Today's post is a personal one from our founder, Jen - this is her parents' story. First you'll hear from Ralph, who was Puerto Rican-born and learned English after moving to New York with his mother in the 50s. His story is followed by that of his wife, Rona, a Jewish-American Brooklyn native.
Our story began back on March 9th, 1979. It was the disco era, at a club called Reflections. It was a time when interracial relationships were not accepted by society. My wife, Rona, is a Russian/Polish Jew. I myself am Puerto Rican.
But something beautiful happened, we fell in love. We both knew that some people didn’t have tolerance for our kind of love, but we didn’t care. That was their problem, not ours. We were both lucky with each other’s families, both of which understood our respect and love for each other and they supported our journey together. We have dealt with some bigotry in our lifetime, with people who have demonstrated unreasonable attitudes toward our love, but we dismiss them as idiots (it’s like some people have taken stupid pills).
We’ve been together 39 years - and some people thought we wouldn’t make it. It’s been a blessing knowing my wife. She has been my companion, my confidant, my lover, and my best friend. She’s also the best mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law.
I’ve had 5 great days in my life, and they’re all related to my wife and our love for each other:
We’re thankful for the many who came before us and had the courage to take the step forward, who went with their hearts, who turned their backs on taboo and traditions. They made the world a better place to live, and made our story possible.
I was born in the late 1950’s and raised in Brooklyn, NY at a time when there was not a lot of diversity. I remember the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of the NYC schools in the 1960’s. I was in the 5th grade and recall being tormented by my classmates because I befriended the 2 “negro” girls who came to our class. There was a lot of ignorance. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in my lifetime. Being Jewish, my parents were raised to fear non-Jews. My neighborhood was 99% white, predominantly Italian with pockets of others. I can’t remember being exposed to people from many different backgrounds in the neighborhood or at school.
My home was different from most of my friends. My dad was a teacher and football coach. He befriended people of different races and religions. We were not taught, as many children are, to hate people who were different. Once I got to high school, there were teachers and students from different backgrounds but people mostly stayed with their own kind. I remember having interest in a guy from another race but was not brave enough to go on a date with him. My (mostly Jewish) friends would not have considered dating a non-Jew, never mind someone who wasn’t white.
Fast forward a few years, I was working at my first job in Manhattan. I had friends of all kinds. The barriers had broken down although there was still racism among the older generation. I met my husband in the late 70’s, the end of the disco era. He was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx. We danced together and there was magic. We started dating and didn’t care what anyone thought. We were defiant in the face of sneers and comments but we were lucky. Our families supported our relationship and our friends got on board even though they were skeptical at first.
I will never forget the pain I felt when I realized that we were not going to be able to rent an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Every time we showed up the apartment that we saw listed in the newspaper was somehow “no longer available”. A helpful real estate agent steered us to Elmhurst which was and is one of the most diverse towns in the country. We blended in with people from all over the world.
Happily, things have changed for the better in many places, not all. I recently read an article that said in 100 years from now, everyone will look Filipino! What an accomplishment it would be if people would not be judged by their race or religion. I’m excited and hopeful that our daughter is helping to change the dialogue. That biracial couples can and do celebrate their differences. That we can now fly over the radar.
Remember her? Rachel Dolezal was the head of the Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter who was outed as a white person. She coined the term "transracial", claiming she identified as Black and should be treated as such. It was a weird situation, to say the least, and there was no shortage of opinions about her behavior when the truth came out.
Well, Ms. Dolezal is back in the news with the release of a Netflix documentary about her life, The Rachel Divide (clever, right?). She continues to assert her Blackness, and produces an ever-growing body of "evidence" such as having graduated from Howard, wearing her hair in braids, and engaging in civil rights activism.
I'm not going to pass judgment here (even though I sure will in other spaces), but in reliving the transracial phenomenon it made me think about how this woman owns her identity - there is absolutely no backing down when it comes to who she thinks she is. As a mixed race person, how nice would it be to feel this way? So many of us tiptoe around our racial identity, worrying about whether we're [ ]-enough, thinking that our looks define us, allowing others' perceptions dictate who we are. Imagine what life would be like if you had Rachel Dolezal-level confidence (and without even having to make it up!).
It's a powerful thought. Identify how you want, based on who you know yourself to be. Accept yourself without letting others take away from who you are. Correct people when they misclassify you, unapologetically. Do you.
(Curious about whether Rachel is a sympathetic character? Spoiler: she's not. But, you can watch the trailer here, check out a clip below, and see the full documentary on Netflix.)
Our numbers are growing - dramatically. Data from the U.S. census and Pew Research Center suggests there are 9 million mixed race people in the U.S., though we know this number doesn't include everyone in our MiXD community, like people of multiple ethnicities (hello, half Puerto Rican here!). Even looking at just the race piece of the puzzle, the trends are incredible:
This means the numbers of multiracial babies being born are growing exponentially. And all of these babies are going to grow up figuring out who they are. Back to Pew data, a full 60% of multiracial people only consider themselves to be one race; the top reasons for feeling this way are looking like one race, being raised as one race, and not knowing the family member of the second racial background.
How do we help our children embrace their mixed backgrounds? Here are a few tips.
The first in a series of MiXD Spotlights, we've collected a list of well-known musicians who hail from diverse families. Did you know we were in such good (and talented) company? We've done some digging on them, too - read the backstory for the insider scoop on their stories.!
Mother: White, of Italian, Scottish, and Irish descent
Father: Black and Jamaican
Backstory: Alicia grew up in a rough but diverse part of NY. She credits her upbringing with seeing her background as an asset, telling the Guardian, "My mixed-race background made me a broad person, able to relate to different cultures."
Mother: African-American and Afro-Bahamian
Father: Jewish of Eastern European descent
Backstory: Lenny Kravitz married Lisa Bonet, who had similar heritage with a Black parent and a Jewish/Eastern European parent. Their daughter, Zoe, therefore is 50% Ashkenazi Jewish, about 38% African-America, and 12% Afro-Bahamian. Bonus: Lenny Kravitz and Al Roker are distant cousins!
Mother: English and Irish
Backstory: The boy band's mother converted to Islam upon marrying his father. Zayn is famously dating Gigi Hadid, who is also mixed with a father from Palestine and a mother of Dutch descent.
Bonus MiXD musicians: Not on the list are Nicki Minaj, Drake, Slash, Pete Wentz, Amber Rose, Ne-Yo, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Kelis, Bob Marley, and Sean Paul. Stay tuned for more stories!
Don't walk, run (or whatever the equivalent is in virtual space) to watch The Loving Generation, a poignant look at biracial people growing up over the last 50ish years. The documentary, directed and produced by Lacey Schwartz and Mehret Mandefro weaves together stories in the context of the 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, a case brought by Mildred and Richard Loving who were sentenced to jail for their interracial marriage. It's a good reminder that 1) 1967 wasn't that long ago, 2) we are the products of a part of the civil rights movement that deserves more air time, and 3) many of us, our parents, and our grandparents faced complex decisions about their relationships and legitimacy that impact how we view ourselves today. After watching this first episode, check out the Topic website for more.
People look at me and make assumptions. About my identity. About how I grew up. About what privileges I have.
It shouldn't matter, but I know it does to some. And it would be far less offensive for people to just ask me questions, and actually get to know me, rather than relying on assumptions.
Of course, there are good ways and bad ways to ask questions. Let's help them out with this handy guide to asking questions to MiXD people.
What kind of a name is that?
I've never heard your last name before. Where is your family from?
So, are you Black/white/Asian?
How do you choose to be identified? (Note: this is an open-ended question for a reason, no need for multiple choice or to take guesses!)
Is that your natural hair?
Wow, you have beautiful hair. (That's it. Don't ask me any damn questions about my hair.)
How will you raise your kids?
Parenting is challenging. How do you and your partner bring multiple cultural/religious perspectives to your family?
What are you? (A: Human, thank you.)
It's so nice to meet you. Tell me a bit about yourself!