I’ve been part of the Mixed Remixed Festival since I was a featured writer in 2014. I was also a chair at the 2012 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference (CMRS). I’ve participated in three events for the Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) and have promoted them through blogs. Suffice it to say, I have my hands in three of the biggest mixed race / multiracial organizations. And you know what? I love them all.
Each of these organizations brings something unique, valuable, and necessary for the mixed race community. I can’t speak as someone in a multiracial relationship, or as one who has mixed race kids, because neither is true for me. However, even when there’s an event that I don’t think fits my personal experience, I recognize its importance for others.
This year at the Mixed Remixed Festival, I saw parents and children of all different ages and hues, which has been true for all of its past four years. While the festival is for everyone, I think there is no denying that it plays a special role for those of us who are mixed race ourselves. Each year, people break down crying, including the founder, Heidi Durrow, who works tirelessly year round to see this event come to fruition.
We cry because we finally have a space where our very existence is the norm. Instead of being a zebra in an otherwise black or white space, we’re in a room filled with zebras, and with those who brought us into this world. In fact, for the past two years, the recipient of the Storyteller’s Prize has been a black male in an interracial relationship who works to bridge the color divide. The festival also makes us feel validated as artists, chosen to share our personal experiences through film, music, and the written word. In this space, our voices matter, and everyone in the audience nods their head in understanding — something we don’t get on the mean streets.
In order for the festival to run, it needs sponsors. This year, no one was allowed to film, and no one did. Sure, people took little videos on their phones and were encouraged to do so, but anything else would violate the contract between the board and the sponsors. And the festival needs those sponsors in order to exist. Does this take the limelight away from others? Maybe. But it doesn’t take away one’s ability to be present at the festival itself.
I would hate to see those who attend Mixed Remixed, CMRS, and MASC to do anything other than support each other fully and without reservation. Mixed Remixed supports the arts, CMRS supports scholarship, and MASC supports families. Within these foci, there are of course necessary and important overlaps. And we’re strong because we’ve become strong together.
The Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference valued my scholarship on the “tragic mulatta genre” by accepting my master’s thesis about this topic for a panel. I felt recognized, understood, and in a community of peers. The same has been true for the MASC events I’ve attended, and the same is true when I walk through the doors for Mixed Remixed. I don’t know what the future holds for any of these organizations, but they each hold a special place in my heart, and I wouldn’t be who I am professionally or personally if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of those involved.
I stand by Heidi Durrow 1,000%, just as I stand by Laura Kina, et al. of CMRS and Delia Douglas and Sonia Smith-Kang of MASC. It’s because of these organizations that I’ve moved to Los Angeles, made amazing friendships, written a book and countless articles, and have been steadily working on a memoir to discuss my life with my black father. Parents: we see you. We know you’re there. And we’re grateful for these communities that have popped up over the past few years that see us, too.
On October 20th, I was fortunate enough to see the Hollywood premiere of Loving, which is set to release in the US on November 4th. Check out my article about the event here on Multiracial Media. I include quotes from other attendees, among them one of the child actors.
Ten years ago, I was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea, and I “slept” about 16 hours a day in my aunt and uncle’s basement in Carnation, Washington–a little town just outside of Seattle. Each night before bed, I’d watch a bit of Grey’s Anatomy, which, while filmed in California, is set in a fictional Seattle hospital.
Fast forward a decade, and I just spent an evening with Jason George, aka Dr. Ben Warren, at a private event put on by Multiracial Americans of Southern California. Jason approached MASC about raising money for the organization by hosting a fundraiser with himself as the prize.
Jason is married to Indian poet Vandana Khanna, and together they have three children. His family represents the growing multiracial demographic of the United States, which is accurately reflected in the makeup of Southern California. Jason’s mission is to embrace and celebrate this cultural shift and views it as a way to bring people together. He certainly did that tonight, by checking any “celebrity-ness” at the door and mingling warmly with us everyday folk.
Caitlin S. of Tennessee was the lucky winner of the fundraiser, though she says it took her a while to believe it wasn’t a scam. She hesitantly called to confirm her prize, and then sat speechless at work. She brought along her good friend Elessia whom she’s known since college at Southern Adventist University. Caitlin and Elessia say their friendship was almost instantaneous, and they text each other multiple times a day.
Even on the plane ride over, Caitlin and Elessia weren’t sure they hadn’t fallen prey to some elaborate scheme, but their luck wasn’t too good to be true. MASC put them up in a hotel for an extended weekend, and they spent a busy day chatting up Grey’s Anatomy cast members on set, sitting in on ON with Mario Lopez, and then chilling at a private screening of the Grey’s season premiere with Jason and some of the MASC crew.
As we watched the episode, Jason treated us to tidbits of behind-the-scenes information. Having stopped watching Grey’s at the end of season five when it seemed like one catastrophe too many, I was pretty out of the loop; though now that I’ve met a cast member, I may find myself picking up where I left off. Regardless, it was a quintessential Hollywood experience to watch an intimate taping, and I felt like my life had come full circle from those dire, sleep deprived days.
Conversation was lively and continued even after the scheduled event. Jason, Caitlin, Elessia and many MASC members reconvened in the main part of the cafe, and I and two friends of mine, one Colombian and Indian and the other Black and White, stood talking in the warm Santa Ana winds about our experiences with race, the current political system, and our beliefs about how to improve the world we live in. Tonight we got a taste of what that world could look like, as races came together in unity and understanding.
What happens when a young, mixed race boy asks his mother what ethnic day is meant for him? The Los Angeles Dodgers have special days for certain ethnicities, but none celebrating mixed race heritage… until now.
Sonia Smith-Kang and her business partner Delia Douglas approached the Dodgers about creating a Mixed Heritage Day. The Dodgers obliged, and yesterday about 200 people came to celebrate at a game against the Chicago Cubs. I arrived with my friend Jennifer, and at first I had trouble trying to find Delia and Sonia in the bleachers. I scanned the faces of the children and adults, trying to spot a large grouping of people set apart by varying skin tone and racial admixture. Funnily enough, I had difficulty finding them in the crowd, because the bleachers were filled with fans of all different hues. There wasn’t much that set this group apart, and that was the point. Los Angeles is becoming increasingly diverse and increasingly mixed, and having a day to celebrate a mixed race heritage is thus tremendously important for children who grow up in interracial families.
The Dodgers displayed “Mixed Heritage Day” on the jumbotron in between innings, just as they do for other cultural days at the stadium. This day was a bit different from most, however, because Sonia and Delia were presented a certificate by the Los Angeles mayor, who himself identifies as mixed race. Adults, children and families gathered together in celebration and community as they cheered their team to victory. It was a victory not just for the players, but also for the families who saw their love recognized and validated just like any other.
Sonia and Delia plan to make Mixed Heritage Day a yearly tradition. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to see what went down in 2016!
I often write about growing up folk dancing with my family in the Santa Cruz mountains. We mostly participate in Israeli and Balkan folk dancing, even though no one in my family is Israeli or of Balkan ancestry. Regardless of race, I’ve been doing this type of dancing since I was in the womb.
Just before I was born, my aunt (white) and my uncle (white and Japanese) met at folk dancing classes at UCSC. Another class member owned land in the Santa Cruz mountains, and he invited my aunt and uncle, as well as a few other people, I believe, down to his property to practice. This was about 40 years ago. It quickly grew into a biannual event, with weekend-long dances over the Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends. This type of music is not in my blood, and I didn’t even grow up in this culture. However, I spent countless long weekends dancing with people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including those who have immigrated from the Balkan region.
About 15 years ago, I surprised a Macedonian coworker by jumping right into a folk-dancing event at the nearby Seattle Center. She never saw it coming but was pleasantly surprised. Amazed that her black friend knew this aspect of her culture so intimately.
Whenever I dance in a circle with my left hand attached to one person and my right hand attached to another, I feel a sense of connection that I’ve never feel anywhere else. It’s not just the hand holding, and it’s not just the movement in and of itself. It’s this particular tradition that I’ve grown up with since birth. Whenever I attend weekends at what we refer to as “The Land,” I feel like I’m reconnecting with my roots.
I’m black on my dad’s side, and German, English, Irish and Scottish on my mothers. If anything, ancestry says I should love African dancing. I should love square dancing or English country dancing. But I don’t. For me, it’s Balkan and Israeli all the way.
This connection brings up many questions regarding ethnic identity. For example, if a black child is raised by white parents, is he culturally–in his bones–white? Can Rachel Dolezal claim blackness? Perhaps the simple difference is that I don’t see myself as Israeli or of Balkan origin. I don’t pretend to know much about the cultures or even the histories, besides what I’ve learned in school and picked up orally.
But when the music plays, whether it’s in the car or at The Land, my very bones feel that connection. My feet move as if they’ve always been meant to folk dance. I grab the belts of those next to me as if I were meant to perform this very act. Even when years go by between my visits –even when the landscape of who is attending is almost completely foreign to me–once I get on the dance floor, I’m connected to the wood, to the earth beneath, and to the rhythm that pervades my very core. I am a black folk dancer.
LA Times writer Michelle Maltais has created a public celebration of Loving Day stories on the LA Times Medium page. Several of the stories may be chosen for publication in the paper or on LATimes.com. Click below for mine, and contribute your own! If you do, let me know and I’ll be sure to check it out!
When I was a little girl, I looked up to my dad the way most little girls look up to their fathers. I liked watching the way he’d cross his legs while he smoked his pipe in contemplation. I liked lifting my dumbbell while he lifted his barbell. I liked telling people that my ex-prison father could beat them up at a moment’s notice.
My parents split up when I was three, but I still saw my dad fairly regularly—until he moved three hours away when I was seven. It was when my dad moved back to our area at the start of middle school that he started to fall from his pedestal.
Last Friday I did a reading for Camp Real Pants at Astroetic Studios in Downtown L.A. The event was an offshoot of the AWP (Association for Writers & Writing Programs), and as I could afford to attend the conference itself, it was nice to be somewhat near the action, and right in the thick of a related event.
In honor of the reading, my friend Mike put together lovely chapbooks, which are currently for sale. “(not) Mixed (up) Messages: On Dads, Death and Mixed Race Daughterhood” is a combination of excerpts from my memoir and a couple of my published articles. All blend together to poignantly wrestle with the three Ds mentioned above. I’m still at work on the memoir but am excited to share some of the finished pages with anyone who’s been following my journey, and with those who haven’t!
“Shannon is a fearlessly vulnerable, beautiful, and brave voice. Her stories and experiences inspire me to accept myself for who I am—to be myself and not who others tell me to be.”
Yesterday I watched the most recent episode of The Bachelor on Hulu, and I’m sorry if this is going to ruin the anticipation for anyone, but Jubilee got sent home in the middle of the cocktail party.
I’ve watched The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchise off and on for years. When I start a season, I always continue until the end, but I’m not drawn to it every season. This season, however, will be the first one that I end abruptly, and I’m not sure if I ever want to watch the show again.
The Bachelor and Bachelorette had always been a fun diversion — a way to witness interactions between people, root for favorite contestants, and wince at relationships between houseguests or between men and women that go extremely sour.
This season was different though, because of Jubilee (which I wrote about here). I’ve always felt a bit removed from the show. I’ve always been intimately aware that my life differs greatly from any of the girls who vie for the guy’s hearts (and I’m usually not much into the guy’s heart anyway). But with Jubilee’s date with Ben, I finally saw myself in a contestant. Not just because she was Black, but because she was Black with very similar struggles as my own.
I kind of knew when Ben put Jubilee on a pedestal that she would inevitably come crashing down. Not because she’d do anything wrong, but because pedestals are very lonely and unsteady places to be. Jubilee was for Ben what many Black women are to men — and sadly not just to White men like Ben.
After Ben said goodbye to Jubilee, with the same expression and many of the same words that I’ve heard during my own breakups, I said goodbye to The Bachelor. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I also remembered something I’d written when I was about 21, and I dug it up to share with my readers.
This essay is a very hard one to share, because it touches on things that are very personal, and I wrote it completely stream of consciousness at the height of emotion. Though it’s a bit exposing, I think it’s important to share with my readers because I’m guessing at least one of you feels now the way I did then. The family relationships I’ve mentioned in the essay have now been strengthened, I now know certain struggles aren’t so black and white, and those romantic relationships are a thing of the past. That last line of the essay? It’s where I am now.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s what I wrote back in 1998.
Back Seat Girl
It happened to me again today. Sarah* was with me, getting milk. Chad* and Adam* were in the electronics department. I have learned to like Sarah, to become her friend. But then, as she tells me she won’t be home when her parents call, she says, “Oh, they’ll understand, because they know about Chad.” I respond, “Oh, are you guys dating or something?” (I say this quite calmly, but in my mind I am screaming, because I am once again on the outside of the circle.)
“Well, I don’t know,” she replies. “I don’t really know what’s going on.” She also says this calmly, and adds emphasis by shrugging her shoulders as if tossing the idea out of her uninterested mind. But I know inside, she is bursting to know if they will in fact have a romance. I drop the subject. I realize that I am always in the back, while she is always in the front. Does she get the front seat because her father is a missionary? Because she is a prize? I see them talk. I see him express concern to her about missing her parents’ call because of the outing I have requested.
I am taken back to Southern California, to the long freeway drive to Disneyland, to David* and Patricia* in the front seat, to me, in the back of the van (the extra, invisible guest). I am taken back to observing them from my place in the back, to watching them flirt, to seeing her get out of her seat and kneel in the middle so that he could put his arm around her. I remember the tears. I remember the desperation I felt. I remember the pain, and the pain returns, and it runs down my cheeks in a salty stream. The pain is a little girl, watching her mommy flirt with a man who would rule her life, a man who would separate her from her mother’s protective love, a man who would place this little girl on the outside of the circle.
I remember driving Daniel* and Kim* around. I remember how when I moved away, Daniel got a truck and Kim was the one to be the front seat girl. I remember the agony I felt as she told me about their minute-long kiss in this front seat. My boyfriend and my best friend. “You thought you were so special,” a voice inside me said. “But remember your place.”
I remember the community group of my church. I remember sitting in that wealthy house, I remember sitting in that circle, sharing about our lives. I remember the man I thought attractive. The man who pursued another girl after the meeting. A girl who had spoken of her father, who was known in the Christian circle. “So that man is really your father?” the young man asks. “Yes,” she replies, with pride. The man thinks her a prize. The man asks her if she needs a ride home. “No,” she replies. (She has a father, remember? A father who provides for her needs.) To him, I am invisible. The man does not ask me to be a front seat girl. My father was a prisoner. Does that make him lacking in love for his daughter? Does that make me any less of a prize? Does that mean I am destined to be a backseat girl?
I remember home. I remember the house in Santa Cruz that I called home. I remember the house that I called home, but wasn’t. I remember the loving arms that held me for a moment, only to let me go. Those arms in which I was not allowed to get comfortable. Those arms of my grandmother who said, “You are special, but you do not belong here.”
I remember the holidays. I remember all the families coming together to form a whole. All of those immediate families that I was not a part of. I remember all of the families grouping together, in order to introduce us to a new relative. But where do I go? Where is my “mother,” my “father,” my “sister,” my “brother”? I see the new man’s eyes scan his relations. I see his eyes come to me. They are puzzled, perplexed, these eyes of his. As if he is seeing a rose among poppies. “She is not in the circle,” his eyes say. I smile, pretending that I do not know my difference. Pretending that I am indeed a poppy among poppies.
I feel like a girl in a candy store. I feel like a black girl in a candy store. I feel like a black girl in a candy store in the segregated South. I stand there, my mouth watering as I look at the delicious candy. I see the girls line up, one after the other, buying their chocolate. I approach the man behind the counter. No, his face tells me in a cold stare. This is not your place. This is not for you. I watch, my heart growing hard.
The man takes me into the back and whispers in my ear, “You can have the chocolate if you work for it.” I reluctantly agree. I feel cheated that I have to work for my chocolate, and the other girls merely pay with the coins given them by their fathers.
I pick up a broom, and I sweep. I pick up a mop, and I scrub. I am proud of my good deeds. I approach the man behind the counter, but he is not satisfied, so I give some more of my hard labor. “It will pay off,” I say to myself. “Soon I will have the best chocolate in the world. It will turn around and I will be the girl buying chocolate at the counter.”
Hours turn into days. My circle of friends disappear. They are upset that I spend all of my time working at the store. But they don’t understand—Just a couple more chores and it will all turn around. Just a couple more hours and I will be the girl buying chocolate at the counter.
Each day I work, I watch the white girls go up to the counter. I see them buy their chocolate. I become dismayed. I feel angry. I feel cheated. I feel second-class. I long for the man behind the counter to give me my candy, but he never does.