Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival 2010!

The Third Annual Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival (June 12-13th, 2010) was like every multi kid's dream.

For ONCE in my ENTIRE twenty three years of life I was in a space where a "mixed community" was actually visible; where I was surrounded by fellow curly-headed, ambiguously complected people, families, children, friends and allies-- people who were interested in discussing multi community, history, identity, experiences and even politics-- people who were making films, writing books, recording music, community organizing, fostering entrepreneurship advocating and producing scholarship all in the name of Mixedom. Understandably, I've been geeking out ever since...

It's taken me a few days to fully process just how amazing Mixed Roots really was and the significance of simply having a physical space for multi people to come together. Held in both the  Japanese American National Museum (JANM) and the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy  in Los Angeles, the festival was organized by a team of dedicated and talented people like the festival's coordinator Jennifer Frappier and education outreach coordinator Rayme Cornell as well as co-founders Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow (together this dynamic duo make up Mixed Chicks Chat) who's infectious warmth, humility and welcoming spirit I felt as soon as I came in to register and check-in for volunteering.

The JANM featured an exhibit of Kip Fulbeck's latest work "Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids" and the festival was widely attended by mixed families and children. Kim Wayans did a reading of her children's book Amy Hodgepodge which she co-wrote with her husband while Maya Soetoro-Ng (Obama's sister) read from her unpublished illustrated children's book. Maya was honored along with NFL superstar Hines Ward, actress and screenwriter Jenny Lumet and co-founder of Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) Nancy Brown (who I soon found out, is one of the godmothers (aka: OGs) of the multiracial movement of the late 80s and 90s) at the Loving Day Party.

The weekend was full of readings and film screenings (the full schedule of events is available at www.mxroots.org). We'll be here forever if I give you my play by play of the festival. So I'll try my best to give you the Campbell's Condensed version of highlights from two events that still have me thinking.

Panel Exploring the Historical Context for Contemporary Stories of the Mixed Experience

OK, so I'm really big on "knowing your history." I think it may very well be the single most important cornerstone in creating a radical multi movement. So, when I saw that there would be a panel on exploring the historical context of the multi experience, I nearly flipped out and then when I saw that Reginal Daniel PhD would be on the panel-- it was over. I knew that come hell or highwater I would be sitting there, pen and pad in hand waiting expectantly for those esteemed panelist to drop some knowledge.
Which they sorta did...
The panel moderated by Frank Buckley included Kelly Jackson, Larry Aaronson, Farzana Nayani and Reginald Daniel. Larry Aaronson definitely dominated the conversation, which made it difficult to fully hear the thoughts of the rest of the panelists. Yet here were some of the key points I gleaned:

  • Multi history starts with the colonization of the United States and is steeped in the histories of both slavery and Native Americans.
  • Subjectivity and the creation of narratives from and for multi people is essential
  • Multi history is also a history of activism and advocacy of the (relatively) young multiracial movement
  • More work needs to be done on the intersections of socio-economic class and multi identity formation
  • The multiracial movement actually has the potential to be a radical anti-racist, anti-oppressive social justice movement. But that potential needs to be consciously and actively fostered, because it is not part of the "natural" progression of the movement (AMEN!!!!!!!)
Screening of Bi-racial, Not Black....Damnit Part 2!
(you can watch the trailer on the Multifacial:Videos Page)

The controversial 2009 documentary film directed by Carolyn Battle Cochrane explores the complexities of bi-racial (black/non-black) individuals (mostly in the U.S.). I had come across the trailer for the film a few months ago on YouTube. Unfortunately, whoever made the trailer did a terrible job, because instead of feeling inticed, I was left feeling kind of annoyed-- believing that this was yet another film peddling a whiny "mixed-up" "confused" "self-hating" "neo-tragic mulatto" image of biracial individuals.
Despite my initial chagrin, however, I found the film to contain a depth and complexity that I had not expected from the trailer. In addition to one-on-one interviews, Part 2, which was shown at this year's festival, featured clips from a focus group the filmmaker moderated with a group of eight biracial people. It also included interviews and footage of a white mother raising her three bi-racial daughters which provided a different, though at times wholly problematic perspective. While I grapple with my own feelings about biraciality/multiraciality and the construction of blackness, at it's heart the film was advocating for the importance of self-identification. It highlighted some of the real stigmas (yes, they still exist) around interraciality and growing up biracial and provided a range of both complementary and opposing thoughts and opinions. At the end of the day, the film showed that we have quite a bit to talk about and a great deal of work left to do when it comes to understanding multiraciality and race, generally.

One of my biggest issues with the film is actually it's title. Being black and being biracial or multiracial aren't mutually exclusive in the least. It's about self-identification, but it's also about re-imaging this idea of "wholeness." As multi people we're often asked to split ourselves into parts-- becoming perpetual Osiris'-- halves of this, quarters of that. When do we accept the wholeness of our mixedness? It's not like my right arm is just black and my left foot is something else. The word "biracial" itself connotes a fractured, dual self-- which is usually a common feeling-- "walking in both worlds". Yet at the same time we need to demand to exist in spaces on our own terms and make visible all that we are. I think that a great deal of work needs to be done by all of us as a society, but also we as multi people need to empower ourselves to self-identify, know who we are and break out of the tunnel vision that threatens to keep us in our self-made "mixed" box by recognizing how we are connected to other marginalized communities and yes, even the dominant group (power & privilege is a huge part of multiness- and we need to confront that).

I often wonder how relevant these thoughts and dilemmas will be twenty-- even, ten years from now as the number of multi people increases. Everything is so generational and seeing all those multi babies with their families at the Mixed Roots festival, I felt a sense of mingled pride but also something resembling envy that unlike myself, (hopefully) these kids will grow up in a world where they can freely express the fullness and wholeness of who they are and be part of an actual mixed community in addition to all the other communities they may come to call home...

Mixed Roots, I'll be back for an amazing festival next year!

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