In June 2015, three months before the book I co-authored with Bryony Sutherland, Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide, was published, we started hitting the promotions hard as well as trying to immerse ourselves in the mixed race community. Bryony stumbled upon the Mixed Remixed Festival website and suggested we attend in 2016, I nonchalantly said, “Sure! Let’s do it!”
It was assumed we’d attend as festivalgoers. Although we loved the thought that maybe we could be panelists, we didn’t get our hopes up too high. For one thing, our book wasn’t even published yet and for another, we didn’t kid ourselves that we were the only ones with a book worth reading. While we felt we had a winner on our hands, that plus $2.50 could get us on the New York City Subway.
Calls for submissions opened up the following October, a month after our book was published.
You can’t know how it felt for us to learn in March 2016 that we’d been selected as panelists.
A Little About Me And How I've Come to Identify as MixedRace
I am Black and Japanese on my mother’s side and German, Dutch and Irish on my father’s. Since I was a little girl, I have self-identified as Black. And while I realize many who don’t know me intimately look at my light, bright and clearly half White complexion and wonder if I’ve looked in the mirror lately, I explain why in detail in the essay I wrote for our book and give you the Cliff notes in this blog.
Sometimes both Black and White people accept me unconditionally, but more often than not, I am asked to present ID before entering their respective worlds. This wasn’t the case when I was growing up in New York City, however. I was rarely (if ever, even) questioned about how I identified.
Once I left New York City and moved to Washington, DC in the mid-1990s (and ultimately on to Southern California in 1998), suddenly people didn’t readily accept me or worse, they tried shoving me in boxes of their own choosing—most of them had nothing to do with me or my heritage.
When it came to making friends or just engaging monoracial people in general (and this sometimes still happens today), I learned, it wasn’t enough for me to cite lived experiences to gain entry. No, taste in music, the way I dress and speak, and can you believe it? color were deciding factors for those evaluating my “credentials.”
Once Bryony and I started writing the book, doors opened and I started feeling an automatic acceptance I’d been fighting for since I left New York City. Both through engaging contributors for our book and immersing ourselves in the multiracial community, I had been meeting people who were self-identifying as multiracial / mixed race / Biracial. I began questioning whether it was still “necessary” for me to identify as Black. If I were being truthful with myself, I would have admitted long ago that it hasn’t always been stroll in the park. Truth be told it all lands somewhere between frustrating and stressful.
I’m also very hard headed. The more I continued “fighting” for acceptance in the two monoracial worlds (I go into detail why despite the fact that my maternal grandfather was Japanese, until recently, I never identified as Japanese) the more unconditional acceptance I felt in the mixed race world.[Tweet "It’s been a journey for sure, and in June 2015, I came out as #Biracial. "]
Since our book published and submitting it to the Mixed Remixed Festival, I have immersed myself in the mixed race experience. I teamed up with Alex Barnett—stand up comic and host of the Multiracial Family Man podcast—to launch Multiracial Media in April 2016, which is a platform of artistic expression for the multiracial community. Like collaborating with Bryony on our book, Multiracial Media is a labor of love. Entirely self funded, we receive submissions from people on a daily basis and although the site is less than three months old, we’re excited how nicely it’s been taking off. We love hearing from mixed race people how happy they are to have a safe space to publish their work. That’s exactly why we created it.
Meeting Bryony for the First Time, The Festival and the Panel
Traveling to Los Angeles for the festival couldn’t get here fast enough! Bryony and I had a tearful face-to-face meeting. There would be many other firsts during the five days we were in Los Angeles.
We met Shannon Luders-Manuel, whom we hired to write a companion guide for educators to complement the original book, Heidi Durrow, the festival’s founder and members the festival blogging team (Clare, Terri, Joy and Michael). We also met many people we’ve either only known online or whom I knew well while my husband and I were living in Southern California.
From left to right: Debbie (attendee from England) , Bryony, me, Shannon and Cynthia (colleague and friend)
Immediately Bryony and I started rehearsing. Our moderator emailed questions ahead of time. They weren’t easy questions and at some point we wondered if we had been chosen for the right panel. It wasn’t until we got there and met our panelists that we realized they too were stumped by them, but as we settled in, it was clear we were all where we were supposed to be.
- Maya Washington is African American of Creole descent and she is a filmmaker, actress, playwright and poet
- Jewel Love is of Afro-Euro-Native American descent, and a multiracial centered psychotherapist
- Edward Pohlert is Dutch and Indonesian. Edward is a professor, mediator, workshop facilitator and diversity consultant
- Bryony Sutherland is a 10-time published (mostly traditional) book author and editor of memoirs and fiction. She is White, her husband is Black and together they are raising three Biracial sons.
- Mia Nakaji Monnier is Japanese and White, whose writing has been published in the Boston Globe and many others
- Me: Black, Japanese, German, Dutch and Irish, I started writing in 2009 and 97% of my work is ghostwritten. I focus my writing on gender / race / LGBTQIA advocacy.
And our moderator (in seat number one), I am really proud to say was Kevin Maillard. Kevin is a professor of law at Syracuse University. His writing appears regularly in The New York Times and The Atlantic. He is the co-editor of Loving vs. Virginia in a Post-Racial World (available on Amazon). Kevin is Black and Native American and a member of the Seminole Nation.
I have to say in spite of these accolades Kevin is one of the most down-to-earth people I have met ever.
Kevin introduced us and we were given a minute to expand on his introduction. Sitting second to last, 20 seconds into introducing myself, at the point where I explain how much acceptance I have felt in the multiracial community, contrasting my experience fighting for acceptance in both monoracial worlds over the last 20 years, without warning or any way to control it, I burst into tears.
Although I have been going through life being me, transitioning from self-identifying as Black to embracing my multiracial identity, my tears represented my anger, sadness, my struggles, but more importantly, my happiness for finally fitting in—again unconditionally. Ironically in the mixed race world, I don’t look like anyone, act like anyone or any of those things that make us feel bonded to a particular ethnic or racial group but for the first time in my life (with the exception of my in-laws and close friends who love me regardless), I was home with my tribe.
My initial feeling was of embarrassment, but once I looked out at the audience (following a big hug from Bryony <3), I saw that I wasn’t alone at all. Others were able to relate. I saw both heads nodding and some tears.
Also ironic is that once that was out of the way, all of us on the panel just were [ourselves]. The panel and ensuing discussions went so well. In fact, we went over our time and when it was time to leave, we on the panel were forever bonded.
Rather than go our separate ways (minus Edward and Mia, who had plans), we all went to eat lunch with a few audience members. Although I wish Bryony and I had attended the workshops and panels we’d registered for, I’ll never regret getting to know my fellow panelists, Kevin and friends of Mia’s.
When people ask how it was being a panelist, it was life changing. I can’t wait until next year! I'd really like to thank author of The New York Times Bestseller, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Heidi Durrow. Her vision and commitment to the festival is what makes it such a special place to be. Thank you to the volunteers who set up and made it so welcoming.
Photo credits: Bryony Sutherland, John Reed, Shannon Luders-Manuel and the owner of Sofi Greek Restaurant. Written permission was received before using photos of everyone in this blog.