Multiethnic

black, puerto rican, white and adopted.

*DISCLAIMER - HELLA PERSONAL*

I haven’t publicly opened up about my race/ethnicity/upbringing because it’s taken me a long time (26 years) to understand it.

These are my birth parents (and me). My birthfather was born in Puerto Rico. My birthmother, I think Ohio. My birthfather is black latino. My birthmother is white (primarily hungarian and italian).

This is the family that adopted me. Adorable right? They are white - irish, polish, german, english, maybe a tiny bit of italian. 

Here is one more picture for proof of just how cute my family is.

I grew up in a predominately white suburb until I was 13 years old. I had tight big curly hair past my shoulders that the kids teased me for. I had a wider set nose and darker body hair than any other girl in my class, and I had the darkest skin (but as you can tell I’m not that dark).

I’ve known I was adopted since I can remember. My mom used to try to explain to me that I was black puerto rican, which is different than african american. And that I was also white. But seeing as there were no black people where I grew up, I only knew black people by what I saw on TV - which as we all know is a negative stereotype. My mom did everything she could. She took me to the city (for diversity), she bought me every single color doll (she had to special order these dark skinned african dolls because it was the 90′s), and she explained to me over and over again that I was bi-racial, and puerto rican. But as a young child I didn’t understand and didn’t care. One of my brothers classmates once told him “your sister is a nigger” and my brother punched him in the face. My mom told me what happened, but I wasn’t hurt by it because I didn’t understand. But I knew it wasn’t right.

I always knew I looked different - I just didn’t know why. But I knew that I didn’t want to look different. In the third grade I remember wanting to get surgery to have smaller lips, a narrow nose, and straight hair. I dreamt that I had blue/green eyes and long straight blonde hair. I always wanted long hair that went down my back - and it wasn’t until I straightened my hair for the first time in middle school, I realized curly hair shrinks and my hair reached my butt.

My parents made a decision that changed my life, they told me to apply to an art high school in the inner city. I applied, I got in, and my mom and I moved to the city while by dad stayed with my brother in the suburbs for two years until he graduated high school.

Finally, brown people. But then the black girls told me I wasn’t puerto rican cus my ass wasn’t big like J Lo (I was 14 what?), and people told me “I was the whitest brown girl ever”. My best friend (to this day) told me after we become acquainted that when the teacher called my name freshman year of math class he thought “I was going to be some boring white girl.”

It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago for college that I was exposed to blatant racism. But I was also exposed to puerto rican culture. And widely accepted by all brown people. I dated a white guy 2 years in college who called me a nigger and it was around that time I started making art about racial identity and took a class on latino culture.

When I went home recently, (my extended family is also all white - minus some girlfriends) it dawned on me, that there is no space for me in white culture. When I’ve spent so much of my life trying to insert myself into it. And for what? To always be alienated?

When I was young, I didn’t want to be black. Because from what I learned from TV - black was bad. When I got older, and was honest with myself, this brought me to tears. For awhile I thought well maybe I can’t identify as black or puerto rican because I grew up surrounded by white culture. But then I realized despite where I’ve been and what I thought to be true - I am black. And I am latina. That’s where I belong. And just because I’m pro black and pro latina, doesn’t mean I’m anti-white. Like I said, white people raised me.

But that does make it a little trickier for me - being bi-racial and puerto rican, and coming from a white family.  But I’m figuring it out. And it might never be figured out. But I know I come from love, and I am surrounded by it. And I’ll never deny my blackness ever again. I am black and latina, and I have never been more proud.

Burakumin: Japan's Largest Ethnic Minority

One reason people are unwilling to believe that Japan is a Multiethnic, Multicracial country is that their largest ethnic minority (2-3 million Burakumin) is considered to be “racially” Japanese. But who are the Burakumin, and do they constitute a Race?

According to the Japanese Ministry of Justice, Burakumin: “due to discrimination based on social status structures created during the process of Japan’s historical development, were for a long period forced into conditions of economic, social and cultural disadvantage and suffer even now from obstacles in marriage, unfair treatment in employment, and other forms of discrimination in their daily lives”

Notice that that description could also apply to Blacks in the United States: Social Status Structures (slavery), forced Blacks for a long period into conditions of econonmic, social and cultural disadvantage (again, slavery) and suffer even now from etc etc etc.

Before the Meiji Era (Japan’s period of rapid modernization, beginning in the 1860s), Japan was organized via cast system: You were either a Samurai, a farmer, an artisan, or a merchant. Many people lived outside of the cast system, including, but not limited to, Tanners, Butchers, Morticians, Lepers, Beggars, and Executioners: If you were one of these, you were eta (filth) or henin (a non-person).

With the Meiji Era came a brand new way to divide people: Your kokuseki (national identity document) would list you as a Member of the Imperial Family, a Noble, a Former Samurai, a Commoner, or a “New Commoner”.

These “New Commoners” were more or less all former eta or henin, and eventually were called by the name Burakumin, or “Hamlet People”. Although the American Occupation eventually got rid of these class distinctions, it was still possible to identify if someone was of Burakumin ancesstry, if you could get access to their kokuseki—or if you knew they came from one of the Buraku Hamlets.

There is only one thing that makes Burakumin not a race: they cannot be immediately identified visibly as one. However, throughout the years, people have arugued that Burakumin are actually of Korean decent (Funino, 1994), or have become racially distinct due to a long line of ‘polluted isolation’ (Uesugi, 1990). When the rubber hits the road, whether or not Burakumin are a race depends on what you care about when you define that term. If you care about access to social capital being denied due to heritage, Burakumin are a Race. If you care about the shape of the eyes, the color of the skin, or the ratio of the arm to the torso, they are not.

Sources:

Fujino Yutaka. 1994. Hisabetsu Buraku. Iwanami Koza Nihon Tsushi Vol 18:3 pp133-167 

Uesugi Satoshi. 1990. Tennosei to buraku sabetsu. Tokyo: San'ichi Shobo  

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I am Asian, therefore #IDoLookAsian – and I will let no one tell me otherwise.

I am multi-ethnic, mixed with 6 (possibly 8!) different ethnicities. Each of them are important to my identity and I choose to identify as each and every one. I also, currently, identify the most with Asian and German/Bohemian. When I have to choose one, I choose Asian. I am not “too many things”, I am not a “mutt”.

I am so proud to be Asian. I am so proud to be Filipina.
But I am so tired of people looking at me and playing “Guess The Race”, usually going with Mexican. I’m tired of people literally DENYING the fact that I am Asian right after I say that I am, because “I don’t look Asian”. I’m tired of people digging to find out what “type” of Asian I am, and when I say I’m Filipino, they tell me that Filipinos aren’t Asians and argue with me on it, refusing to believe that we are. Or they laugh and say “See I was right! You are Mexican! Filipinos are the Mexicans of Asia”. (Seriously what is up with this like 6-layers of racism stereotype??)

I can’t explain how much inner turmoil these constant acts have brought me, and continue to. I understand that much of the time, things are said out of ignorance, and lack malicious intent. But continuing to stack brick after brick on the donkey’s back will kill him. It’s even worse when I know for a fact other Asian people don’t see me as Asian either, because I don’t look like the narrow stereotype that has been put upon all of us. They may not say things like I’ve mentioned above, but just the fact that I am outcasted and seen as an outsider is enough to continue to cause me unrest. I am so desperate to fit in and be accepted by my own people.

When will people get it? We are Diverse. We are Beautiful. We are Asian.

I am Asian, therefore #IDoLookAsian, and you will not tell me otherwise.

One time I was told by a middle-eastern-looking dude from California while we were in Austin, TX for SXSW, that I ‘don’t look Australian’. So I made this to show how a typical Australian looks. (And many more inbetween). Happy Australia Day. 

Afro-Mexican youth dancing. Photo by Bobby Vaughn

Last year, a bilingual exhibition, The African Presence in México: Yanga to the Present, was mounted by the Oakland Museum and the DuSable Museumon both sides of the Mexican border - in the US and Mexico itself. It traced how Africans - fewer than 2% of colonial Mexico`s (1521-1810) population - significantly enriched Mexican culture through their art, music, language, cuisine, and dance. The African Presence in México invited Mexican-Americans and African-Americans to look at their identities in light of their shared histories in Mexico and the United States.

The Spanish first brought Africans to Mexico in 1519 to work in the agrarian and silver industries, under often brutal conditions. There were constant slave protests and runaways (cimarrónes) who established settlements in the mountains of Orizaba. In January 1609, Gasper Yanga, a runaway slave elder, led the cimarrónes (or maroons) to a successful resistance against a special army sent by the Spanish Crown to crush their uprising. After several cimarrón victories, the Spanish acquiesced to the slaves` demand for land and freedom. Yanga founded the first free African township in the Americas, San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Veracruz. It was renamed in his honour in the 1930s.

Slavery in Mexico was abolished in 1810 by Jose María Morelos y Pavón, leader of the Mexican War of Independence. As a mulatto (Spanish and African), Morelos was directly affected by Mexico`s prejudices. Racial mixes were seen as undesirable by a society that aspired to purity of race and blood (i.e., Spanish only).

In 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas, the Mexican government officially acknowledged that African culture in the country represented la tercera raiz (the third root) of Mexican culture, with the Spanish and indigenous peoples. But the plight of Afro-Mexicans has not improved much since the recognition of 1992.

As Alexis Okeowo, a black journalist in the Mexican capital, Mexico City, attests, when she visited Yanga, her heart broke. “As I arrived in town,” she reported, “I peered out of my taxi window at the pastel-painted storefronts and the brown-skinned residents walking along the wide streets. `Where are the black Mexicans?` I wondered. A central sign proclaimed Yanga`s role as the first Mexican town to be free from slavery, yet the descendants of these former slaves were nowhere to be found. I would later learn that most live in dilapidated settlements outside of town.”

The next morning when she went searching for the Afro-Mexicans, Okeowo found that though she had grown used to the rarity of black people in Mexico City, it was different at Yanga, where she was not only stared at but also pointed at.

“The stares were cold and unfriendly, and especially unnerving in a town named for an African revolutionary,” Okeowo recalled. “`Mira, una negra,` I heard people whisper to one another. `Look, a black woman.` `Negra! Negra!`, taunted an old man with a shock of white hair under a tan sombrero.

“Surrounded by a group of men, [the old man] gazed at me with a big, toothy grin. He seemed to be waiting for me to come over and talk to him. Shocked, I shot him a dirty look and headed into [a] library`s courtyard.”

Okeowo continued: “The notion of race in Mexico is frustratingly complex. This is a country where many are proud to claim African blood, yet discriminate against their darker countrymen. Black Mexicans complain that such bigotry makes it especially hard for them to find work. Still, I was surprised to feel like such an alien intruder in a town where I had hoped to feel something like familiarity. Afro-Mexicans are among the poorest in the nation. Many are shunted to remote shantytowns, well out of reach of basic public services, such as schools and hospitals.

“Activists for Afro-Mexicans face an uphill battle for government recognition and economic development. They have long petitioned to be counted in Mexico`s national census, alongside the country`s 56 other official ethnic groups, but to little avail. Unofficial records put their number at one million.”

yes i get that the idea of pre-modern Europe being totally what you’d consider ‘white’ by modern standards is false and should be dismantled. i mean we should totally talk about how the Roman Empire was very much a multiethnic civilisation with North African and Middle-Eastern influences and existed with completely different race categories altogether. we should consider how empires we often regard today as non-European like the Islamic caliphates, the Achaemenid Empire (aka Iran) and Ottoman Turkey influenced what we now consider to be ‘Western civilisation’. or consider how Christianity is ultimately a religion of Middle-Eastern origin. we should remember that modern constructs of whiteness are exactly that- modern. they were not perpetual. 

but i can’t completely get on board with the way people often only fixate on US-centric race categories to present Europe as diverse. there are numerous European ethnic minorities who you might consider ‘white’ in the US who have historically faced erasure and genocidal violence at the hands larger and more powerful European countries. diversity in the European context is very much about representing ethnic diversity too. 

by all means, I understand the term POC has some validity if you’re addressing say, a US-based game developer or a US movie studio making a Hollywood movie when they start saying things like ‘premodern europe was all white’. but all the same, the way racism and exclusion has occurred in Europe has very often been about ethnic faultlines. things like antisemitism, a very old European prejudice, just do not fit simply into a white/POC dichotomy. so i can’t help but feel the way the term ‘POC’ gets flung around carelessly in that context is subtle US cultural imperialism, because this is also kind of implicitly predicated on the idea that whiteness as it is understood in the US exists the same way in various European countries.