Growing Up Multiracial: Then and Now

As a multiracial kid growing up in the 80's, I felt different. I was born in Puerto Rico to a Black father and Mexican mom. After Puerto Rico, we moved to Hawaii. Being a military brat stationed in Puerto Rico then Hawaii meant I was also labeled a Third Culture Kid raised in a culture outside of my parents' cultures due to their military status. California finally became home and I felt like I didn't quite belong. I wasn't Black enough, or Mexican enough. I wasn't Puerto Rican or Hawaiian. It was hard for me to find my place in the world.

Good, bad or indifferent, it was my experience and I own that. My siblings and others who may have similar experiences as mine, may share my opinion or have a differing view and that's ok. One of the first things you learn as a multiracial/multicultural person is that your experience is yours and no one has the right to change that. I was excited to read Maria P.P Root's "Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage" that, in part, reads:

I HAVE THE RIGHT...
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.
I HAVE THE RIGHT...
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.

I wish I would have read it when I was young. When I started middle school and my hair was a fluffy mess, my mom didn't quite know what to do with it. The hair stylists weren't hip to the ways to cut a curly top. There was no "Curl Doctor" or "Mixed Chicks" hair care products back then. When the look was Madonna or feathers like Farrah Fawcett, I was more Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. My curls made it difficult to follow the trends and I felt different.

At a time when schools discouraged Spanish in the home to encourage assimilation into "American" culture, I spoke Spanglish. 

When I went to a predominately Latino school and I sat through roll call listening to such Latin surnames as Garcia, Gomez, Rodriguez, Martinez and Sanchez. My last name stood out and I was embarrassed of it. They would call out Smith and then ask: "que es esmeeth?" to which I would shrug and feel embarrassed.

I felt different in the late 90's when I was in college and wanted to join campus organizations. There were groups like Latino Student Union or Black Student Union but no Mixed Student Unions like there are today. 

Today I'm married to my Korean husband and together we have 4 children we raise as mini global citizens. Things are getting better. Where English was encouraged in school, today language immersion programs are sought after and tough to get into. My littles attend a Korean-language immersion program and I teach Spanish at home. They learn about their cultures and appreciate the cultures of those around them. They embrace all of their cultures and love going around Los Angeles learning about others. They celebrate their cultural diversity and do a great job answering strangers when they are asked:"what are you?" Their reply is easy and different than mine at their age. They say I am all of my mom and my all of my 아빠 (dad in Korean). This is their experience.

I'm thankful to see that times-they-are-a-changin'! It heals my 13 year-old self who spoke English, Spanish and pidgin from Hawaii. The teenage girl who didn't see herself on TV or in books is now excited to see all the accomplishments in the multiracial/multicultural community. I love that there are now books and hair care products that appear in the mainstream. There are brands and products out there that want to support the multiracial/multicultural community. There are community organizations and events dedicated to this community. 

Serving as a resource for this community is why fellow multiracial mom and co-founder of MultiCulti Corner,Delia Douglas Haight and I came up with the MultiCulti Mixer. As community activists we have been listening to parents ask questions about their multicultural children and we wanted to serve as a resource for them. The event took place on October 22, 2015 at Kidville in Brentwood. Our goal was simple: bring together brands, products and people that want to move the multiracial/multicultural community forward.

Brands like Mixed Chicks, Mixed Up ClothingDDHPRNani Nani KidsThe 2 WoodiesLove My AlannahHappy Family Brands and Mixis Dolls showed their support for the multicultural community by sponsoring the MultiCulti Mixer.

Attendees walked into the Mixed Chicks suite asking all about the wonderful products they had for their hair. They received one on one consultations, hair demos and products to take home. As biracial women, co-founders Wendi Levy and Kim Etheredge, know first hand the importance in serving this community. They share the story of how they met and started talking about what each other used for their hair. They recognized a need in the hair care business that catered to the mixed community and as true entrepreneurs, they came up with Mixed Chicks. 

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The event also held a panel on raising multiracial/multicultural children. It was well-received by those in attendance. From starting a conversation about race to dealing with bullies, panelists discussed their experiences. I shared the stage with editor of LA Parent, Elena Epstein, fashion stylist, positive body image advocate, and daughter of civil rights activists, Melinda Alexander and Christopher Colbert, pastor of a multicultural church in Woodland Hills and father. 

Each panelist shared poignant stories of raising their children in a multicultural/multiracial home and gave advice to the audience during the Q&A portion.

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Following the panel was a fun children's fashion show by Mixed Up Clothing whose mission is celebrating cultural diversity and inclusion. Models who shine on Instagram, really worked the runway. Mini fashionistas: Soleil, Stella, Blaise, Jaxson, Mychalbella, Kaya Rose, The 2 Woodies and Aly wore some of Mixed Up Clothing's hot pieces from their latest collection. Fun graphic tees that said hello in different languages like "Hola" and "Bonjour" paired with some fun bottoms. There were Latin-inspired dresses and African-inspired skirts. Boys and girls in Asian-inspired tops rounded out the fashion show. The models represented what the event was all about. That kids come in different sizes and cultures so we need to see this representation on the runway. In essence, kids want to see faces that look like theirs. It helps normalize their reality.

The multiracial community is one of the fastest growing populations and with these numbers growing, there should be more visibility in fashion and elsewhere. 

Multicultural books have seen an increase thanks, in part, to the #WeNeedDiverseBooksCampaign. Actor Taye Diggs and illustrator, Shane Evans, are definitely doing their part to give multiracial/multicultural children a chance to see themselves in books with their new book, Mixed Me!

The MultiCulti Mixer was Taye's L.A exclusive for Mixed Me! His first book, Chocolate Me! was written based on his life growing up. Mixed Me! was written for his biracial son, Walker. Taye shared that he wrote the book so his son would have something to refer to.

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Event attendees gathered to hear Taye read his book: "See, my dad's a deep brown and my mom's rich cream and honey. Then people see me, and they look at us funny."

The kids giggled as Taye took on the voice of the main character, Mike. Parents loved Mike's confidence in his looks and how cool he was. It's what they want for their children and why more books like this are necessary. 

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Media has seen an increase in diverse characters thanks to such folks as Shonda Rhimes, Tyler Perry, Ava DuVernay and Lee Daniels. Shows like Empire, Fresh Off The Boat and Blackish are leading the way. No stranger to this work, was attendee Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i. As Vice President of Diversity & Communications for CBS, Tiffany is directly responsible for the development and execution of communications strategies for diversity initiatives and programs across the entire company.Tiffany was at the event lending her support. Joining her was director Matty Rich, stylist Anya Sarre, Books & Cookies owner Chudney Ross, celebrity Alicia Etheredge-BrownShani BernardKristen Merlene and Zenia Smith.

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Attendees had a great time and expressed the need to continue these conversations. 

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The mark of a good event is when, even before it's over, people are asking when's the next one!

Sonia Kang

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