Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Multiethnicity: the best of both worlds

Christina Perez, professor of sociology and director of women's studies at Dominican, spoke to my global communications class this evening about growing up in Oak Park in a multicultural family raised by her Irish and German mother and Mexican father. "My parents gave us the best of both worlds," she told us. "I didn't consider myself either Mexican or German; I was both."

As a young girl, she faced adversity in the exclusively white neighborhoods of Chippewa Falls, WI, where her mother's side of the family lived. Perez said that the feeling of being ostracized was hard for her to comprehend because her parents had never discussed racial issues; she had no concept of "other;" people were just people. In high school she celebrated St. Patrick's Day as a true blue (green?) Irish girl, and she just as eagerly embraced her Mexican heritage. Her father, who had struggled to learn English in his youth, did not speak Spanish in the home, and Perez didn't learn the language until she was in her early 20s. However, she did say that she felt more identified with her Mexican relatives because she was more embraced and accepted with them.

I always find it interesting to hear about people who grew up in multicultural or biracial homes. Do the kids lean more heavily toward one side or another? Do biracial children identify more with one side?

Junior Tiffany Gramarossa, who is half Italian and half Puerto Rican, says that she agrees with Perez that being multicultural gives one the "best of both worlds," but also felt some contention from a couple of her Italian relatives who could not reconcile the fact that her father had married a Puerto Rican.

I've heard that individuals who are half black and half white often identify strongly with one side or another of their mixed heritage (usually the black side by virtue of the one-drop rule), but it's also entirely possible (but probably less likely) that they have the same affinity for both sides.

This also reminds me of Presidential candidate Barack Obama's circumstances. His mother was white and his father Kenyan. The one-drop rule, which is almost exclusively an American concept, says that Obama is black, but I'm interested to know how he balances his multiethnic heritage. I should also probably read The Audacity of Hope and Dreams of My Father; I believe he addresses those issues growing up. People seem to forget that Obama is just as white as he is black--but the one-drop rule causes us to call him the "first black Presidential candidate." It's fine, because he is black, but it's still...interesting.

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