Sunday, July 26, 2009

No Wonder! (Comments, Anyone?)

My friend brought a little technical difficulty to my attention----for some reason, the comment button wasn't working. Oops! All this time. No wonder nobody's said anything. You want to change that, don't you? It should be working now.

Thanks for reading, folks! Let me know if you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Coming to America, Armenian Style

I started doing some genealogy/family history research a couple of years ago, mostly over the last two summers. I was amazed at what I was able to find online, at least for my mother's side of the family. (I took advantage of's free trial...)

This is the S.S. Majestic, the ship that brought my maternal grandfather's parents & siblings to the United States. My grandfather was the youngest in his family, and was born six months after the family arrived in the United States.

Please see my earlier post, explaining their long journey to the United States. The book I referenced before, Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide, says that their port of departure was Marseilles, France, and that they arrived at Ellis Island on April 16th, 1924.

The Majestic's passenger list shows an arrival date of April 9th, 1924, and shows their departure port as Cherbourg, France.

This is a crop of the Majestic's passenger list, showing:

My great grandfather Krikor Janigian, great grandmother Elmas Janigian née Galolyan, great uncle Aram, great uncle Gorun (sounds like "Go-den"), and great aunt Areka (sounds like "Ah-day-ka").

My Auntie Areka is in her late 90s and still going strong---kicking around in high heels, even! Uncle Aram died before I was born, but Uncle Gorun was around when I was a kid. Every time my sister and cousin and I saw him he'd give us each a crisp new dollar bill---he always made sure his money was brand new. (He was married to my grandmother's sister, my great aunt Margaret. So two brothers, my grandfather and his brother, married two sisters, my grandmother and her sister.)

Elmas' mother Miriam Galolyan was killed in Marash in 1922, a victim of the Armenian Genocide.

Here is the uncropped passenger list.

This is the passenger record entry for Krikor from (it's free!) It shows an arrival date of April 15th, 1924, and lists Cherbourg as the departure port. I don't know the reason for the discrepancies, but I'm looking into it. Also, this shows his ethnicity as Turkish, but should read Armenian. You can see on the Majestic's passenger list (above) that someone crossed out Turkish and wrote in Armenian.

This is the Port of Arrival Manifest from Ellis Island, April 15 1924. Krikor is entry #7, Elmas #8, Aram #9, Gorun #10 and Areka #11. It seems to say that Krikor had a "scar on front." I also thought this was interesting: while the Yugoslavian family recorded above them is listed as having "fair" complexions, my family is listed as having "brown" complexions.

This is my great grandfather Krikor's naturalization card. That's his signature! Boston, 1926. Here you see my great uncle Artin listed---he also went by Harry. He was the oldest child and was still in Marseilles at the time. Also, this shows my grandfather Garabed (now Charles) as being 1 in 1926, but he was born in October of 1924. My mother tells me that Krikor was illiterate, and that most likely somebody had taught him how to sign his name, or helped him write it.

This is my great grandmother Elmas' naturalization card.

At some point the family name was changed from Janigian to Janikian. I think it was just one of those things where somebody at some office somewhere got it wrong in the records and it stuck. Janigian comes from the word Janig, which means "darling." The -ian/-yan ending is a good way to spot an Armenian family name. It just means "son of" and it's the equivalent of the -son in Johnson.

The -t at the end of her name here is also just a typo. The naturalization date of 1961 is much later than my grandfather's, but the birth date is close to what the passenger list shows for her (age 40 in 1924= b. 1884.) She was illiterate, and you can see that she made her mark here. My mother tells me that Elmas had to take her citizenship test through an interpreter~~~and that most likely, the interpreter provided the answers for her.

This is a crop of a 1930 census. It lists Krikor & Almas (Elmas) and their children: Harry (Artin), Aram, Gordon (a typo of Gorun), Arika (Areka) and Garabed (my grandfather!) At this time they were living at 14 Willow Park, Watertown MA.

It also lists Harry (Astur/Azadur) Nargisian, as a boarder in their house. My mother remembers him from when she was a kid. Harry Nargisian was Krikor's best friend and the godfather of all the children. He outlived Krikor. My grandfather says that he was Harry's favorite godchild, and he'd take him on lots of outings. Apparently Harry had had a wife and children back in Marash----all of whom were killed.

Elmas' name is spelled Almas here. My mother's christening name was Almas, after her grandmother, and she later changed her legal name (Andrea) to Almas, as well.

This lists Krikor's occupation as "Storekeeper" in a "Confectionary." My grandfather says that Krikor never had a candy shop, but did run a small convenience-type store in South Boston, amongst other things. Gorun was a barber in a barber shop. Artin is listed as a shoemaker in a shoe store. Aram is listed as doing "outsoles" in a rubber shop. Areka is listed as being a "cementer" in the rubber shop. The boarder, Harry is listed as being a "cutter" in the rubber shop. My mother tells me that a lot of Armenians in Watertown worked at the rubber factory, Hood Rubber.

The census lists everyone's US arrival dates:

Krikor first came in 1912---he had to flee early, as you can see in my prior post. He had expected to be able to send for the rest of the family soon after, and was sending them money. But he lost track of them when they themselves had to flee.

Eventually they found each other----Krikor was playing backgammon with some other Armenians in Watertown, and a man came and said he'd heard of a lady stranded in Port Said in Egypt with her children, whose husband was missing. Krikor asked the name---it was Janigian! Krikor had had the Red Cross looking for them, and when he gave the Red Cross the new information, the family was reunited. Krikor sent them tickets to get to Marseilles, and then traveled to Marseille to meet them.

Elmas, Aram & Areka first came in 1924. (Krikor accompanied them back.) Artin first came in 1928. Harry Nargisian also came in 1924.

Here is the uncropped census.


I was able to find some records for my maternal grandmother's family, as well.

Their story is interesting, too, but different. My grandmother's father Caspar Jookjookian came to the U.S. as an immigrant, rather than a refugee---the census below shows that he came in 1904, well before the Armenian Genocide.

The family name, Jookjookian, became Jojokian at some point. (Probably also through some bureaucratic mistake.) My grandmother says that the name comes for the Armenian word for "rich."

This is Caspar's draft registration card. It's hard to read, but it's dated 1918. You can see his signature at the bottom left! It lists his occupation as "Shoe cobbler," and lists his birth date as Nov. 15, 1884. My great grandmother Takuhi (Takouhi) is listed here as his wife.

Takouhi has a really interesting story. We don't know for sure what her maiden name was. (My grandmother thinks the name might have been either Vartanian or Shahinian.) She was an orphan. Her grandparents were taking care of her and her sister when they were very little, but they became too old to take care of them, and the girls went to an orphanage. Takouhi grew up in an American Armenian Congregational orphanage in Marash---so while my grandfather's family were all Armenian Orthodox, and my grandmother's father Caspar was Armenian Orthodox, Takouhi was Protestant. (Takouhi's sister grew up in a different orphanage, across the street. They played together.) Takouhi converted when she married Caspar, but went back to attending Congregational services after his death.

So here's what happened: Caspar wanted an Armenian wife, and (the story goes) he wanted a wife who didn't have a lot of family who he'd have to help bring over. So he asked his mother to go back to Marash and find him a wife from one of the orphanages. He told his mother he'd like a wife with green eyes.

Takouhi had green eyes, and the rest is history. Caspar's mother brought her back to the U.S. to marry Caspar. The census below shows that she came to the U.S. in 1913.

Takouhi lost track of her sister when she came to the U.S., but they managed to find each other later on in life. The sister had ended up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My great aunt Margaret went to visit them, many years ago.

Caspar died when my grandmother Laura was only 5 (her sister Margaret was 15.) With Caspar's death, my grandmother's family was thrown into abject poverty. They had to go on government assistance. Takouhi started cleaning houses, took in ironing work, and worked in a factory at times. My grandmother has told me stories about wearing dresses sewn out of flour sacks, and about how each member of the family got a banana once a week as their very special treat. But in the end Takouhi worked hard and was able to provide for her children, who went on to lead successful lives.

This is a crop of a 1930 census showing Caspar & Takoohi (Takouhi) and their children: Margaret, Aram (my grandfather & grandmother each had a brother named Aram), George and "Flora." That's a typo of Laura---my grandmother's name! There was one more child in the family, Robert, but he wasn't born yet here. Aram & George have passed away.

The census shows that Takouhi was 35 in 1930, so she was 18 when she came to the U.S. in 1913. That means she was born ~1895. Caspar was 45 in 1930, and his draft card shows his birth date as 1884.

Here is the uncropped census.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Racism is Alive & Kicking (And Apparently Shameless) in Philadelphia

I should be packing but I can't even think. WHAT. THE. F$!#.

Hearing about these kids getting kicked out of that pool makes me want to punch something. Philly needs to f-ing shut Valley Swim Club down.

I feel like my brain is broken. I want to punch something. This needs major coverage NOW.

, #valleyswimclub

RT @harrislacewell: You can email outrage about #racistpool to

@elonjames : #TWiB! "Philly's Vally Swim Club Doesn't Care about Black People" -

RT @cinnamn RT @AllAboutRace: 60 black child daycampers kicked out of Philly pool b/c "they might change complexion of club"

RT @AllAboutRace: Campers have new pool & Arlen Specter investigates discrimination claim. #racistpool #racematters

RT @elonjames RT @karsh: You see this? I'm glad the kids have a place to swim now, but Valley Swim Club is well exposed.

~~Here's the email I just sent to John Duesler at the Valley Swim Club. I wish I could have been more eloquent, but I'm still rattled. I think I made my point, at least. Please send one yourself.

subject: Racism is UNACCEPTABLE

To John Duesler at the Valley Swim Club---
I am shocked and appalled by your despicably racist (and utterly heartless) decision to throw those kids out of the pool and force the daycamp to take a refund. It's completely inexcusable. I hope you realize that your actions and the statement you gave were shamelessly racist. I hope to see national media coverage of this disgusting incident in the near future, and I hope to hear that you've lost your job because of it. I hope Valley Swim Club gets sued for discrimination.

Racism is UNACCEPTABLE. I'm just totally outraged. I hope you learn something from all of this.

From NBC Philadelphia

Dymire Baylor says he overheard a woman ask, "What are all these black kids doing?" when he and his freinds showed up.
Dymire Baylor says he overheard a woman ask, "What are all these black kids doing?" when he and his friends showed up.

Pool Boots Kids Who Might "Change the Complexion"

Campers sent packing after first visit to swim club


Updated 3:01 PM EDT, Wed, Jul 8, 2009

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

"I heard this lady, she was like, 'Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?' She's like, 'I'm scared they might do something to my child,'" said camper Dymire Baylor.

The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club. The Valley Swim Club is a private club that advertises open membership. But the campers' first visit to the pool suggested otherwise.

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

The next day the club told the camp director that the camp's membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded.

"I said, 'The parents don't want the refund. They want a place for their children to swim,'" camp director Aetha Wright said.

Campers remain unsure why they're no longer welcome.

"They just kicked us out. And we were about to go. Had our swim things and everything," said camper Simer Burwell.

The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded.

"There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club," John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

While the parents await an apology, the camp is scrambling to find a new place for the kids to beat the summer heat.

UPDATE: But the kids will get to swim, thank goodness:

Campers "Complexion" No Problem for New Pool

U.S. Senator looking into accusations of racism


Updated 10:06 PM EDT, Wed, Jul 8, 2009. NBC Philadelphia

For kids in the summertime, there's nothing better than jumping full-speed into a pool to cool off. [...]

They just wanna swim.

So the staff at Girard College, a private Philadelphia boarding school for children who live in low-income and single parent homes, stepped in and offered their pool.

"We had to help," said Girard College director of Admissions Tamara Leclair. "Every child deserves an incredible summer camp experience."

The school already serves 500 campers of its own, but felt they could squeeze in 65 more – especially since the pool is vacant on the day the Creative Steps had originally planned to swim.

"I'm so excited," camp director Alethea Wright exclaimed. There are still a few logistical nuisances like insurance the organizations have to work out, but it seems the campers will not stay dry for long.

The banning has caused so much controversy that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) plans to launch an investigation into the discrimination claim.

"The allegations against the swim club as they are reported are extremely disturbing," Specter said in a statement. "I am reaching out to the parties involved to ascertain the facts. Racial discrimination has no place in America today."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Somali Independence Day: July 1, 1960

Really interesting old footage. (But watch who you're calling primitive there, Mr. 60s Announcer Guy.)

My dad would've been 10 in 1960. He's fluent in Italian. Makes me sad to see everyone celebrating back then, and then have to think about what's going on now. Here's to hoping things will get better someday.

An article about a Somali Independence Day celebration in Minneapolis, my soon-to-be-new-home.

Somali Independence Day Marked In Minneapolis
(AP) ―
Jun 27, 2009 5:55 pm US/Central

The Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis is celebrating Somali Independence Day.

July 1 is the 49th anniversary of the day in 1960 when Somalia achieved independence from Italy. The Somali holiday will be marked Saturday at Midtown Global Market's Safari Express restaurant, which will hold cooking demonstrations, historical presentations, live traditional music and a fashion show.

Minnesota has the largest population of Somali immigrants in the United States, with nearly 35,000 Somali residents. Midtown Global Market is located at the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. The event is free and open to the public.

In March 2008, the Bush administration granted Somalis living in the United States under temporary protected status an extra 18 months in this country, as Somalia continues to be ravaged by violence and anarchy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Young in Mogadishu, c. 1966

My father, age ~16 (bottom left.)

Crazy 60s photo-paint. Check out the forehead twirl and sideburns.

Smoking is bad---I think he started ~age 12! I'm just about quit (again) myself. But I can't say I don't love this picture---the shades, the shades.

This is my favorite.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

MEMORY FRAGMENTS FROM THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE, by Margaret DiCanio (My maternal family history)

My Armenian grandparents' parents & siblings fled their homes in Marash (in what is now Turkey) following the onset of the Armenian Genocide under the Ottoman Turks.

From the Wikipedia entry:

The Armenian Genocide (Armenian: Հայոց Ցեղասպանություն, translit.: Hayoc’ C’eġaspanowt’yowt’; Turkish: Ermeni Soykırımı), also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, by Armenians, as the Great Calamity (Մեծ Եղեռն, Meç Eġeṙt’, Armenian pronunciation: [Mɛtsʼ jɛʁɛrn]), refers to the deliberate and systematic destruction (genocide) of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I.[1] It was characterised by the use of massacres, and the use of deportations involving forced marches under conditions designed to lead to the death of the deportees, with the total number of Armenian deaths generally held to have been between one and one-and-a-half million.[2] Other ethnic groups were similarly attacked by the Empire during this period, including Assyrians and Greeks, and some scholars consider those events to be part of the same policy of extermination.[3]

It is widely acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides,[4][5][6] as many Western sources point to the systematic, organized manner the killings were carried out to eliminate the Armenians.[7]

The date of the onset of the genocide is conventionally held to be April 24, 1915, the day that Ottoman authorities arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. Thereafter, the Ottoman military uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, depriving them of food and water, to the desert of what is now Syria. Massacres were indiscriminate of age or gender, with rape and other sexual abuse commonplace. The Armenian Genocide is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust.[8]

The Republic of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, does not accept the word genocide as an accurate description of the events.[9] In recent years, it has faced repeated calls to accept the events as genocide. To date, twenty-one countries have officially recognized the events of the period as genocide, and most genocide scholars and historians accept this view.[10][11][12][13] The majority of Armenian diaspora communities were founded as a result of the Armenian genocide.


Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide:
A Mosaic of a Shared Heritage
By Margaret DiCanio

* This book is available for limited previewing through Google Books. I'm assuming that I'm not violating any copyrights by providing these screenshot excerpts here, as the material is available for online public viewing, and all credits are provided. If I'm wrong, please do let me know. Please see the link above to go directly to the preview. All the commentary here is my own and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of the book's author. I use this: ~~~ to separate screenshots from my own comments, etc. All book excerpts are ⓒ Margaret DiCanio 2002.

Find this book on Goodreads, here:
Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide: A Mosaic of a Shared Heritage
Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide: A Mosaic of a Shared Heritage
Pages 124-131 : Leon Janikian
(my Uncle Leon---my mother's brother & only sibling)

  • Charles Janikian (born Garabed) is my Grampa!
  • My Armenian fam lives in Watertown, Massachusetts.
  • Marash is the name of the city/region (in what is now south-central Turkey) where my family hails from. People from Marash are called Marashtsis.
This is a picture of the city of Marash today (it is now officially known as Kahraman-Marash.) See the entry at Armeniapedia.

Here's Marash on a map. The region is in red, the city is the dot. (From Wikipedia's entry on Marash. You'll notice that this entry and Armeniapedia's take different angles...)


  • Aaron: My only maternal first cousin, he's like my brother.
  • Krikor Janikian/Janigian: My paternal great grandfather (my Grampa's father.)

  • Miriam Galolyan: My Grampa's mother was Elmas Galolyan. Miriam must have been her mother.
  • My Great Aunt Areka (my Grampa's only surviving sibling) was the youngest in the family at the time of their arrival in the US, just a little girl. I've seen her tattoo.
[ 129 is not part of the online preview]



Friday, June 5, 2009

Hello, World!

What's an Armali?

To start with, I'm half Somali and half Armenian. I could go with Somenian, but I think Armali sounds nicer, right?

That means I'm half black and half white---like a certain president we know, I have a black African father and a white (ish?) American mother.

oh THAT's healthy!

My mother is a second generation Armenian American (or third generation, depending on how you count it---her grandparents all came to the US from Armenian villages in Turkey around the 1920s.) My father is Somali. He was born and raised in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and first immigrated to the US as a young man. My parents met in Boston, Massachusetts. I have a younger sister and brother by the same parents.

But that's not all!
(Ha, I feel like a game show.)

My mother's first husband was Ghanaian, and I have two sisters by that marriage. So they're half Ghanaian and half Armenian. Their father's second wife is Tanzanian, and my sisters have a brother (my step-half brother?) by that marriage, who's half Tanzanian and half Ghanaian.

My father's second wife was European American, and I have one sister by that marriage. So she's half European American and half Somali.

My stepdad, my mom's husband now, is African American, and I have two stepbrothers (by his first marriage) who are African American on both sides.

My stepmom, my father's wife now, is Somali, and I have a whole lotta siblings who are Somali on both sides.

My mother has only one sibling, my uncle. My aunt-by-marriage is Jewish American, and my only maternal first cousin (he's like my brother) is half Jewish and half Armenian.

My name is Arabic, and I minored in Arabic in college, but English is my only native language. My parents never taught us Somali or Armenian---I really, really want to learn, someday.

I was raised Muslim---I think of myself as agnostic now, just FYI. My mother's family are
(at least nominally) Armenian Orthodox Christian, and since my aunt is Jewish, we kids got to celebrate all kinds of holidays, when we were growing up : )

I have family in Boston, New York, Arizona, Virginia, London, Kenya and who knows where else!

Okay, I know I'm forgetting something...

Let's Try This Again

So----I think I've figured out why I haven't been posting here! It's just too overwhelming. When I started doing research for this blog, I thought this was going to be a list/journal/mishmash of all sorts of mixed/multiracial resources, my thoughts & analysis etc. But there are SO many great sites/organizations out there already doing that, on a much larger level than I could ever manage. (And with such wonderful depth and dedication! Please see the links at the sidebar.)

I'm going to start over, and make this a personal blog about my own particular mixed experience. I think that will leave me feeling less like this is a chore, and more like it's just a fun place to talk about issues (and people! or should i say people and issues) that are important to me. So look out for that, if you're interested.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Navigating New Definitions of a Multiracial Identity," by Richard Rodriguez

"Navigating New Definitions of a Multiracial Identity," by Richard Rodriguez

From PBS Online NewsHour, 12/11/08:

Essayist Richard Rodriguez reflects on how Americans view multiracial and multicultural identities in the wake of Barack Obama's election to the presidency.

Here's a link, you can read the transcript and/or download the audio (audio/video?) at their site.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Living Outside of the Boxes

Here's a little piece I wrote for an anthropology class called "Writing Culture," during the Spring 2008 semester.


Living Outside of the Boxes

On “Rethinking Race: Examining the Multiracial Experience”
A Guest Lecture and Discussion with Dr. Kelly Jackson
Sponsored by the University of Arizona Social Justice Leadership Center

Growing up, when I was in middle school and high school we didn’t have the option of checking more than one box. And in that town and in that, you know, place where I grew up, if you were black you were black. You know, ‘one drop, you’re black.’ So, I identified as black. That’s how I identified, that’s what I checked on forms. Um, and that was who I was. And then in college, kind of understanding this idea of you can be alll different pieces of yourself, and not wanting to—reject that part of me that was my mom’s side, which was the white side, I identified as biracial. And that wasn’t really cool then.
-Dr. Kelly Jackson

Dr. Kelly Jackson is a visiting speaker from the ASU School of Social Work. She stands in the center of the Kiva Room at the UA Student Union, slim and stylish in a red pencil skirt and pointed green flats. There is an air of friendly self-assurance about her, in the way she holds her shoulders straight back but doesn’t refrain from leaning into one hip at times, and in the readiness of her smile. She speaks in conversational, yet passionate tones—a vibrant young professional. Her hair falls just above her collarbone, in tight ringlets much like my own, except hers are a lighter brown. Her eyes might be blue or green or hazel, it’s hard to tell from where I’m sitting, two rows back in the center of the semicircular audience area. For her dissertation, she “asked multiracial people about their identity,” using the question “Who are you culturally?” Asking about culture, she felt, “encapsulates more” than focusing on categories like race, and allows for more “fluid” responses.

She begins her talk by going over five basic thematic areas that her respondents seemed to veer towards: “Transforming self,” being “ethnically ambiguous,” being “racially defiant,” “feeling like an outsider,” and “seeking community.” She discusses the way that people tend to want to “box” each other, and the often unpleasant What are you? question.

“As I’ve gotten older,” she says, “I joke that I’ve gotten whiter—looking. [Scattered laughs break out across the room] People, you know, they don’t understand, they’re like, ‘Oh, why are you interested in this topic?’ and I say ‘Well, I’m biracial,’ and they’re like ‘Really? I can’t believe it!’”

Heavy chuckling ensues. I identify with what she is saying. There are about twenty of us in the audience, maybe less, there appear to be a few more women than men. We seem like a relatively ethnically diverse group, more so than is often usual in a classroom at the U of A. As a person of biracial/ethnic/cultural heritage myself (my father is Somali and my mother is Armenian—according to the conventional US racial binary, he is black and she is white), I’m never quite comfortable with applying racial labels to other people.

So here, of all places, I prefer to refrain from “boxing” people into racial categories based on their physical features. I wait for people to speak for themselves. During the discussion session, audience members begin to self-identify: black/African American, white/Caucasian, black and white, Korean and white, Native American and black, white mother of biracial children, white and transgender/gender ambiguous, and more. At one point Dr. Jackson suggests that multiracial/ethnic/cultural people and people who identify as GLBTQ often seem to relate to each other, as somehow ‘falling outside of the boxes’ drawn by US society. Many of us start to nod our heads, perhaps sensing a commonality there—a “shared experience,” as one audience member will put it.

She recalls a college experience that many audience members seem to sympathize (and/or empathize) with:

I took this class I remember, with a prominent African American lecturer, and he was trying to make a point about race relations, and he said, "I want all my white students to go on this side of the room, and I want all my black students to go on this side." [...] I raised my hand and I said, “What if you’re both?” And he looked at me, with so much disdain, that I will never forget, he looked at me like I was, you know, pretty much an abomination, and said "Choose."

In the audience, some of us gasp, others shake their heads with mouths open, or lean back in their seats and sigh, eyebrows knotted. Audience members start talking about their own experiences. This pressure to “choose” one category to identify with seems to be a common, as does the urge to defy that pressure and define oneself on one’s own terms. Some people want all of the parts of their heritage to be recognized and feel left out when this doesn’t happen because of the way they look, some talk about fears regarding loss of identity for their children unless they marry someone of the/a minority part of their heritage, others argue that such fears are unfounded. Many people just keep echoing this sentiment: “I just want to be around people who get it.” And, Dr. Jackson asks, “Don’t we all just want that?”

“Even though race isn’t real, we experience race,” Dr Jackson says, and heads nod. That, she argues, is why the idea of “color-blindness” can be dangerous—when it’s used to deny the existence of racial inequality and injustice in our society.

Dr. Jackson reads a poem by a 14 year-old boy, including the line, “race is just a very small part of me,” and tears fill my own eyes. When I look around I see a few other people sniffling, too. Dr. Jackson’s voice breaks before she’s finished reading it.

“It gets blurry for me,” she says. “In a sense, guys, we’re all really multiracial.” Audience members talk excitedly about the idea of our generation becoming increasingly “mixed,” at the idea that we might be the “rainbow generation.” In a way, a sense of community seems to have been built right here in this room, over the course of this discussion. People respond to one another with encouraging tones, nodding heads, open eyes. In discussing a shared experience of alienation, a feeling of connection seems to have been reached.

But “Change will only happen if everyone gets onboard,” Dr. Jackson adds.

“So, you know, we all need to have this conversation, not just if you can identify with a minority culture.”

When it’s time to go, everyone in the room starts clapping.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


"D.S.W.G. (Dark Skinned White Girls)"

From Murray's Revenge,
album by Murs & producer 9th Wonder

[Verse 1:]

She got that mocha-chino baby on the back of the bus
If you close your eyes and listen she would be one of us

Never did trust her family at home
So she kicked it in the hood, raised herself on her own

She talk with that tone, but she white to the bone
You would swear she was black if you spoke on the phone

Some say it's overblown, but she don't give a damn
All the black girls think that she want they man

But it's not your fault that they attracted to you
That you blessed and got as much back as you do

Some white boys say that you're way too thick
And some brothers might say, you're the number one pick

You say [psh], "Girrrl," roll your eyes, twist your neck
But it comes from the soul, you don't mean no disrespect

And even when they check you, you just keep it moving
Cuz in your heart you feel you ain't got nothing to be proving


[Chorus x2:]

Whether chocolate or vanilla, or you're somewhere in between
A cappuccino, mocha or a caramel queen

Rejected by the black, not accepted by the white world
And this is dedicated to them dark skinned white girls


[Verse 2:]

Now she like The Smiths, The Cure, really into Morrisey
Heavy on the rock, never fooled with the Jodeci

You would notice she was never really welcomed by the others
Hard to find a date when there was only ten brothers
In the whole damn school, and they thought she was weird
Cuz she wore her hair different, and she never joined cheer

A melancholy dolly with a Polly-wanna syndrome
White stepfather, black daddy never been home

And when on the quad she could hear 'em say
"Look at how she walks, why she talk that way?"

But girl it's okay, your black is beautiful
No matter how you dress, or no matter what music you like

Forget what they say, you're doing it right
No more grabbing on your pillow as you cry through the night

Stand strong, hold your ground at any cost
and know that everyone who tries to put you down is lost

[Chorus x2]

[Verse 3:]

Now for you half-and-half and mixed girls,
I know what the battle be

Every time you go out, it's "What's your nationality?"

Everybody always wanna dig up in your background---
"You don't look _____," now how does that sound?

"I couldn't tell you were _____." (Tell you were...)
Oh, is that right?
Do you take it as a compliment or start up a fight?

Venezuelan and Indian, 'Rican and Dominican
Japanese or Portuguese, quarter a' Brazilian and
White and Korean, Black and Pinay
I could find out later it don't matter you're fly

It really don't make a difference to most of us guys
We just need an excuse to get close and say hi

I know they call you stuck up, say you think you're too pretty
Spreading rumors about you, all throughout the city

So much attention, so many haters
But don't be bitter, you'll be better for it later and...

[Chorus x2]

lyrics from
(punctuation modified/errors corrected here)


Here's the song:

This next one is live, but doesn't include the third verse about being mixed.

: skip ahead to 20 seconds if you want to avoid some iffy language at the beginning.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


What is a "social construct?"

Here is a brief introduction, excerpted from "Race As a Social Construct," an article at, a site by Kambiz Kamrani.

Often times the word social construct is thrown around in various theoretical and general works without ever being defined or discussed. However, understanding what is meant by race as a social construct is vital to understanding the capacity race has to intersect and affect other aspects and domains of life and society, as well as how to dismantle it.

To begin, a social construct is ontologically subjective, but epistemologically objective. It is ontologically subjective in that the construction and continued existence of social constructs are contingent on social groups and their collective agreement, imposition, and acceptance of such constructions (for more on the notion of social constructions see The Construction of Social Reality by John Searle). There is nothing absolute or real about social constructions in the same way as there is something absolute and real about rocks, rivers, mountains, and in general the objects examined by physics. For example, the existence of a mountain is not contingent on collective acceptance, imposition, or agreement. A mountain will exist regardless of people thinking, agreeing or accepting that it does exist. Unlike a mountain, the existence of race requires that people collectively agree and accept that it does exist. Franz Boas, a physicist by training, supports this view of race best in his work Race, Language, and Culture where he observes that there is nothing biologically real about race. There is nothing that we have identified as race that exists apart from our collective agreement, acceptance, and imposition of its existence.

Race, although it does not exist in the world in any ontologically objective way, it still is real in society (as opposed to nature). Race is a social construction that has real consequences and effects. These effects, consequences and the notion that race is ontologically subjective is epistemologically objective. We know that race is something that is real in society, and that it shapes the way we see ourselves and others. Many rightly claim that race is conceptually unstable. However, this should not lead us to skepticism about race, i.e. that we cannot have any objective knowledge about race. We can know what race is and how it works regardless of the various shifts in meaning that have occurred through history and occur geographically.


50 Experiences of Racially Mixed People

by Maria P.P. Root, PhD

The 50 questions or comments and experiences evolved from a questionnaire I developed for a study on biracial siblings I conducted from 1996 to 1997. These questions and comments provide an introduction to the way in which race consciousness is brought up directly, sideways, and from all sides for people of mixed heritage. These comments and questions, though not an exhaustive list, provide a window into how this country internalizes assumption about race, belonging, and identity. They socialize the mixed race person to understand as well as question race American style. It is a monoracial system; one race per person. Not everyone experiences these questions or comments the similarly. One person might enjoy being asked, “What are you?” whereas their sibling might dread and resent the question. This list provides a launching point for sharing, discussing, laughing, debriefing, and educating.

1. You have been told, “You have to choose; you can’t be both.”

2. Your ethnicity was mistakenly identified.

3. People assumed your race to be different by phone than in person.

4. You are accused of not acting or wanting to be Latino, Asian, Black…

5. You have been told, “Mixed race people are so beautiful or handsome.”

6. Strangers looked between you and your parent(s) to figure out if you were related.

7. You have been told, “You don’t look Native, Black, Latino…”

8. You have been asked, “What are you?”

9. People say things they might not otherwise say if they knew how you identified racially.

10. You have been asked, “Where are you from?”

11. You have repeatedly been the recipient of stares or longer than passing glances from strangers.

12. You have been told, “You look exotic.”

13. Your choice of friends has been interpreted as your “selling out” or not being authentic.

14. You have been accused of “acting or wanting to be white.”

15. Judgments of your racial authenticity have been based upon your boyfriend/s or girlfriend’s (partner’s) race.

16. Comments are made about your hair or hairstyle, skin color, eye shape etc.

17. You have been subjected to jokes about mixed race people.

18. You have been told, “You think you’re too good for your own kind.”

19. Grandparent(s) or relatives don’t accept you because of your parents’ interracial relationship.

20. Your parents or relatives compete to “claim” you for their own racial or ethnic group.

21. You have been told, “You have the best of both worlds.”

22. You have been asked about your racial or ethnic heritage as an object of curiosity.

23. Upon meeting you, people seem confused by your last name. They do not think it “matches” you.

24. People assume you are confused about your racial identity or have had a hard time figuring it out.

25. People speak to you in foreign languages because of how they interpret your physical appearance.

26. You have been told, “Society doesn’t recognize mixed race.”

27. You have been told, “You aren’t really Black, Latino, Asian…”

28. You have been mistaken for another person of mixed heritage who does not resemble you.

29. You have been told you must be full of self-loathing or hatred because of how you racially identify yourself.

30. You have been told, “You are a mistake.”

31. Different people perceive your race differently based upon the company you keep.

32. The race people assign you varies in different parts of the U.S.A.

33. You have difficulty filling out forms asking for a single race.

34. You identify your race differently than others identify you.

35. You are told, “You aren’t like other Indians, Asians, Latinos…”

36. Your siblings identify their race differently than you do yours.

37. You have been called racial slurs of groups with which you do not share heritage.

38. Friends suggest that you date someone based upon the race or ethnicity with which they think you should identify.

39. Your parents identify your race differently than you identify.

40. You are told, “You aren’t Black, Latino, Asian…enough”

41. Your mother was assumed to be your nanny or babysitter.

42. A stranger assumes that your father is your “older boyfriend” or your mother is the “older woman.”

43. You were treated differently by relatives or your parents than a sibling on the basis of racial features.

44. You were well liked by peers but were not asked for dates.

45. You wish you were darker and try to get as much sun as possible.

46. People assume your father was in the military.

47. You have enrolled in Spanish language classes in order to develop the ability to say “Yes” to the question, “Do you speak the language?” and remove one of the blocks to authenticity.

48. Your otherwise friends become more distant when they think associating with you will make their racial authenticity or popularity questionable.

49. You have been knowingly approached and asked, “Your mother’s white (black, Asian), huh?”

50. You have tried to hide one or both parents from view of people who know you but are not your closest friends because you anticipate they will treat you differently.

© 1996, Maria P. P. Root, Ph.D. Racial Experiences Questionnaire and 2003 In The Multiracial Child Resource Book. Seattle, WA: Mavin Foundation.


Multiracial Oath of Social Responsibility

by Maria P.P. Root, PhD

I want to make a difference in this world. Therefore:

I strive to improve race relations.

I know that race and ethnicity are not solely defined by one’s genetic heritage;
I refuse to confine my choices in love or loyalty to a single race;
I make efforts to increase my knowledge of U.S. racial history;
I know that race and ethnicity can be used as political, economic, and social tools of

I recognize the people who have made it possible for me to affirm my multiracial identity.

They are my relatives, friends, and mentors;
They are people who have crossed color lines to fight discrimination;
They are people who identified as multiracial before this choice was recognized;
They are people who have exposed and explained the suppression of multiraciality.

I must fight all forms of oppression as the oppression of one is the oppression of all.

I recognize that oppression thrives on fear and ignorance;
I seek to recognize my prejudices and change them;
I know that it is neither helpful nor productive to argue over who is more oppressed;
I recognize that my life interconnects with all other lives.

I will make a difference!

© 2004, Maria P. P. Root


Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage

Maria P.P. Root, PhD


Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with
my physical or ethnic ambiguity.


To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.


To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multiethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime--and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD, 1993, 1994

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Work in Progress

I'm excited about this idea!
But I got a job, and trying to get used to the hours is eating up my brain at the moment. I promise there will be something here someday.