I went to the first annual Mixed Roots Literary & Film Festival's opening ceremony on June 12 at the Japanese American National Museum in L.A. It was great! Not a huge turnout but a respectable one. The founders, Fanshen Cox and Heidi W. Durrow, were clearly moved and excited by how many people came--it was pretty amazing to be in a large roomful of multi-ethnic people of all backgrounds. Fanshen and Heidi are the podcasters of MixedChicksChat, the only "live," weekly podcast about being racially & culturally mixed. They were thrilled that Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker's daughter who wrote the awesome memoir Black, White & Jewish, agreed to be the opening speaker.
She was terrific, very warm and inclusive. Her speech was entitled "Tipas for Hapas" b/c she lives in Hawai'i and she preferred the way "tipas" sounded to "tips." (It's not Spanish.) She gave the co-hostesses leis from Hawai'i before her speech. These were her tips for mixed folk:
1. No Self Sacrifice
When she was at Yale undergrad, one night a dorm-mate who was white and male and carrying an open swiss army knife asked her in a hostile tone, "How can you be black and white? Huh?" She got out of the situation and went to the dean the next day to ask to be transferred to another dorm. The dean replied, "You're here to diversify the community. So you need to help the white over-privileged students open their minds." She said "When you start paying me a salary to diversify the community, I'll consider that."
It's not our job to educate the ignorant, 24/7.
She referenced Gloria Anzaldua's This Bridge Called My Back and said we are often looked upon as bridges between peoples, and we need to be careful not to assume that that's always our obligation or main role.
We see so many points of view b/c we come from different peoples within our families, so we end up validating everyone's point of view--everyone's right all the time. This can be exhausting...and we don't have to consider it our job to make everyone feel this way.
2. No Dishonesty
We adapt at lightning speed to the people who surround us at any given moment. So we must be exceedingly careful to tell the truth even if it's not what others relate to.
We need to ask ourselves, "Is this behavior/attitude, are these words, truthful to me? Am I really being honest about who I am?"
She spoke of having been in love with a devout Muslim man, and becoming a devout Muslim to be with him until she realized she could not spend the rest of her life that way. We must not stretch ourselves further than we can--we must be realistic and honest about who we are and how far we are and are not willing to stretch for someone. (We're so used to morphing that we need to be sure we're still being true to ourselves.)
3. Beware the Pitfall of Appropriation
We must not show a lack of concern/understanding about how we can be used by others.
She remembered being categorized as an ugly duckling until the day came when her same face became "the look of the moment."
Our likenesses and identities can be used to sell products and push agendas. We must not fall into that, unaware.
We must be actively allied with those who are pigeonholed by race.
We must not be poster children for anything we do not fully endorse.
4. Beware of Hubris or Becoming "The New Us"
Some of us have decided "We're at the center of it all, so we're the coolest, and all those monoracial people are uncool." This is no good.
We must find a way to confound dualism, not contribute to it.
Some of us are obsessed with race. We must not limit ourselves to this.
She was watching "America's Next Top Model" (she was very funny about that--she's kind of addicted to it), and Tyra was teaching the models how to model "pain." Rebecca said it reminded her of her fellow mixed peeps--"Oh god, i'm multiracial, oh god, it's all so hard and complicated, oh me!" She made everyone laugh with that--I'm pretty sure her point was: lighten up.
Our identities are performed in a way, sometimes. We can rewrite them at any moment.
Remember that ethnic identity is just one of our gazillion facets. If we concentrate only on the stars here and there we'll miss the whole sky. Each one of us is an entire sky.
I stood in line to meet her afterward and thank her, and I watched as a guy in front of me introduced himself as an Arab Jew. He started educating her on the fact that countless Muslim women in many Arab countries are empowered--working as CEOs and politicians, etc. She concurred--it was clear she knew this. But he had misinterpreted a part of her speech--he thought she had said/implied that all Muslim women are in burqas, living like slaves. She had not, but he kept going--it had obviously hurt him to (mis)hear this, so she listened, and very gently and warmly tried to let him know that she knew what he was talking about, that she had been talking about something else, and perhaps she had been unclear... He didn't quite hear her. So he said he would email her myspace page with "tips" about the Muslim world, and she started to say she was well aware...and then she very kindly/politely said "OK."
So I had to tell her that I had overheard the conversation, and that she HAD been clear, and what she had done at the end of their conversation was a microcosm of the multi-ethnic experience: you're misunderstood, you try to clarify, you realize this person has more need to speak than you do, or it's just not worth the uphill battle, and you don't want him/her to feel dishonored by arguing, so you just stop yourself mid-sentence and say "OK."
We laughed, I told her about Rena's, Hiwa's, and my podcast, and right before I left she hugged me and told me to email her the details on the podcast BECAUSE SHE WOULD LOVE TO BE ON IT.
So the next couple of days I went back for a couple of hours each (it was hard to do more; it was an all day thing for two days and I had too much else to do). I watched a bunch of short films and 3 of them were terrific: SILENCES, SECRET ASIAN WOMAN, and NIGEL'S FINGERPRINT. Most of the others were also worthwhile.
I made 2 friendly acquaintances, and they had made acquaintance with others, and everyone was saying how extraordinary it was to see and hear ourselves represented on screen or in readings, in a large roomful of us.
And it was!
-- posted at: 10:41pm UTC