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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reflections on the 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference

Fred Sasaki performing "How to Hafu it All: Three Easy Steps to 100%" [image from CMRS Facebook]

by Sharon H Chang

Ah. Where do I begin. I'm sitting on a plane waiting to takeoff to Seattle (correction, taking off) thinking on my last 3 days in Chicago at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference. I'm exhilarated, emotional, exhausted, enlightened. I got to present some of my research for the first time. After years of researching, MAJOR milestone. I got to be with and meet in the flesh so many folk doing great work whom I had mostly only known by name or via social media thumbnails till that point: Eliaichi Kimaro of A Lot Like You; Jeff Chiba Stearns of One Big Hapa Family, Yellow Sticky Notes, and the forthcoming Mixed Match; Megumi Nishikura of Hafu; Fanshen Cox of One Drop of Love and, with partner Chandra Crudup, Mixed Roots Stories; Ken Tanabe of Loving Day; Co-creators of War Baby / Love Child (as well as two of the conference's founders) Laura Kina and Wei Ming Dariotis; and Steven Riley of

with Jeff Chiba Stearns of Yellow Sticky Notes

What did I take away? For all of you invested in this mixed-race movement who couldn't be there how do I encapsulate so much breadth of experience on a simple page? You know, I take a scan of myself, my mind, and what I'm feeling. In this moment, in the immediate wake of the conference, what's sticking to my brain and drawing my attention still. First, before anything else, I think on the incredibly profound importance of community and the need for safe spaces where mixed-identifying peoples and allies can come together to explore. I don't think we can underestimate the immeasurable value of gathering together especially for peoples who traditionally and to this day often feel "outside" and "othered." The personal significance of belonging was palpable in every room, across every invigorated face, woven into every inspired interaction. We must continue giving this to each other and to our multiracial children if we truly want to move the conversation forward.

We also must find a way, as professor/author Rebecca Chiyoko King-O'Riain emphasized in her keynote address, to think on mixedness internationally in a world that is quickly globalizing but also because mixedness is so often tied to transnationality. At the same time, we cannot allow so-called cosmopolitan, utopic ideas about contemporary mixing to erase histories of mixing that have long been with us. As African American historian/author/dept chair Arwin D. Smallwood adeptly pointed out to me in conversation, there is a difference between what he calls "old mixing" and "new mixing." Mixing is not new. It has been around as long as people have been around. The "critical" part of Critical Mixed Studies means treading carefully, thoughtfully and respectfully. It means not operating ahistorically and, as Minelle Mahtani author of the new Mixed Race Amnesia highlights, asking ourselves important questions. Why are we talking about multiraciality now, in this time, in a way that pushes postracial blindness? What are the political ideas, motives and agendas behind our rhetoric? And does our language further contribute to the oppression of other historically marginalized groups?

And finally, a big one, how can we continue uplifting our own stories of being multiracial people with artistry and beauty, but simultaneously have rigorous and questioning discussions about those same stories in a scholarly way. This conference was really, truly special because it was academic but presented in partnership with Mixed Roots Stories which brought artists and performers to present alongside scholars. This pairing of research, passion, and expression was so rich it's hard to put in words. But it did bring alive too a tension that we need to ponder. Race is socially made and re-made in our interactions with each other so it is implicitly personal. And yet, in an age of science and technology, objectivity is considered the highest form of intelligent examination. In trying to establish Critical Mixed Race Studies and community as one worth recognition and respect (therefore funding, classes, degree programs, departments, etc.), how do we navigate the seeming paradox of distancing, without distancing?
I don't think we can underestimate the immeasurable value of gathering together especially for peoples who traditionally and to this day often feel "outside" and "othered."
Social Media Caucus, Critical Mixed Race Studies 2014
[clockwise from left: Fanshen Cox, Kaily Heitz, Kiyoshi Houston, me, Gardiner C Funo O'Kain, Chandra N Crudup, and Glenn Robinson]

I'm excited about this growing field of study, activism, artistry not at all because we might be creating a "new racial group." Rather, I'm excited because I hope we are creating a new way to approach the race conversation. One that pushes harder to break down age-old constructs, that looks more broadly at racial movements worldwide, and always seeks to ask difficult questions while questioning itself. Thank you from the bottom of my heart everyone who put on and participated in the 3rd Biennial Critical Mixed Race Conference (that includes those of you who were there in spirit or online). Looking forward with much love to the 4th Biennial Mixed Race Studies Conference which will be held on the West Coast for the first time at the University of Southern California Nov 10-12, 2016. It can't come soon enough!

In solidarity

Planning for the 2016 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference

1 comment :

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