Multiracial Family Stories

Since my last post, something has slowly dawned on me: my whole family's immigration and migration story is interesting and valuable.

Sometimes, I devalue the experience of the white side of my family because it is one of the things that makes me different from my friends. I wish that I knew more about my black family in Georgia and that I could talk about being sent there for summers. I can't because I wasn't. I spent summers in Colorado where my white and black halves converged.

And it was great, just not like everyone else - filled with southern food and gospel and R&B. I spent my summers riding horses, learning how to drive, biking at altitude and hiking in the mountains. The neighbor kids weren't cousins but they were friendly and we did everything from jump on the trampoline to break into their own homes when we got locked out.

Aside from my experiences, here are some of the things I value about the two sides of my family. Both of my grandpas left the south. They were the only ones of their generation to do so. They both joined the Air Force and used it to pull themselves up from poor country boys to the middle/upper middle class.

Both of my grandmas were smart. One was a teacher. One started her own beauty salon (one might assume this was the black grandma; one would be wrong) and then went on to be a secretary in the Air Force. They both left the north with their husbands and lived all over the United States.

On both sides of my family, relatives have left what was comfortable for a better life. On one side, a Jewish great-grandfather left England. He arrived in Ellis Island with his sisters. He supported his growing family by running numbers and gambling. My grandma inherited his love of betting and took it to the dog track. She loved to wear stilettos. I'm not sure how those went over in the stands.

I have lived in seven states and two countries. When people hear this, they ask if I was in the military or married to someone who was. I think that, without an understanding of my family's willingness to seek out better opportunities, to keep moving until they found home, to bet on a long shot, I would feel weird for having moved so much without a "good" excuse. Instead, I am able to make it a part of my family story and accept that we are adventurers and optimists.

I hope everyone can see how their family has shaped them in a good way.

Im/migrant Stories

My book club is made up of an interesting group of women. We are all well educated with degrees from Stanford, Columbia, Northwestern, etc. We all like to read, at least enough to belong to a group that mind if you haven't finished the book, "Just come, and catch up!" We've all converged on the Bay Are. We are all at least partially Black/African American

Today, we each shared a part of our backgrounds that makes us different from one another: the stories of our families' migrations and immigrations. We were inspired by "The Warmth of Other Suns," a nonfiction book about three unrelated people who each were a part of Black's Great Migration out of the South.

Despite the things that bind us, our tales varied. One in our group - a chemical engineer - is the first in her family to leave the South. Another woman's parents left the South to pursue higher education but returned, PhDs and Master's degrees in hand, because they wanted to give back to the system that made them. There are several multiracial women in our group. Each of us were able to share the stories of our African American families' migration and our White families' immigration.

I feel fortunate to be a part of this group. All are strivers who have made the most of their boot straps, pulling themselves into lives rich with work, children, culture and travel. Lives made richer by honoring the family histories that make us who and what we are.

Family is a complicated thing. Up close, it can be painful. At best, embarrassing - I keenly remember a particular Hawaiian shirt my step dad loved to wear. At their worst, emotionally or physically damaging. We all have baggage. But, if you can back away and look at the big picture, that baggage includes brave travels, unimaginable ventures, a patchwork of people and places that, sewn together, produced me. And you.

I can't tell anyone how to interact with their family. All I can say, is that I am beyond glad that I had time to talk with most of my grandparents about their history. White, Black, Native American - all of that history is real and it's mine.

Biracial Characteristics: Awkward Outsider

Encountered an interesting new assumption the other day: Because I'm biracial, I must have been awkward or an outsider in high school. Wrong.

This sounds kinda gross/braggadocios, but I was actually a part of one of the popular groups of kids (I say "one of" because, like any big school, we had layers). AND, because I'm fairly outgoing and was raised by non-mainstream people, I was friendly with kids across the high school social strata.

In short, I liked, and was liked in, high school. (slightly embarrassed shuffling of feet goes with this statement)

I went to public school in St. Paul, Minn. The Twin Cities were racially integrated and home of one of the most famous mixed people: Prince. Being biracial didn't automatically make you weird or awkward. In fact, there was a mixed girl at our rival school who was so popular, she was known and liked at my school. I admit, I envied her because she figured out her hair before I did.

At my school, the pot head group had a mixed member; the jocks included two mixed guys; the smart, popular kids included biracial kids. You get the idea. We were everywhere, without stigma.

However, Minnesota is also famed for its Scandinavian population. This had an impact on my personality because it meant I was not considered good looking by most of my classmates. The standard of beauty that was in national magazines and on TV - blond, blue eyes, White - was also the standard of beauty locally. Kids who looked like me were not generally in demand. I think if I had been raised in the south, were being light skinned was valued, I might be a totally different person today.

Looking back, I feel lucky. Being a teen is angsty enough without being considered uncool based on race. And, watching oneself age is hard enough without the chip of lifelong beauty on one's shoulder.

I know this isn't the case for everyone. I know many people who were the "only" at their school - only Indian person, only mixed person, etc. They were treated as outsiders and forced to forge a new path in their classmates' minds or spend years socially isolated. I wish everyone could have Twin Cities experience. I wish America really did accept people for their character, not their color.