Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Introducing the tumblr "Amy & Shaun" (a mixed-race love story)

A few weeks ago I received a lovely email message from Shaun, the creative talent behind the tumblr "Amy & Shaun."  He sent me a link to his tumblr, along with this description:
The pictures are not making any overt political or social commentary, but I think they send a very strong, positive message about the viability of mixed race couples, a love of oneself, and that love for oneself in the state in which we were made (without the need for processed hair and etc.), and, to some extent, a message about strong women and what they can do in this world.
Here's one of the pictures -- I particularly like it for its cheekiness!

I loved scrolling through the tumblr and seeing all these whimsical images of Amy & Shaun--especially the ones incorporating Shaun's background with Asian art (there are a few that look like he has plopped his characters in the middle of a Chinese painting).

So I decided to ask Shaun if he'd be willing to be "interviewed" by me -- a first for Mixed Race America.  I'll probably have to work on my interview questions, but I really appreciated the chance to chat more with Shaun about the inspiration for his art and his thoughts about inter-racial relationships.  Please do check out the tumblr "Amy & Shaun."

MRA:  What was your inspiration for the tumblr "Amy and Shaun"?  And where do you derive inspiration for your individual art pieces?

A&S:  Originally, these pictures were only ever meant to be a way for me to reach out to my love every morning to let her know just how much I love her, to remind her that her Shaun loves his Amy very very much.  I was going through a difficult time dealing with some personal things a year and a half or so ago, and Amy started sending me a picture each morning to help keep my spirits up.  After she'd sent a hundred of them, I decided that it was my turn to take over.  And I've never stopped.  I've drawn a picture every day for Amy ever since, and I don't have any plans to stop at this point.  Inspiration for each picture can come from all sorts of different places, but mostly from the fun of living my life with Amy.  If we go on a hike together, the next day I might draw a picture of us hiking.  If we see a beautiful sunset together, I might draw that same scene we had shared and draw us in it together.  Some times I'll see certain colors or patterns as I walk through my day, and they'll set off a chain reaction in my mind, imagining a picture around that color or idea.  It's really just daily whimsy, I guess I would have to say.

MRA:  Do you have a favorite art piece?

A&S:  Wow, choosing favorites from among our pictures is really really hard.  I usually really love whatever I've just drawn.  Until the next picture comes along, and then it becomes my favorite.  But I particularly like any of them in which I feel like I've done a particularly good job of making Amy look really really cute.  Because she is!  

Of our more recent pictures, I do love this one of us dancing cheek to cheek on the ballroom dance floor:

MRA:  Any plans to add text or to create narratives/stories that will accompany the pictures?

A&S:  I don't think so.  I really try to have the picture itself tell the whole story, or just convey a certain mood or feeling.  I do often add captions though.  But I probably won't ever do more than that.  I've been thinking about trying a few pictures that include multiple panels, like a comic strip.  That might allow for a bit more of a narrative if I ultimately do decide to try that.  To the extent that the pictures do convey messages about interracial couples or strong women of color, I definitely do not want to be heavy handed about that.  I don't think it's necessary and I don't think it would feel genuine if I tried to consciously do that.
MRA:  When/where/how did you and Amy meet?

A&S:  My life changed forever when Amy became a part of it.  I was sleep walking through a black and white landscape until Amy took my hand.   She came to me as a sweet, quiet song in the dark, gently waking me with a kiss.  And when she did, and my eyes opened, my world had grown so bright I was nearly blinded by it, with all the colors of life's palette flowing all around me.   
MRA:  What has been one of the most surprising things (in either a good or not so good way) that you've encountered in being an inter-racial couple?

A&S:  I'm not sure that much has happened to us that I would characterize as "surprising."  I think we are both highly attuned when it comes to detecting even very subtle forms of racism and sexism.  I am very much an optimist by nature, and I believe that people are capable of great good.  But I'm also a realist, and I see the world for what it is.  Very sadly, our world remains replete with evidence of humans' nearly infinite capacity to hate one another.  We hate the Other:  You part your hair on the right, while we part our hair on the *left*, and that is why we hate you.  That's why I can't say it's surprising when, for example, we're standing near a cash register, Amy in front of me, and we watch one white customer after another being casually asked if they need assistance, while no one says a word to Amy.  In many instances like that, I don't even think that these actions are conscious on the part of the counter folks.  I just think that, in situations like that, the people at the counter simply don't "see" Amy.  When Amy then tells me to stand in front of her, it's zip zip zip, instant service.  The white guy approaches and all bow down before him.  

We're changing and getting better.  But it's happening very very slowly.  And I've seen so much of this sort of thing during my life that none of it is surprising to me.  We don't let it ruin our day.  When we see it, we look over at each other and give each other a knowing nod.  Or make jokes about it.  Life's too short to let it completely ruin your day.  There are times when it can, for sure.  But to the extent that we can, why try not to let it get the better of us.
MRA:  What has been the reaction to your tumblr?

A&S:  So, as I said, the original idea behind these pictures was simply to express my love for my perfect angel, my partner Amy.  So the reaction has actually been quite a surprise to me.  I have a fairly considerable number of followers now, which is in itself surprising, as I'm sufficiently self-aware and self-critical to appreciate that these pictures are not "great works of art."  They're just simply little line drawings.  So the size of the audience that they seem to appeal to is something of a surprise to me, for sure.  And even more surprising is the fact that, at least so far, the vast majority of the tumblr's followers are young, black and African-American women.  When Amy and I began to notice this make-up of the audience of followers, it made us start to think about what else these pictures might represent:  that it's okay to be a part of a loving, interracial couple; that it's something to be celebrated, in fact.  That it's a wonderful and beautiful thing for a white man to be in love with a brilliant and strong woman of color.  When Amy and Shaun fight a dragon, it is Amy who takes the lead, with Shaun following behind her, but showing a great deal more trepidation about the encounter than his brave partner is.  In different scenarios, I might draw either of us in the role of the hapless or silly or scared and nervous one.  I think the important point is that we can both be strong, or weak, or scared, or foolish, or funny, in turn.
MRA:  If you were to give your tumblr a subtitle (something post-colon) what would it be?

A&S:  Amy & Shaun:  A Perfect Love.  I am nothing if not a completely hopeless romantic.
MRA:  What does the phrase "Mixed Race America" mean to you?

To me, that is a very succinct description of the future of this great country of ours.  I believe it was during the most recent census that we learned that white babies now make up a *minority* of all kids being born in America.  The great melting pot is finally starting to mix together our skin colors and religions and ethnicities.  I would guess that in as little as a generation or two, America is going to be getting very close to being a country of mostly yummy, caramel-colored kids.  Let's hear it for hybrid vigor!  

MRA:  If you had to choose between having either flight or invisibility as a super power, which would you choose?

A&S:  No contest:  the ability to fly.  To be able to soar among the clouds and the mountain tops, gazing down at all of the natural beauty on our little blue marble?  That would be incredible.  I used to have dreams about flying as a kid.  As for invisibility, well, I've seen both the Invisible Man and Hollow Man movies, and things always seem to end badly for those "a-pigment" types, so that's another good reason for going with flight.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What is it like to be white?

I think another title for this post could be "What is it like to be in the majority?" but I it's not just any majority I wanted to write about today, the last day of my beach vacation in my home southern state.  No, it's the kind of majority that is racial, and cultural to a certain degree.

The view from our balcony
Southern man and I have been vacationing for the past week at a beach, lets call it "White Sands" since that's pretty much what the beach looks like.  Aside from a few storms when we arrived and one mid-week, it has been glorious each day--highs in the mid to upper 80s, Atlantic ocean that feels like swimming in bath water (particularly since I grew up splashing in the Pacific which is just plain frigid), and stretches of sand to lie out with a good book and to dry off from our swimming (or to jump in the water if we get too warm).

This is the kind of vacation I love--nothing to do but just hang out and read and swim and eat good food (in this part of the state it means Calabash which means fried, which is OK by me--I mean, I'm on vacation). 

So why am I wondering what it's like to be white (especially now that my skin is a toasty almond brown from all that sun)--because that's pretty much the only people who are here at White Sands beach.  Seriously.  We're been here for a week and I will tally up the number of people of color we have seen walking about a mile in either direction of our rented condo:

*Asian Americans:  4 (not including myself) -- 2 appear to be the transracial/transnational adopted children of a white couple

*Latino:  12 -- I should note that 8 of those have consistently been a work crew that is helping to prevent against beach erosion.  If you look at the photo above and see all those sandbags, for the past week a crew of about a dozen people, 8 of whom are Latino, have been building those sandbags outside our window.

*African American:  6

*Native American:  N/A -- I couldn't tell -- I'm sure that there were Native Americans in the various crowds of people we saw, or rather that there are people who identify as such, but I wouldn't have been able to guess by just looking at anyone.

*White:  100-200 -- I'm TERRIBLE at estimating, but I'd say at we saw at least 100 people the beach if not 200 people. 

I'm not even counting the number of people we saw at restaurants and supermarkets--I'd say for the most part that every place we dined in I was the only Asian American person.  One particular lunch place that is renown for their deep fried goodness was the kind of cafe that has the menus printed on chalkboards--not fancy but good.  We walk in and it's like a Western--every head in the cafe swivels to look at me.  Most look back at their food, but one particular gentleman, someone in his mid to late 1960s, white haired, paunchy and beady eyed.  This guy was eyeballing me like I was an alien who landed.  Like I was an unidentifiable creature.  Like I was the Viet Cong come back to haunt him (he had that kind of vet vibe going on, and here at White Sands there are a TON of those MIA/POW black flags around here, which always makes me nervous in a southern setting because I know they're looking at me and having flashbacks to the war).

Anyway, my usual thing to do in this situation is to simply stare back.  Hard.  Usually the other person is embarrassed and looks away.  But not eye-ball man.  He just keeps staring.  And staring.  And staring.  His table is right by the hostess station, and since they were packed, we had to wait a while to get our table.  So he stared long and hard.  And I stared back.  Southern man (who had gone to park the car) walked in and I immediately pointed out the staring guy (usually I'm discreet but in this case I openly gestured to him and said, "This guy will not stop staring at me!"  So Southern Man, being the diplomatic and polite guy that he is (his momma raised him right) looks at the guy and says "Hi, howya doing?" at which point the man grunts and looks down.


I'm glad that the staring is over but peeved that it takes my white southern husband to crack this guy.  I mean, I don't think he was happy to see miscegenation, but Southern Man is a big guy so I also think this guy realized that if I was unhappy then Southern Man would be unhappy and he didn't want to get Southern Man unhappy.  Or maybe it's some weird white man code.  I stare at your woman, you call me on it, I back down.

I will say that as we left to go to our table I noticed the eye-baller eyeballing me again.  I guess he just couldn't help himself.  I thought about flipping him off, but then thought that it wasn't the educational moment that would be helpful.  And that in the scheme of things, being stared at wasn't a big deal.  But it also wasn't comfortable and definitely it enacted my racial paranoia.

Which is why I wonder--what is it like to be white or to pass as white?  To be able to walk into places and not get stared at?  Maybe it's awful because if you're an anti-racist ally who is white you may have people say all sorts of awful things to you assuming you'll be down with their bigoted beliefs.  At least people generally don't say racist things about my group (Asians) and generally not about other groups also. 

But still, sometimes I wonder what it's like to live in white skin and never have to worry about which restaurants you can walk into or whether you are getting looked at because you're not white or whether the service is bad or someone in a store isn't friendly to you because you're not white.  I don't obsess over these things, but they're always in the back of my head--that extra radar of racial awareness.  And sometimes I think it'd be nice for it to be turned down because especially when I'm on vacation, I just want to enjoy the surf and sand and sun and not worry about weird old men eyeballing me when I want to eat my fried clams.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Activism as Parody from the women of Wellesley College

A few months ago I was sent a link to a Youtube video by two Wellesley College students, Nicole and Meliora.  I didn't click on it because (a) I'm never sure if things are a "scam" and some awful virus would infect my computer (b) the email account that is connected to this blog isn't one I check on a regular basis.  So I saw it and then forgot about it.

Thankfully I decided that I should trust Niclole & Meliora (after all, they're women of a seven sister's school and I have a soft spot in my heart for all seven sister schools after having taught at Mount Holyoke College for 3 years).  What I found was a parody based on Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe"--a parody of Asian American stereotypes.

[Note: If you have NO IDEA what I'm talking about, just google "Call Me Maybe" and "Youtube" and you will find both the original music video that Jepsen did AND a host of parodies, most famously the US Swim team did one and my favorite is by "Corgi" Rae Jepsen]

Nicole and Meliora sent me a description of what inspired them to make this parody and what they hope to accomplish in terms of Asian American activism.  It's rather long, but let me quote a segment for you:

As we all know, the media is a conduit that allows artists and visionaries to express their opinions to the general public, and in many ways this expression can be very liberating and has become a staple of American society. What is not liberating however is the underrepresentation of minority groups in the media that runs the risk of portraying a race as one collective identity. Especially in communities where there is very little interaction between racial groups, the few representations the media provides can set societal expectations or stereotypes for how a race should be approached.
With the hopes of challenging these stereotypes my fellow classmate Nicole and I embarked on an exciting journey of composing, directing and editing our own music video about breaking down the typical Asian stereotypes projected in the media. Our goal is to see how influential we as two students, with limited political connections and resources, can be in getting our voices heard. We decided the best way to do this would be combining pop culture, activism, and the Internet.
The stereotypes Nicole and I address in this video are all ones that have been projected within the media at some point or another: submissiveness/ politeness; the excessive type A personality that excels in mathematics, chess and the medical field; the martial artist; the uncultured Asian that eats strange foods and speaks in broken English; the nerdy anime lover; the over sexualized Asian that will “love you long time” or engage in such strange fetishes as tentacle porn; the stereotype that all Asians look like; and of course the age old stereotype of bad Asian drivers. We try to address and conquer all of them. However, we are aware our video will be working against years of engrained racism that has targeted both Asian American men and women.
Anyway, please watch Nicole & Meliora's activism as parody in "Just Don't Call Me."  I, for one, applaud their desire to challenge stereotypes and educate us while making us laugh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear Mixed Race America, it's time to stop the MADNESS

An Open Letter to everyone in the United States,

I am heartsick.  The recent violence in Aurora, Colorado and now the shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara (Sikh temple).  So much violence.  And not enough outrage.

Oh, I know there are plenty of people who are angry at the shooters.  Angry that this "senseless" violence could happen.  There's lots of hand wringing and, in a case of what I consider to be misplaced fear and anxiety, gun purchases ratcheted up in Colorado immediately following the midnight massacre.

This isn't going to be a post just about gun control, although heaven's knows I believe in it--I believe that we absolutely need more not less gun control--there's no earthly reason why any individual needs semi-automatic weapons and so much ammunition you could kill a theater or temple full of people.  And I wish there was more concentrated outrage that will lead to stricter measures.

But what I want to concentrate on today is hatred.  The madness of hating someone else based on their difference--their racial and religious difference.

Members of the Oak Creek gurudwara listening to an FBI report on the shooting
That's the crux of the Oak Creek shooting.  Wade Page was a known white supremacist.  According to this New York Times article, the Southern Poverty Law Center had been keeping tabs on him due to his "ties to the white supremacist movement and his role as the leader of a white-power band called End Apathy."  While some officials are calling this an incident of domestic terrorism -- there are many who are clamoring to call this what it was: a hate crime. 

Page walked into the Gurdwara and opened fire because he had steeped himself in an ideology of white supremacy that taught him that it was his right to hate people non-white and his right to inflict violence on non-white people.  There has been some speculation that perhaps Page was confused about the Sikh religion--that he had meant to target Muslims and confused Sikhism for Islam.  But as my colleague Amardeep Singh so astutely and powerfully writes about in this New York Times piece:
Whether or not that target was actually the “right one” was beside the point for the Oak Creek shooter. . . . I also don’t think we should fool ourselves that all hostility will be resolved purely by education, nor should we presume that this shooter suffered only from ignorance. As a white supremacist, it seems safe to suppose, what mattered to the shooter was that he hated difference — and saw, in the Sikh gurdwara at Oak Creek, a target for that hatred.

Difference, the targeting of others based on racial difference, is the subject of Matthew Salesses piece in the Asian American Writer's Workshop:  "If you look different, you are treated differently. This is just how our world is. We are not in another, better place, where we each fit in for our individuality. There is a true power to appearances, and there is a true power to the words we attach to those appearances."

[Side note:  Matt is actually a former student of mine from Southern U, and I am so proud that he has become such an eloquent writer]

Another colleague, Viet Ngueyn, makes a very astute connection about various forms of global violence and racialized violence in the United States, writing that his essay will show "the direct line from the core of American culture and history to the Viet Nam War to the Oak Creek massacre and a couple of other massacres many of us have already forgotten about."  And Harsha Walia in Racialicious reminds us, quite forcefully, that the root of the shootings by Page are in racism--not an individual act of racism by a lone white supremacist, but racism in its institutionalized and systemic form:  "The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions and do not and cannot exist in isolation from more systemic forms of racism."

The image above makes me weep--literally, the first time I saw it, I cried.  I cried because not only Wisconsin is weeping, but America is or should be weeping.  We HAVE to do better.  Better gun control, yes.  But we also need more allies of all races and religions to stand together and to say no more.  We are not going to continue to vilify one another.  We are not going to tolerate this kind of intolerance.  We are going to educate our children and teach them about the history of racism in this country and that they can do better than previous generations.  We are going to decide that we aren't just going to wait for the next generation but do better NOW for ourselves--for others--for our society and our nation.

We live in a Mixed Race America.  What happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin hurts my heart.  It also reminds me that I not only can but must try to make a difference and be an ally to others who are oppressed and to not let the Pages of the world have the last word.  We can and must do more.  We can and must stop this madness.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who do you root for?

Unless you've been truly living off the grid and avoiding human contact & any form of news, then you know that the London Olympics have started.

I must confess that I'm a fan of the Olympics.  I know that there are many critiques one can level at the IOC (International Olympic Committee), at the amount of commercialism, the problems of corporate sponsorship, and jingoism that can get out of control.  But there is something I find spell binding about seeing people push themselves to their athletic limits--to see them excel in sports that they have devoted themselves to for most of their lives.

Which brings me to the title of this post: Who do you root for?

The natural answer is the country you identify with--but for those of us with multiple heritages and/or passports, this can be a thorny answer.

One of the things I've realized is that I am drawn to rooting for people of color.

For example, I'm a Top Chef fan and at the beginning of every season, I find myself rooting for the chefs of color--unless, of course, they turn out to be super annoying, jerks, or just not plain good.  Which does happen.  In the last season, I was NOT a Beverly fan but I was so happy Paul won.

This isn't to say that I don't root for non-people of color.

If you've been following Olympic swimming then you must know who Missy Franklin is--and from the feel good piece that NBC did about her and her family, she just seems like an incredible athlete, with an amazing personality and a very down-to-earth family.  She has turned down extraordinarily lucrative endorsement deals because by turning professional she wouldn't be able to compete for her high school swim team.  You can't put a price on loyalty like that.

But if I have to be honest, I am drawn to the athletes of color.  Especially athletes that look like they may be multiracial, like Kyla Ross, a member of the Fab Five who just took home gold in the team gymnastics event last night. 

When I saw her and her teammates featured on the Today Show at the start of the Olympic games, I immediately googled her because I thought she might be mixed race.  And sure enough, I found an article that described her background--her father is African American and Japanese and her mother is part Filipina and part Puerto Rican. 

Then there's John Orozco, a gymnast who visibly looks black but who identifies as Puerto Rican.


There's a Washington Post article that talks about the increased diversity in US Gymnastics and lists Orozco along with Gabby Douglas and Danell Leyva.  No mention of Kyla Ross, which strikes me as a BIG oversight--I'm not sure whether being of part Asian heritage or being mulitracial kept her off the radar of the Post (or it could be that she's not one of the more prominent members of the Fab Five).  But it is good to know that diversity (a buzzword that I find annoying but I get that the Post is using it as a shorthand for racial diversity in a sport that is predominantly white and middle class) is being recognized/talked about in terms of the Olympic athletes.

[Note: There has been some speculation about whether Orozco is adopted or not--apparently this website suggests that he is, indeed, adopted, and might be of Dominican heritage--but on his official site and in news pieces his parents are described as his parents--whereas one of the things I find a bit disconcerting are the ways in which sometimes Dannell Leyva's father & coach is referred to as his stepfather and sometimes his father]

The last thing I'll end with is that sometimes rooting for the person of color or multiracial American can really backfire on you.  Case in point: I'm currently watching the TBS sitcom Sullivan & Son.  Starring Steve Byrne, a comedian who is half Korean and half Irish, Byrne plays the "son" of a Korean immigrant mother and Irish American father.

 I've seen 2 episodes so far.  Both were dreadful.  I could go on about the sexism, the local bigot who makes racist jokes, homophobic jokes, and sexist jokes (like some kind of archaic Archie Bunker figure--I figure in time he'll start in on the environment and vegans), about the not-so-subtle forms of homophobia (see above Bunker figure--it's like the producers get to have it both way--they get the old white geezer to make the gay slur and we get to laugh at the joke and laugh at the geezer and know that we shouldn't be laughing at the gay joke because it's wrong but we're still laughing anyway), and the really bad jokes about his Korean tiger mother.  But what makes Sullivan & Son so dreadful is that it's simply not funny.  The storylines aren't compelling.  The characters aren't well developed.  And again, they just don't bring the funny.

Why am I watching?  Because I'm that starved for images of Asian Americans and especially mixed race Asian Americans in popular culture.  (click here for a guest post I did at What Tami Said on this topic) Because aside from the debacle that was All American Girl there has not been a sitcom (or drama for that matter) that has starred an Asian American or multiracial Asian American person.  For the most part, Asian Americans are supporting cast characters.  Sometimes very prominent supporting cast members.  Grey's Anatomy, Hawaii Five-O, Parks and Rec, and The Office all feature Asian American cast members who get definite screen time and story arcs.  But they aren't the stars. 

So I'm going to give Sullivan & Son a chance.  There will be a tipping point -- there will be a moment when I won't be able to take it: the bad writing, the sexism/homophobia, the lack of funny.  But for the time being, I'm rooting for Byrne and hoping that he can shape up or else I'll just tune out.