Thursday, March 5, 2009

Celebrating Mixed Race

A few weeks ago, as I was teaching East of Eden, I ended up explaining why one of the characters, a Chinese American man who goes by the name "Lee" never married. And one of the things I contextualized for my students was in the time of the novel, the first two decades of the 20th Century, Lee's marriage choices would have been severely curtailed because of two legal restrictions: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively barred Chinese immigration to the U.S., and anti-miscegenation (anti-inter-racial marriage laws), which effectively prevented Chinese men from marrying outside of their ethnic group.

My students had not heard the word miscegenation, so I had to explain what that meant, and then began the line of questioning: which states had these laws and when were they repealed. They seemed genuinely surprised when I told them that Loving v. Virginia finally abolished all such laws in the nation in 1967, and I reminded them that just because it was now legal for two people of two different races to marry, that it wasn't socially acceptable among some communities and families. For example in Alabama and Mississippi, there are some high schools that have two proms, a white prom and a black prom (and a few years ago a High School principal made national news for barring an inter-racial couple from attending one of these proms--although I can't remember whether it was the white or black prom they were barred from).

And I mention all this because my students were just shocked and surprised. I suppose some could say that they are naive. But at 18 and 19, what college student isn't? My own spin is that they have grown up in a world where they take certain things for granted, and inter-racial relationships seems to be one of these things that they just don't think about (or at least didn't seem to bat an eye at in class).

And it's times like these that I wish I lived in California--and I'm not trying to wax rhapsodic about my former home, only that the opportunities to learn about and celebrate and discuss mixed-race issues seem to be more prevalent in this state than in any others I've lived in (maybe with the exception of NYC, but NYC has EVERYTHING, right?--I'm throwing that out there for all my NYC friends who think it's the center of the universe).

Anyway, this is where I put in my plug for the SECOND MIXED-ROOTS FILM AND LITERARY FESTIVAL in Los Angeles (click here for the link). The festival is taking place June 12-13, 2009 at the Japanese American National Museum. I was invited to participate, but unfortunately I'm committed to going to another conference. But I'm *hoping* to make it there next summer for the third festival. Because from what I've heard and read about this group, a third (and fourth, and tenth, and thirtieth) festival is much needed and much desired.

Finally, let me close with a YouTube Clip of Kip Fulbeck, the recipient of the Loving prize at last year's festival. This is a series of 3 different media clips put together about Fulbeck and his work--it's about 10 minutes long, but it's worth watching, especially the last two minutes where Fulbeck does his spoken word piece "Speaking Up."


kat said...

I came across this blog recently, and have had an interesting time reading it. Thanks!

I live in California, where, among other things, I work in a French immersion preschool. Interestingly (and wonderfully), my class has no fewer than 5 mixed-race children.

Considering how recently in history their parents' marriages were illegal, it's pretty awesome, I think.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this message and the video! It was wonderful. I don't have anything profound to add but I thought I'd post a thank you since you requested comments.

Jennifer said...

Kat & Ahimsa9999,
Thanks for your comments and appreciations--and for being supporters of a mixed race America!

Bridgett said...

I don't think I was as ever angry at a movie I actually completed as I was at the adaptation of East of Eden and the total disappearance of Lee, who was my favorite character by a country mile.

I personally hadn't thought about his social circumstances until now, though; thanks for putting a light on it.

Jennifer said...

I KNOW exactly what you mean! I was shocked when I saw the James Dean version (I actually saw the miniseries on TV--the one in the early 80s with Jane Seymour--which was a pretty faithful adaptation and it introduced me to the book before I ever read it).

One of the paper options for my students is to consider the absence of Lee from this film version--which, for me, means that the whole soul of the story is removed.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!