybe it’s because of the identity that I lived with for so long, but I feel that I can be a Black person of mixed roots, retain that solid personal connection with both my birth and adoptive families, and embrace all of the history that make me the person I am today.

Out of curiosity, I recently tried the DNA test offered by Ancestry.com. It returned my genetic background as 61% European. In the Ancestry.com world, that means Caucasian. Africa contributed 38% of my DNA with the negligible remainder, traces of West Asia. This is interesting, I suppose, and if the demographic questions that come up on studies or surveys asked for my genetic identity, I would give a different answer. But, for now, I’m African American. It’s the identity that shaped my life and experiences in America. And it’s the one I’m happy with. For now. Check back in another 20 years.

By: Darlene Nichols


 

[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]20150213_092521-1[/rescue_column] Darlene is a proud Midwesterner born and raised, mother of two talented musical sons, librarian extraordinaire, and advocate for diversity and inclusion. Not only does she have a mixed race heritage, she is married interracially and has biracial children so issues relate to mixed identity, acceptance, role models, etc., have been of long interest. She has been a librarian at the University of Michigan for almost thirty years and, growing out of that role, co-edited a readers’ and researchers’ guide to finding information on mixed race people entitled Multiracial America: a resource guide on the history and literature of interracial issues. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and Sheltie and, occasionally, sons.


From an Intimate Distance: A Mixed Perspective on Embracing Gratitude

“The problem is not that we all have these different view of things, it is that we each consider our views the only reality. We forget that life is truly a matter of perspective.” –Angel Williams, Being Black

 

I was on the phone with my friend, Lily, the other night, delving into one of our many uniquely personal and academic discussions, when she says, “Forget hallucinogens. If you want to go on a real trip, try becoming a woman.” As a biracial cis-woman, I am unable to comprehend what this transition must be like, but I laugh, recognizing that at the root of her comment is a shared an experience of mixed marginality—of being able to see the ugly truth about race and sex in this country from both sides of the binary.

When I met Lily, she was still coming to terms with her gender identity and has only recently come out as a trans-woman. In our discussions about her transition and some of the challenges she now faces, we found in one another a new commonality of perspective unique to those who find themselves an outlier, a categorical anomaly, within the strictures of our black/white, male/female binary system. “Sometimes I’m read as male, sometimes female, “ or, often, she describes simply being stared at as people try to figure out what she is. While I understand that there are quite a few significant differences between trans and mixed people’s experiences, there are also a striking number of similarities that exist as a result of being cast into a liminal identity. Being stared at, fetishized or ostracized for being something outside the realm of puritanical gender categories is something that I, as a mixed black/white woman, can certainly relate to. Often, we mixed folk bemoan the weight of expectation people unfamiliar with our unusual, unidentifiable looks place upon us. Certainly we have every right to complain about being asked again and again what we are instead of being recognized for the people we know ourselves to be. This is part of our experience. But with our liminal perspectives, also comes a grace and maturity of wisdom that deserves equal attention and celebration. What Lily expressed to me that night as she discussed her experiences of living once as a man and now sometimes read as a woman, was her unique ability to really see and understand how being a man or woman in this society affects your quality of life. And isn’t this similar to many interracial families and mixed people’s understanding of how deeply one’s perceived race truly affects one’s life?

As incredibly difficult a journey Lily is on, I deeply respect her ability to find cause to celebrate, or at least appreciate, her unique perspective on gender. This, I think, is something that we in the mixed community can also draw from. The “Tragic Mulatto” trope has been used to dissuade people from entering interracial relationships by conveying mixed children as perpetually lonely and confused outsiders. To be mixed, then, is seen as a weakness. But after having attended the Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) Conference in Chicago, I, along with the 600+ other attendees, would probably have to disagree. We are clearly not alone and if we are outsiders, we are only outsiders to a structure that has historically been used to perpetrate structural inequity and oppression.

This conference helped me to recognize that our tragic flaw is also our fundamental source of strength. It was affirming, for instance, to see so many mixed people positively sharing and discussing their experiences and research on being mixed. Panels and roundtable discussions explored everything from historical mixed race communities and the emergence of Diasporic mixed communities to contemporary analyses on creating safe spaces and support structures for mixed race students, and the future of the language surrounding mixed race in an age of post-racial color blindness. We talked about Mexipinos, Blaxicans, Hapa Black Hawaiians, “Hafu” Japanese, and so many other varieties of mixes that I didn’t have a chance to get into. There was an underlying assumption through all of this discourse that I rarely experience within a monoracial setting—an understanding of the mutability of race. It’s understood that race is inescapable in structuring our social and professional lives. But we are graced with a perspective that enables us to see beyond these physiognomic divisions, to question our own assumptions about race and discuss issues of race with an understanding of the harm and alienation that picking sides perpetrates; we have the incredible gift of seeing beyond these structures in a way that people blinded by color cannot. What I found at this conference, then, was a complete rejection of the Tragic Mulatto that insists that we are relegated to a life of lonely wandering between our various ethnic/racial/cultural communities, never quite fitting in. Instead, here was a community of people celebrating mixed heritage and trying to figure out how to use the privilege of their in-betweeness to discuss new perspectives on an antiquated system that arbitrarily divides communities and families.

I am certainly not the first to draw attention to the power of perspective. Kristen A. Renn’s study on mixed race college students calls this strength “positive marginality.” She observed that many mixed students have the ability to adjust their racial identification depending upon what a situation calls for. This is evident of “a highly evolved skill requiring emotional maturity and cognitive complexity.” (80) This is more than just flattery, but recognition of a multiracial person’s ability to understand race as an indefinite and often inaccurate social qualifier of difference. Out of this awareness, she states that mixed people are capable of “increased tolerance for difference and appreciation of commonalities, as well as multiple points of reference.” (18) Gloria Anzaldua also recognizes the power of maintaining a mestiza, or mixed, consciousness in the face of Western modes of binary thinking. In her book, Borderlands/La Frontera, she writes, “La mestiza constantly has to shift out of habitual formations; from convergent thinking, analytical reasoning that tends to use rationality to move toward a single goal (a Western mode), to divergent thinking, characterized by movement away from set patterns and goals and toward a more whole perspective, one that includes rather than excludes.” (141) We as a community can embrace a huge variety of perspectives; diversity, for Anzaldua, is not about our differences as they divide us, but the way in which this variety strengthens and unites us as a whole.

To be clear, I am not advocating that we recognize the privilege of our perspective out of any sort of post-racial, anti-affirmative action nonsense. Quite to the contrary, I think that becoming aware of our “positive marginality” enables the mixed race community to remain conscious of race and to resist color-blind rhetoric that seeks to assimilate and, essentially, lighten/whiten communities of color. By virtue of our birth, origins, and families, we cannot ignore the presence that race plays in our lives. Nothing about a mixed racial identity is intrinsically assumed. It is complicated, a process of constant personal upheavals and daily confrontations with people trying to mentally shuffle us into the correct racial category. We are never a who, but a what. To be able to understand the fluid and faulty nature of race on such an intimate level affords us an incredibly unique perspective on those invisible fissures that have for so long appeared to divide us.

We can endlessly argue about systemic racism and complain about the various micro-aggressions we face. We need to keep up discussions around how cases like that in Ferguson are a part of the same white supremacist trappings that frustrate, hurt and oppress us in the mixed community. This is entirely necessary to discuss and often underpins our identities as mixed race individuals. But how often do we stop to give thanks to our families for bestowing us with such a unique blend of cultural traditions, lineages and stories, including and/or in spite of the racist views that come with it? How often do we ever look at ourselves in the mirror and feel grateful for being so damn good looking despite being exoticized as a result? I think that we can be brave, like Lily, and embrace this discomfort and these challenges with strength, humility and gratitude. Moreover, we can do this together; meet-ups like the CMRS conference have made me even more grateful for the mixed race community and our ability to collectively celebrate our many heritages.

Sources:

Renn, K. A. (2004). Mixed Race Students in College: The Ecology of Race, Identity and Community on Campus. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Anzaldua, G. (2004) La Conciencia Mestiza: Toward a New Consciousness. In Ifekwunigwe, J. O. (Ed.) Mixed Race Studies: A Reader. (pp. 139-141). New York: Routledge.

Williams, A. K. (2000). Being Black. New York: Viking Compass.

 

By Guest Blog Coordinator, Kaily Heitz

[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]KHpic[/rescue_column] Kaily Heitz is a recent graduate from Pitzer College, where she co-created a club for mixed race students called MERGE. While she received her degree in Environmental Analysis, her research interests are just as mixed up as she is; these include art, photography, spirituality, environmental justice, politics and mixed race studies.  She currently works as a writing tutor and freelance writer, editor and researcher in the Bay Area. You can find more of her writing on her blog, kailyheitz.worpress.com.


“I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know: A Southern White Woman’s Story About Race”

IMAG00271-150x150Thanks so much to Kaypri for letting us know about her mother’s book “I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know: A Southern White Woman’s Story About Race.” You can learn more about this moving and important story here: www.dorothystory.com – why not make it a holiday gift for a mother or grandmother on YOUR list!?

Here’s the description Kaypri sent us:
Dorothy Hampton Marcus is a Civil Rights Activist, truly ahead of her time. She jumped into Race Relations before it had a name, (in the fifties), and was one of very few Whites to do so. A Winston-Salem, North Carolina native, she grew up in the Jim Crow Era, not fully knowing what that really meant. In her undergrad years at Meredith College in Raleigh she had her first one-on-one inter-racial experience which this progressive all-womens school arranged. This event changed her life and by the time she graduated, she’d found a new passion. Determined to enlighten others with what she had begun to know, she found answers in the most unexpected places witnessing history along the way. For the next two decades she worked in a succession of “Human Relations” jobs throughout the U.S. putting off marriage and motherhood to do so. Even after marrying “late” at age 40, she never gave up on improving civil rights for all people. She was determined to share what she now knew well past her retirement when she started writing this story. She dedicated herself to finishing the book right up until the onset of dementia made it impossible for her to write another sentence. It was at that point that I realized it was up to me to pick up the baton which I started by completing the first draft of her book for her 80th birthday in 2012. It took me nearly two more years to flesh it out and publish it, adding my Daughter’s Notes along the way. I am truly proud to share my mother’s story with the world!




2 Girls | 1 Asian: A New Webseries

At Mixed Roots Stories we strive to support any effort to share stories of the Mixed experience.  2 Girls | 1 Asian is a comedic webseries co-created, produced, and starring Kelly Colburn and Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin.  They created the series, because, as Kelly and Kaela stated, “we don’t often see ourselves reflected in the entertainment we’re offered.”

Webseries Description “It follows Caela and Kelliye through breakups, career trials, apartment troubles, and even fissions within their friendship, but ultimately it’s the story of two girls who value each other more than they value the mistakes the other makes. Our perspective on race in America gives us a unique filter through which to view the “single girl in the big city” narrative, so our episodes actively work to subvert Asian American stereotypes we’re tired of seeing while passing the Bechdel test. We launched our independent, fully crowd-funded production online on June 5, 2014, and are releasing an episode each Thursday at 9pm through mid-July.”

ENJOY!

Episode 1: “I Enjoy Being A Girl…/Pilot”

Episode 2: “What Are You?”

Episode 3: “Eviction”

2 Girls | 1 Asian


UPAJ = Tap Dancing + Ancient Indian Dance

“How can you evolve without giving up your integrity?” is what Pandit Chitresh Das asks at the end of the trailer for this wonderful new film called Upaj:Improvise. Watch as he and Jason Samuels Smith learn from one another and share their cultural differences openly, critically – and creatively. We can’t wait to see this film!


MXRS reviews Belle

The Mixed Roots Stories team saw the new movie Belle on May 23, 2014. Below are some of our reviews of the movie!

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“Belle is a must see for fans of excellent storytelling! The movie direction was deftly handled by Amma Asante while ably assisted by the editing of Victoria Boydell and Pia Di Ciaula. At no point did I experience a moment that took me out of the story. Thankfully, they had an excellent script to work from by Misan Sagay. Finally, I have to state that the performances by Gugu Mbatha-Rau and Tom Wilkinson were pitch perfect. I really believed I was a fly-on-the-wall listening to the conversations of a family at particularly tense moments in their lives.” — Mark R. Edwards (Co Curator)

“If there is one message to take away from Bell, it has to be through the rising action of her assaulting her own flesh in frustration. How many of us can relate to, at any point, feeling uncomfortable in our own skin? The practice of systematically devaluing a life because of a concept of Race or privilege – a concept most, at one point in our lives, did not understand; nor, the reasons people can chastise and ostracize others for it while they believe it is in good conscience. It is a frustration we hope to suffer less from as time goes on. From beginning to end, Belle imbeds a persistent thought that reminds us how far we’ve come and how far we have to go toward not just an equal, but an acceptant society.” — Jonathan Andrew (Creative Technologist)

“In my opinion, the most thought-provoking moments in Belle are those instances where Dido tries to find herself in literature or art and laments that she does not relate to what she sees. Even today this lack of representation is relevant! Just how many films, books, or TV shows are made with the ‘others’ of society in mind? Not too many. It wasn’t until Dido allowed her story to be told (through the work of the painter) that she finally found herself in art. The story of Belle is one in which a mixed individual is dying to get her story, her experiences, and her astute observations out in order to change public opinion. Belle manages to beautifully capture those moments of progress and joy along with the moments of frustration and desperation that come with standing up for what you know is right. Belle is a wonderfully crafted film and is a must-see for 2014!” — Moya Márquez (Social Media Specialist)

“From start to finish, Belle was filled, with the complexities, created by society, that individuals of mixed heritage often face. It was refreshing to finally see these complexities portrayed honestly on film. Amma Asante artistically and boldly directs an amazing cast in the telling of this story, based on a true story.  Though it is set in Britain, in 1769, I would argue that many of the themes of identity are relevant today for mixed individuals everywhere. I enjoyed seeing the bond of sisterhood presented between Dido (Belle) and Elizabeth, that was void of the social contamination of their racial differences; proving that family is not limited by blood. Belle demonstrates that people are people and all deserve to be treated with justice, fairness, and love no matter the color of their skin, or the lineage of their parents. It is about time that stories of mixed individuals are being told void of the stereotypes that have plagued the mixed race population in the past. It is my hope that future films will continue to tell stories with mixed race individuals, interracial couples/families, etc. Bravo, well done, and thank you!” — Chandra Crudup (Co Curator)

Have you seen Belle yet?  If not, this is one to see!  Share your thoughts about the movie on our Facebook and Twitter.