Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Blogger Anne Simon: How Race Helped Two Families Understand Each Other

Anne's beautiful, blended family loves to play and grow together.
Pictured are Anne's grandchildren, children, and husband.
Anne is on the left of the bottom picture.
She created her mixed-race family through
adoption and marriage.
My first husband and I were a white, Ivy League educated family who decided to adopt a black baby. It was the 1970s and the adoption of my son fulfilled a life-long dream of mine to adopt a baby who was a different race than our family.

When my blue eyed, blond haired biological daughter was just a year old, my first husband and I began the process of adopting our second child, expecting that the journey would probably take 1 - 2 years. My then husband had been fully informed of my "life list" before our marriage, and he seemed to embrace it. To our great surprise, four months later the agency called us and said they had a baby boy for us. We brought home my son, an adorable 4 month-old dark skinned African American baby boy. I had two babies under the age of 2, and my mother thought I had lost my mind - which was partially accurate.

We were Upper West Side New York City dwellers; my husband was just starting on Wall Street, and I was in graduate school at Columbia. We knew that we would not stay in NYC to raise our children and were very mindful of the importance, for our children (and our family), of finding a community of like-minded people and diverse families. We landed back in CA where I was raised. In the Berkeley Hills we discovered a cooperative nursery school where our close friends and neighbors included four other families with interracially adopted children.

This idyllic picture shattered a few years later. As was part of living in the 70s, we pushed boundaries in developing our families, and then we pushed them in our relationships. Four of the five couples ended up divorced, including us. I fled to a rural area 100 miles north of San Francisco to recoup my lost identity and raise my children.

Eight years later, I met a man who I would marry. He had lost his wife to cancer and was raising his two teenage daughters alone. His former wife was African American and he is white. Once we married, our family consisted of children (emerging adults really) who ran the entire spectrum of color. My biological daughter has fair skin and blue eyes. My son has dark skin. Merging two families is never easy, but I think the fact that we were (and are) mixed-race families is what helped us navigate the potentially tumultuous waters of step-parenting and merging two families; families in which one had suffered the loss of their wife/mother and mine, and the other had dealt with a bruising divorce and custody battle.

I actually believe that the issue of race was one of the most unifying elements in this successful merger of our families. My step-daughters could not dismiss me as just another white woman who didn’t understand their racial identity. Given the profound decision I had made when adopting my African American son - one that I knew was to change the complexion of my family forever (pun fully intended) - I was extremely relieved and gratified, privileged even, to grow my family by embracing my two mixed-race stepdaughters. 

Far too often, issues of race divide families, break apart relationships and destroy lives. In our case, I’m pleased to tell you, the complex issue of race made the blending of our two families easier. Our kids instinctively understood each other. Each of them also understood their future step-parent because I had adopted an African American son and my husband had married an African American woman. Both my kids and my husband’s daughters knew they would be accepted by their new step-parent and step-siblings.

Racism was one issue they would not have to confront within the new family. In that way, race helped our family bond in a unique and invaluable way. My husband and I have been married for 25 years and our families continue to love and accept each other. Issues of race brought our mixed-race family together, which is where we’ve remained.

Anne Simon is recently retired after 36 years as an independent school administrator and teacher. She also co-authored a book, Beyond the Brochure: An Insiders Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She lives with her husband and cares for her mother on their small horse farm in Virginia. She is a both a biological and adoptive mother, step-mother, grandmother, and foster mother. She enjoys driving her carriage with her horses, spending time with all of her grandchildren, gardening, swimming, and cooking, and she hopes to travel and write in the years to come. For more information about Anne, visit,

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poisoned in Ocean City

From left to right: Cherish, Darius, Aja on the beach at
Ocean City after The Incident.
Ocean City, MD
8:15 p.m.
110th Street

My younger brother, sister, boyfriend, and I walk to the bus stop. We're just starting our vacation and it's been pretty good so far. I'm taking my younger siblings to walk the boardwalk and ride the roller coaster. We punch the button at the crosswalk and wait. 

A small sedan comes through the intersection and a white boy sticks his head out of the backseat window. "Get a fucking green card!" he yells at us. 

Before we can react, he and his buddies have sped away. The light turns red and we cross the street. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe he was yelling at someone else, maybe he was drunk. But we were the only ones out and really there is no excuse for racism. 

We aren't immigrants! We aren't hispanic! Only my boyfriend is latino (technically), but he looks white as hell. Clearly the drunk kid was talking to my darker siblings and I. I want to turn around and chase him down. I want to beat his face in. Not for calling me out, but for saying it to my kin, the kids that I've protected since they were born. My little brother, who hasn't yet turned 13 but is somehow taller than me already, watches for my reaction silently. 

I laugh it off. What else can you do? 

We continue on to the boardwalk and pretend like it never happened except it still eats my brain. It's poisoned me and it burns. White people are twisting in front of me. They're all watching us, judging us, and suddenly I'm conscious of the fact that we're a group of minorities walking together instead of just a crowd of people. 

Now I'm not even identifying myself as person. Poison. 

On the bus to the boardwalk, my brother says something embarrassing and I jokingly tell him I'll slap the white off him. Just so the people around us know that he is like them. They look at me with queer eyes as if to ask if he is really white as...or perhaps it was about the familial violence (only now, I can't even think it's that.) 

My brother looks at me, completely serious, and whispers: "I wish you could. I'd welcome it."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Smithsonian's RACE exhibit: Eye-Opening and Depressing, Strange and Refreshing

By Passion Hannah

This month the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History opened the exhibit “RACE: Are we so different?” We (Tia and I) took the trip into D.C. to check out the exhibit because it features all races, including an emphasis on mixed heritages and their experience in America. 
Passion and Tia added their hands to the series of colors at
the touring race exhibit at the NMNH.
The exhibit was absolutely amazing. There was a section at the entrance where you could take a picture of your skin, and then it would become a part of a collage with other visitors’ skin colors. 
Your definition of what you are,
not the governments, not your parents,
not anyone but you.

The part that we focused on quite a bit were a series of photographs on a wall. People had handwritten what they felt about their race, and then under their statement was what they were mixed with. (For more examples of these photos, see our tumblr.) It was refreshing and strange to see so many mixed people. Just by looking at some, you wouldn’t expect them to have such diverse races. None looked the same, which was wonderful. Even if one had a similar heritage as another person, they both looked very different. 

Another stunning section was a short documentary called “A Girl Like Me”. It was quite eye-opening because so many of these African-American girls spoke about their journey with race, and how being lighter skinned or white was more appealing to them. 

Honestly, it was depressing to watch. These girls are beautiful, but society dictates that we must have light skin and straight hair to be beautiful. (For on that visit "Cute to be so dark" at Multicultural Familia.) They also recreated the “doll test” where kids were to chose between a black baby doll and a white baby doll. Most of them said the white baby doll was more appealing and considered it the “good” doll, where areas the black doll was the “bad” doll. When asked why one doll was good and one was bad, the kids said it was because of skin color. The kids were all young and black. It just goes to show how little progress the country has made with opinions on race. 

How would the U.S. Census have counted you through each
decade? On each person's shirt is the sad truth.

There were many other very interesting parts of the exhibit, and I recommend it to anyone who can take a trip to go see it. The new closing date for the exhibit is January 2nd. So, there is plenty of time during the summer, fall, and winter. Really, it leaves you with no excuse. 

On the day that we went, the atmosphere was a haze of awe. Regardless of race, you will be amazed at the stories that were being told. No doubt, it will change your perception of race.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Interview with Filmmakers of the Hafu Project: Lara and Megumi

Photo courtesy of
Hafu is the working title for a film in production about the changing ethnic community of Japan. With the ease of modern day travel and technology, the mixed-race population is exploding. Lara Perez Takagi and Megumi Nishikura have taken the challenge of documenting the multicultural Hafu experience of growing up in two worlds.

It's a big task and not many have tried to tackle it before them. "All I've ever seen is a news article or something online, but I've never seen something big scale like we're doing right now," Lara said, describing her reason for filming. "We're trying to touch as many topics as possible within what it means to be mixed race in Japan."

Megumi said that they will know they were successful when the effort doesn't end with them. "We want to make something that is the first step of many people exploring their identities through a number of mediums. It's difficult for any one piece of film or article or book to be the answer to the experience. Maybe people expect that of us, but we want to share small personal stories of four or five different individuals and contribute as one step forward. We hope other people will continue to explore this topic and the depth of understanding will grow."

For those of you still wondering: Hafu is defined as a person born from one parent that is not Japanese. In the audio clip, you'll here the word gaijin. Gaijin means foreigner, but is also considered somewhat rude or politically incorrect. It is the shortened term for gaikokujin which means foreign-country person or non-Japanese.

Megumi and Lara are no strangers to this word on the street. Lara said she blends in during gatherings because all that matters then is that she can speak fluent Japanese. However, if she is seen on the street or the train, sometimes people will stare as if she is a foreigner. Megumi, who grew up in Japan, remembers being teased as a child and wishing she could just fit in. "I wished that there wasn't this sense of separation," she said.

Their filming has taken them all across Japan, not just Tokyo, and as Lara said, "As long as we have the funding, we'll go anywhere."

The majority of their funding comes from donations through the website and during their events. After the tsunami, the Hafu film crew nearly cancelled one of these events, but instead decided to team up with a relief group to raise money for the people hurt by the tragedy and for the film. "Some people came up to us afterwards and were like 'Actually we want to give this money just to the production of the film' and to us that shows even in these difficult times there are people that want to see this film completed and  are willing to support us on top of what they've given to the relief efforts," said Megumi.

The deadline to finish is January and the crew hopes to have the film come out late 2012. They are also looking into doing a U.S. tour in the future, though nothing has been set in stone.

Not in this article, but in the audio:

  • Most touching experience
  • Why they decided to film
  • Explanation of the statistic: "One out of thirty babies born in Japan are Hafu."
  • Filming and working after the tragedy
  • Their time as Hafu in Japan (not included in the film)
  • Lara and her many languages
  • Thanks and other parting words
An audio option without captions; the paraphrasing might be distracting.

Fun Facts:

  • The longest they've spent filming in the field a week. Mind you, this is a week away from their regular day jobs. 
  • Lara does freelance interpreting and translating/proofreading in English, Japanese, and Spanish. 
  • Megumi produces other documentaries and describes the experience as "intense and challenging. I'll start thinking about one [documentary] while I'm working on another." Her next career goal is to work for broadcast, corporate stations like CNN and doing one-hour or so documentaries.
  • They plan to slowly turn Hafu into their full-time job.
  • As of now, the crew is still looking for a final character, an Asian and Japanese mixed-race person, to document the life of a Hafu who isn't immediately identified as not fully Japanese. 
  • There will be an online fundraiser for the film coming up. Make sure to visit the Hafu website for more information. People who donate more than $50 will receive a copy of the film once it comes out.

Audio Interview with Filmmakers Megumi and Lara

Beware: The video starts loud so turn your speakers down please.

An option without captions for those who find the paraphrased captions distracting.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cause of the Month

Check out our new section of the website. Every month, we select a cause that we support and post their graphic/banner/gif on the website to raise awareness. Our premier cause is: The Girl Effect, a group that works to keep young girls out of poverty and into a brighter, more educated future.

We plan to donate and, in the future, further our participation by holding events and fundraisers. For now, we hope you visit the website the first week of every month to see the new cause.