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Posts tagged ‘Multiculturalism’

On Growing up Mexican Italian American

Read my latest essay for the the Parent Voice, Multicultural Families. Multiracial Lives

I became aware of the world around me during the Reagan era in a middle-class, conservative, predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles…

Growing up, I sometimes needed to explain to curious classmates and adults why my physical appearance did not match up with my Anglo-Saxon last name. Questions that they asked included: Do you have a stepdad? Were you adopted? Where are your parents from? If asked respectfully, I was happy to explain that my father was an artist and lived in Italy and that my mother’s parents came from Mexico, but my honest explanation typically generated expressions of miscomprehension, doubt, and an occasional, that’s cool. In this time and place, the custom or norm was to identify to others and oneself in monoracial, monoethnic or national terms.
Hence, for want of others in this context willing to model or validate mixed and multiracial identities, the notion that I could publically claim a mixed identity remained cloudy in my adolescent mind. I tended to vacillate in silence between the established monoracial, monoethnic, and national terms that were applicable to me…

Read the rest of my essay here…

 

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THE MONORACIAL MILLENNIUM (a parody)

It sucks to wake up and realize that you’re back out of style–viewed as a promising development in one decade, viewed as an impediment to racial justice in the next.

It was the 1990s. Racial pure breeds were fading to beige, and ethnic ambiguity was starting to matter. The public was interested in topics like the biracial baby boom, the browning of America, and Tiger “Cablinasian” Woods. Time magazine issued its “New Face of America.” Maria Root published her “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.” And multiracial grassroots activists were lobbying the state to account for the growing multiracial population via a new multiracial identifier for Census 2000.

Many in the old vanguard of the US Civil Rights Movement were troubled by this development. They responded by propagating new sayings about the new mixed people: “I’m mixed is another way of saying that you want to be white” and “the multiracial movement is anti-black.”

A high yellow Civil Rights Movement child, Danzy Senna expressed her consternation about the sudden rise to relevance of the new mixed people in her widely-read article, “The Mulatto Millennium.” Her article inspired many more critics of the multiracial movement, and before anyone could say President Obama, defining oneself as mixed had become a new social justice faux pas. Before long, ethnically ambiguous bodies that once signified new racial types and emergent third cultures came to be viewed in academia, in the media, and in the social justice field as a potential threat to the gains, memory, and morality of the US Civil Rights Movement.

All of which was so disheartening to those of us who realized that what was also being pushed into oblivion was a common postmodern sensibility that helped in creating multiracial identities of various ethnic and racial combinations in addition to black and white. Far from being a ploy of systemic racism, the corporate media, or conservative post-racial politics, creating and asserting a multiracial identity was about rebelling in postmodern fashion against the classic laws of thought. It was about saying FU to the one-drop rule, and to other traditions of hypodescent, and to all the powerful institutions that suppress multiraciality; it was about saying NO to the tradition of racial passing, and demonstrating that race is always already constructed, unstable, and permeable.

Asserting a multiracial identity was also about performing and writing your mixed self into existence. It was about telling your own messy mixed up stories, and believing in the capacity of personality and imagination to forge unique forms of expression that resist the superimposition of prefab racial and ethnic identities, images, and scripts.

Asserting a multiracial identity was also about seeing and treating race as a toxic, addictive concoction that can be interrogated, deconstructed, and damaged to the point where all racial misfits would feel at home in the world.

But alas…

The possibility of an imminent mulatto millennium led to the founding of the Alliance for Racial and Ethnic Stability–ARES for short. The primary mission of ARES is to un-blur established racial and ethnic lines so that the 21st century will be remembered as the first century of the monoracial millennium.

To achieve this outcome, ARES and the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) implemented Educational Directive 15 (ED 15) to manage the possibility of unruly Census data and other unintended consequences following the strategic adoption of the check-more-than-one-race option for Census 2000. Couched in the language of respect for the dignity of individuals to choose and name their own identities, ED 15 promotes an alternative agenda: re-suppress, degrade, intimidate, confound, and monoracialize the growing multiracial-identified population—that is, re-educate mixed folk so that they will eventually choose to align their personal identities with official, corporate-approved, state-designated racial/ethnic identifications.

Those who continue to identify as mixed or multiracial as if this were 1999 are monitored by ARES affiliates comprising traditional civil rights organizations, neoliberal think tanks, racial justice social media activists, AA activists, and avowedly white liberal allies like Tim Wise—collectively known as the Professional Social Justice Activist Class (PSJAC). Rather than disregard the existence of mixed folks like in the past, the PSJAC happily acknowledges them so that they can be more easily managed and encouraged to publicly present multiracial identities and stories that advance, rather than undermine, the moral authority of ARES.

Academic members of the PSJAC were successful in their efforts to rewrite the history of the US multiracial movement as symptomatic of white supremacy. The Interracial Voice, a popular online hub of the movement in the 1990s, was renamed the Inter-racist Voice, and Charles Byrd, its editor, is now known as that naïve, racist tool of post-racial, colorblind ideologues like Newt Gingrich and Ward Connerly. Pro-multiracial identity advocates from the 1990s, Susan Graham and Francis Wardle (a father and a husband) were conflated into the stereotypical white woman in an interracial marriage who feels more than entitled to transfer her white privilege to her biracial black children. College students interested in the multiracial movement now learn that Maria Root and Ward Connerly were political allies united in their desire to demoralize and dilute POC communities.

Former pro-mixed-identity scholars from the nineties who remain in academia find themselves obligated to worship at the altar of Eduardo Bonilla Silva. Once they sang Kumbaya at pan-multiracial collegiate conferences alongside hapas and other mixies of various backgrounds, but now they join the chorus of conference-going white liberal academics that seems to never grow tired of condemning the media for constantly trying to lynch President Obama. They nod in agreement with those who say that white supremacy works through the hearts and souls of foolish, confused, and misguided mixed folks. They join other antiracist academic activists in chanting: Ah, Whiteness—thou art the primum mobile, the blinding overhang, material and essential—race and racial projects, always and forever, until, and only until, that day comes when all the official races of the world have achieved balance, justice and equality. Amen!

Those mixed-identified scholars who flat out refuse to admit that they had been aspiring to whiteness all along typically find themselves on the fringe of academia, or outside of academia altogether. Some have moved to Greece, Albania, Bahrain, Belize, Kurdistan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Slovenia, Slovakia, and South Africa to study, live, or work. Some have gone on to teach in public high schools and in private boarding schools. The practical ones went into different fields altogether like cyber security, software design, accounting, flipping houses, or driving for Uber. Some are very happy to have left academia for good.

Indeed…in this Age of Obama, it just doesn’t pay to be racially or ethnically fluid anymore. It pays to assert a monoracial identity and to pledge your allegiance to ARES.

In other words, in the Age of Obama:

And/both and neither/nor came to be known as sophisticated forms of whitesplaining.

Mixed became a wrongheaded, backward-looking descriptor.

Mixed chicks became light-skinned black chicks once again.

Pan-ethnic multiracial idealism was classified as a new form of white coveting.

Mixed folks are no longer One-Dropped; they are Yaba or Zeba Blay-Dropped.

But these victories were deemed inadequate by the pragmatic faction of ARES, which maintained that additional measures were needed to permanently seal the Pandora’s Box of mixed race.

In response this concern, ARES partnered with the Obama Administration and the Clinton Foundation to launch the Ethnic DNA Global Initiative, awarding an initial 1.2 billion dollar contract to Skip Gates Inc. to market and administer Ethnic DNA tests in all free-market countries, so that by 2050 people will no longer be confused about their racial identity, thanks to science.

In phase 2150, after more than a century of world-wide Ethnic DNA testing, ARES and the UN Global Census Bureau will fabricate a new set of Ethnic Quantum Rules (EQR) that will effectively re-aggregate all peoples of the world back into four quantifiable race cultures: Black, White, Asian, and Indigenous.

ARES predicts that by 2250 it will achieve its primary mission–one world under race indivisible with liberty, justice, and equality for all official races.

However, the Age of Obama is now coming to an end. Could mixed folks outperform in the future? Could an upsurge in the meeting and mixing of various peoples from all over the world destabilize the global-capitalist-mono-racializing agenda of ARES? Will there emerge a new generation of hard-to-exploit mixed folks that will shout out to the global establishment: NO to Ethnic DNA marketing, NO to race addiction, and NO to the vision of ARES?

Perhaps. But in the meantime…

Let us invoke the spirit of Jean Toomer and pray to the Gods of Change for the becoming of a new generation of world mixed folks that is difficult to commodify, analyze, control, and consume–a new generation that LOVES in-external racial-ethnic ambiguity; a new generation that says YES to knowing History; YES to communicating in languages besides English; YES to fighting for the oppressed, silenced, and impoverished; YES to a universal basic income; and YES to the long and patient collective labor of creating a new IDEA of TRANS-national-racial-ethnic democratic humanity.

Cultural Diversity to the Nth Degree While Teaching in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is known by many as a city divided into brown, black, white, and yellow communities, a city with a long history of ethnic group tensions, gang fights, race riots, and racist cops.

Los Angeles is also a cosmopolitan city of incredible wealth and poverty, a city where peoples from all over the world speaking various languages interact and often clash, a city of disparate and shifting valuations, a city where peoples mix creating new cultural identities, products, and traditions.

In all, Los Angeles does more than complicate received understandings of multicultural diversity. That is to say, Los Angeles is the mecca of cultural diversity to the nth degree.

Los Angeles is also the city where I grew up, live, and teach English. Simply put, I help students (high school and college) become better readers, writers, and critical thinkers. This unassuming work, I would argue, is very important—even a form of social activism—insofar as in helping students become more literate I also develop their capabilities to participate effectively in public debates regarding social issues that they might care deeply about, now or in the future. In other words, to have an intelligible public voice, or to be an effective social activist, you need to be fully literate in English like the affluent and highly educated are—which is where I come in as an educator who cultivates writing, reading, rhetorical, and thinking capabilities in individual students.

As a teacher in Los Angeles, I experience cultural diversity to the nth degree anew every time I start a new class. In the first four or five class meetings, I like to number out students many times over, creating groups of various sizes that allow students to both collaborate and to become more familiar with the knowledge, experience, and lived diversity of each other. I start my classes with a no-pressure, ice-breaker activity that literally provides students in groups of six with a script of sentence stems that prompt them to share basic information about themselves (as much or as little as they want) regarding topics such as what they do for work, where they grew up and live, why they’re here in college, where they see themselves in five years, and what social justice issue they care most about.IMG_2725 Stems for this script activity can be customized for different types of classes, and the scripting strategy can be used for various purposes as a means to focus small groups on particular questions, issues, or topics.

This scripting activity also helps me become more familiar with the knowledge and diverse cultural backgrounds of my students as I walk around the classroom listening to and participating in group conversations. This summer and fall I decided to take a few notes during this activity:

  • Students from Van Nuys, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sun Valley, Canoga Park, Woodland Hills, West Hills, Santa Monica, and Reseda
  • High school students from Calabasas, Taft, Reseda, and El Camino Real HS
  • A virtual high school student who is also an actress
  • A student who just graduated from Options for Youth
  • A student recently out of jail, not sure for what crime
  • Students who are recovering addicts back to school
  • Students who work in hospitals
  • Students with kids and full-time jobs
  • Students who work in hotels
  • Students who work at CVS, Starbucks, and Subway
  • Students in their fifties or sixties back to school
  • Students who work as medical billers and telemarketers
  • Students from Iran (one is Zoroastrian), Syria, Pakistan, India, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Japan, and the Philippines
  • Second-generation Armenian, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian American students
  • Six or seven African American students
  • Six or seven unambiguous white students
  • A few Hispanic/Latino students who say that they are often mistaken for white
  • A few mixed -identified students who are reluctant to divulge their ethnic or racial mix
  • A black-identified student who does not subscribe to stereotypic black culture in his personal life
  • A mixed race student about six five (Mexican, black, white) who has learned to laugh off racial stereotypes, telling inquisitive strangers that he sucks at basketball and isn’t very athletic
  • Students who say that racism is the most important social justice issue today
  • Students who think that police brutality is an important social justice issue
  • Students who say that species survival and how we treat one another in our daily lives are the social justice issues that matter most
  • Students who think that female body shape discrimination is an important social justice issue
  • Students who believe that poverty is the greatest social justice issue

This is just a glimpse of what cultural diversity to the nth degree typically sounds like in the classes that I teach. If you want to experience cultural diversity that overflows standard categories, definitions, and understandings of multicultural diversity then you might love teaching in Los Angeles public schools. If you want to live in a city that is a fluid composite of established cultures, fading cultures, evolving cultures, indistinct cultures, and cultures in making then Los Angeles might be the place for you.

Creating Multiracial Identities in the Work of Rebecca Walker and Kip Fulbeck: A Collective Critique of American Liberal Multiculturalism

Full Citation: Creating Multiracial Identities in the Work of Rebecca Walker and Kip Fulbeck: A Collective Critique of American Liberal Multiculturalism 
MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 2013; doi: 10.1093/melus/mlt053

Gino Michael Pellegrini

Americans of multiracial descent recently have become noticeable, respectable, marketable, and, in the case of Barack Obama, presidential. In the last two decades, a growing body of creative and critical work about multiracial lives and issues has materialized.1 This social and historical development has become an ideological battleground for advocates, politicians, scholars, journalists, and marketers who have appropriated and interpreted its products and personalities in relation to their own beliefs, objectives, and commitments. According to many popular and political accounts, the growing number of interracial marriages and self-identified multiracials indicates that American society quickly is becoming post-racial. Scholars of this development, however, have been mostly skeptical of accounts that claim or assume that race-mixing leads to post-racial societies. Among scholars, there is ongoing debate over the precise impact that the emergent self-identified multiracial population is having on race, racial hierarchy, and white supremacy. Many scholars agree with G. Reginald Daniel, who claims that self-identified multiracials challenge race and racial hierarchy. However, Rainier Spencer and others argue the opposite: self-identified multiracials maintain racial hierarchy and reproduce race insofar as they rely on established racial categories to articulate their experiences and identities. Hence, this debate is at an impasse.2

One way to negotiate this impasse is to shift the focus of the debate from the impact that self-identified multiracials have had on race and racial hierarchy to the conditions that have made mixed-race individuals possible in ethno-racial combinations besides black and white. Of course, scholars who analyze this development through a black/white framework will likely object to this move on the grounds that all other ethno-racial categories must fall between black and white in the racial hierarchy, thus orienting multiracial identities, old and new, toward whiteness and away from blackness. Their objection, however, presumes stable racial categories, groups, and ways of belonging; scholars thus conclude that self-identified multiracials are confused, contradictory, naïve, or duplicitous and selfish in their pursuit of white privilege. This dismissal of multiracials fails to explain fairly and adequately the ongoing collectivization of multiracials of various mixes and backgrounds.3 As Kimberly McClain DaCosta suggests, “[S]ome multiracials are indeed inventing a collective vision of themselves,” and “rather than chastise them for it, [her] goal [is] to understand both why and in what ways they are doing so” (152). I would add that we need to delve deeper than the 1967 US Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia and the Census 2000 debates to come to a more complete understanding of the specific historical and ideological conditions that have enabled individuals of diverse racial and ethnic mixtures, skin colors, genders, and sexualities to envision their multiracial experiences in similar ways…

Read my entire article at the Oxford MELUS page.

If you do not have access, a link to the article is accessible in my list of scholarly articles.

A Review of One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father’s Racial Approval

Gino Pellegrini

Is Fanshen a noun, a verb, or an adjective? Is it a who or a what? What does it have to do with the history of race and racism? Or, as Grandma Cynthia puts it, “De next time you talk to your mommy an’ your daddy, ahsk dem for me – what in God’s name is a Fanshen?…Why dem give you dat name?”

These are some of the central questions that Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni addresses in her brilliant and timely one-woman show, One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father’s Racial Approval.

I am present for Fanshen’s debut performance on Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Arena Theater on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles. The Arena is small, intimate, packed, and a few people have traveled across the country to see this debut. I sit in the front row with my good friend Rocco Robinson, and we notice right away that the audience is relaxed, friendly, and excited; the set is simple, arousing, and well thought out.

Fanshen is an educator, a writer, a film maker, and an accomplished actor who recently played a part in Argo, the Academy’s Best Picture for 2012. Fanshen is also well known within the nascent multiracial community for being the co-creator and co-host (with Heidi Durrow) of the award-winning podcast series, Mixed Chicks Chat (2007-2012) and of the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival (2008-2012). Both projects have been instrumental in making the public more aware of the so-called mixed experience, and of the growing number of critical and creative works about multiracial lives and issues.

Both collaborative projects have also been a means for Fanshen and Heidi to come to a deeper understanding of their own mixed experiences and identities, which, in turn, has facilitated the development of their own creative works. Heidi was the first Mixed Chick to gain national recognition for her bestselling novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010). Now it is Fanshen’s turn to deconstruct longstanding racial assumptions, traditions, and allegiances with her own hybrid, experimental work.

One Drop of Love emphasizes the history of the construct of race from the 1700s to the present. More specifically, the interrelated American history of race and the decennial Census constitutes the factual and visual backdrop against which Fanshen performs her own personal history and evolution. Fanshen plays herself at different junctures in her life and, using multiple dialects and gestures, fifteen other characters (including her family) of different ages, genders, nationalities, and ethno-racial-cultural backgrounds. Though the subject matter is difficult, her acting ability helps her engage, entertain, touch, and enthrall her audience. Considered altogether, her multiple character depictions and interactions expose into view how the history of race–in conjunction with a shared belief in static racial categories, values, identities, and traditions–impacts intimate relationships, social opportunities, self-perception, and personal growth.

One Drop of Love is also a compelling story that conveys many universal themes such as love, forgiveness, doubt, determination, and the daughter-father bond. The main conflict of the story is Fanshen’s misperception of her father’s failure in 2005 to come to her wedding in Jamaica. This painful event prompts her to reassess her relationship with him and to investigate her entire family history. This event also motivates her to think critically about her own complex and debilitating experiences with race and racism, and about the implications and possibilities of becoming multiracial.

Why does Fanshen need to reveal her painful and complicated multiracial experiences? The first answer has to do with education. Fanshen is an educator who cares deeply about others, and through her show she wants to challenge her audience to think anew about the history of race and its lasting influence on society, families, and individuals. Moreover, Fanshen wants to counter the widespread notion that multiracials like her are representative of an emergent post-racial America. In actuality, her multiracial experiences and the ways in which others read her ambiguous body evidence the evolution and continued presence of race and racism in American culture.

The second answer has to do with Fanshen’s struggle to assert, define, and develop her own unique mixed persona. This particular aspect of One Drop of Love correlates with the work of Rebecca Walker, the author of Black, White, and Jewish (2001) and Baby Love (2007), and specifically with a statement that she makes in a Conversation from the Cullman Center with writer Danzy Senna. Walker states “that [she] had to write the books that [she] did…to claim [her] own subjectivity…[and] to create a self-defining beinghood…” that breaks from the expectations and “mythologies” of the Civil Rights Movement that were “projected” upon her by her parents and by society (21:30-25:55).

Like Walker and Senna, Fanshen is a Movement child, the product of a 1960s interracial marriage between two socially conscious, liberal, idealistic, and well-intended individuals who resisted the racist culture of the black-white color line to be together. In the 1960s, they believed that through their interracial union, social activism, and mixed race children (Fanshen and her brother) they were helping to overcome race and racism, and helping to transform society for the better.

As Mama Trudy puts it, “And Fanshen. Don’t Forget. Your father and I made you on purpose.”

In light of their shared purpose, they named Fanshen after the title of William Hinton’s 1966 classic book about the Communist Revolution in China. This is one of the more surprising and thought-provoking moments in the show. Fanshen is a Mandarin word that literally means to turn over, free oneself, and stand up. Hinton’s book documents the redistribution of property, wealth, and resources to the Chinese peasantry, and examines the collective efforts among leaders to create new villages unburdened by racial and class beliefs, divisions, and antagonisms.

In naming their daughter after the book Fanshen, her parents projected upon her being and body their own Movement ideals and wishes. In other words, Fanshen was supposed to be a symbol of her parent’s late-1960s notion of a Civil Rights Movement Xanadu…By the mid-1970s they were divorced.

Unaware of the impact that race was having on her sense of self and belonging, Fanshen unknowingly followed in her father’s footsteps to gain his racial approval. In the 1970s, her father became a committed Pan-Africanist who believed in the idea of an authentic Pan-African Black identity. In parallel fashion, Fanshen, as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, joined the Black Student Union and asserted herself racially as Black. After college, 1993 Fanshen, like her father two decades earlier, felt the need to travel to Africa to reconnect with her African roots. She joined the Peace Corps and taught English to high-school age students in the Cape Verdean Islands, West Africa.

To her surprise, the local Cape Verdeans did not really recognize her Black identity. They were unfamiliar with the American history of race and with the one-drop rule, which defines an individual with any amount of African ancestry as Black. Indeed, she recounts an incident where one of her Cape Verdean students mistook the pictures of Malcolm, Martin, and Maya Angelou on the walls of her home for her father, brother, and mother.

Instead of leaving her with a stronger sense of racial certitude, belonging, and identity, Fanshen’s African homecoming rendered her more racially wounded and confused. Her actual interactions with the Cape Verdean locals exposed her and her father’s shared belief in the narrative of Pan-Africanism and in the notion of an authentic Pan-African Black identity as flawed and overly romantic.

In a like manner to Walker and Senna, Fanshen has come to realize after much reflection from 2005 to the present that her experiential lived life and ambiguous body have often been at odds with the narratives (integrationist and cultural pluralist) of the Civil Rights Movement which shaped the racial identities, values, goals, and practices of her parents and of countless other groups, personas, and institutions. Similar to the works of Walker and Senna, One Drop of Love exposes into view shortcomings and ruptures in these narratives.

Fanshen has also come to realize that racial identities are fluid, contingent, variable, and performed. Racial categories, meanings, values, and images are also subject to social, historical, and economic changes. Fanshen demonstrates that individuals can study and negotiate the construct of race, and work on its limits and meanings. For instance, Fanshen critiques and alters the established meaning of the one drop rule, which is based on racial hate, by replacing “rule” with love.

In conclusion, Fanshen and One Drop of Love are evolving from one performance to the next. She plans to take her show on the road to colleges, universities, and to other venues across the country. Her most recent performance was on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. One Drop of Love will also become a documentary that will include clips from her various performances and of audience members who share their thoughts on race and racism right after the show. Of minor import, the production team now includes Ben Affleck, Chay Carter, and Matt Damon. Don’t miss it. One Drop of Love is major.

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