As reported in the New York Times, multiracialty is on the rise in the United States with one in seven marriages now to folks of different ethnic or racial groups. Currently, universities are seeing enrollment by the highest number of racially mixed students they have ever experienced and visibility of such folks and their identification as “mixed” rather than one race or another has skyrocketed as suddenly “mixed race” is seen as something that is no longer exotic and very worthy of pride.
Certainly, mixed race young people have special challenges they face and so universities are now seeing more student clubs founded by mixed race students as places for them to share their stories, bolster their identities, and receive support and guidance from others.
See the feature article the video above accompanies at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/us/30mixed.html – seriously, well worth the read.
I tell my students at the university where I teach here in Taipei that when they categorize Americans versus Chinese or Taiwanese or whatever that there is much more to it all than the simplistic formulae we see so often portrayed in the media . . . there is a myth about America . . . actually, a few . . . in regard to What Makes American Identity.
My students, at an elite university in Asia . . . tend to see “American” as synonymous with WASP – the mythical White Anglo-Saxon Protestant who is an operational myth as well – or as some other block identity as a minority.
However, what is operating is the myth of the American as a cultural identity so glued to the WASP that no longer really powers the religious beliefs of America but does fuel other aspects and even though the number of protestants has dropped, the religious beliefs are still taken as defacto background of need (one of the reasons I teach a course on Bible and Literature at the university is to give students a bit of background in the myths and concepts that are so fundamental to US life and discourse that people – even those who are NOT Christian or religious – feel they do not need an explanation when they do indeed require explanation to students on this side of the planet who don’t get the references).
So many Americans . . . are informed by a Northern European – specifically English – past as a default cultural position. Others become Ethnic Americans who are “American” but have ancestral ties to another place or race (the hyphenated American).
The other operational myth of American identity is the melting pot. The idea of folks coming into America and mixing . . . culturally and ethnically. For instance, while I certainly LOOK as white as any other white guy in Europe, my family would best be considered as a melting pot . . . yes, many of my ancestors come from Northern Europe, but there are regions and races represented in the genetic soup that is my makeup . . . with ancestors from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Holland, France, Germany, Quohadi Comanche, Cherokee, and Africa. That continual mixing has not stopped as many of my uncles served in the military overseas so I’ve aunts (or former aunts) from places like Japan and Korea and Germany and elsewhere.
Obviously, while it certainly was not part of any sort of agenda, I’ve contributed to that melting pot as well as my wife is Chinese and so my daughter has all the diversity from my gene pool sprinkled in with her mother’s genetic heritage.
For my daughter Kaye, living in a predominately monocultural cultural that in many ways pretends to be monoracial as well has had its challenges. When she was a child we would be swamped by the “Hao Ke-Ai” squad as I would call them as simple stroller walks on campus at the university would become adventures in having a hoarde of Chinese university girls crowding around and exclaiming “hao ke ai” (“how cute”) over and over. There was a tendancy to try to pinch Kaye’s face and say how much she looked like a “yang wawa” (a “western” doll). She is mixed but unlike some kids of mixed race, she can’t pass for Chinese . . . luckily, despite the tendancy of some folks to shout from a distance how beautiful she is (a female cab driver once criticised Lorraine for not having more children . . . since Kaye is so pretty, the cabbie felt it is Lorraine’s “duty” to produce more children like her), for the most part, she’s been accepted by classmates for who she is . . . sure, when we go to crowded areas that don’t have many “foreigners” she and I will get stares from folks who are not used to the exotic, most folks get the handle on her soon enough.
Years ago, when Kaye was in elementary school . . . one of her classmates had an epiphany which was quite interesting to see as something dawned on him he’d never realized before. I’ve always been around Kaye and her classmates as they would see me pick her up from school so they knew who I was from the get-go. However, the kids never saw Kaye as anything but Kaye, not the foreign kid or the mixed kid but just Kaye for who she was. Well, one day, I walked to Kaye’s school gate to meet her and as I shouted her name and told her to come to me, one of the boys in her class looked at me and the expression on his face showed clearly that he’d just realized something important . . . he grabbed Kaye as if to share an incredible discovery and shouted in excitement to her “Lo Yi-Chi, ni baba shr waiguoren!” (Kaye, your father’s a foreigner). Note, that it wasn’t “you’re a foreigner” but “your father’s a foreigner” as the boy had realized that Kaye’s dad – me – was a foreigner but he clearly didn’t see Kaye as an outsider or a foreigner, Kaye was till Kaye.
Really . . . I think that’s one aspect of my daughter’s life journey . . . not to be seen as American or white or Chinese or Taiwanese or anything other an as Kaye. She isn’t comfortable when people seem to want to speak to her or ignore her or anything of the sort because of her race or her mixture of races and cultures and nationalities . . . she’s not particularly interested in folks who overemphasize how pretty she is when they approach to talk or the like . . . she just wants to be her. Although, she does seem to appreciate folks saying something nice about her music when she plays . . . things she creates or expresses . . . rather than for things that just are.
In any case, we’re in Taiwan so our family is still not quite what folks are talking about as a common experience when they discuss the increase in mixed-race marriages and multi-racial children, but it’s good to see that there are institutions coming into being and movements in place to help those with these unique qualities.
Perhaps the melting pot myth is becoming less of a myth after all.
All the best,