Sunday, November 14, 2010

Watershed Moment for Critical Mixed Race Studies

Critical Mixed Race Studies Inaugural Conference

Camilla Fojas welcoming participants to CMRS 2010 on behalf of DePaul University
Welcoming Remarks Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference 9:30am Friday, November 5, 2010
On November 5-6, 2010 DePaul University in Chicago, IL hosted the inaugural 2010 Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) conference “Emerging Paradigms in Critical Mixed Race Studies.” We had over 450 people registered and 430 people actually showed up from all over the U.S. from Hawaii to Tennessee to New York as well as scholars from Canada, Korea, and the UK. The programming included 62 sessions of panels, round tables, and seminars; multiple film screenings, keynote addresses by leading scholars Mary Beltran from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Andrew Jolivette from San Francisco State University, and community activist and artist Louie Gong from MAVIN and Eighth Generation; a Mixed Mixer social event with live jazz music; a performance by comedian Kate Rigg; an Informational Fair; a Book Table; Caucus and Business meetings.
From left to right: Ranier Spencer, Michele Elam, Habiba Ibrahim, Jared Sexton
Audience at Michele Elam, Ranier Spencer, Habiba Ibrahim, and Jared Sexton's panel "Back from Beyond Black: Alternative Paradigms for Critical Mixed-Race Theory"
"Creating and Performing Amerasians" panel left to right: Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Cindy Howe, Ariko Ikehara
Many panels were standing room only or at capacity. We were honored to have senior scholars present at CMRS including: Kent Ono, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Stanford University; G. Reginald Daniels (via SKYPE), University of California at Santa Barbara; Ranier Spencer, University of Nevada at Las Vegas; Michele Elam, Stanford University; and Richard Lou, University of Memphis. Representatives from community organizations came out in full force from: MAVIN, SWIRL Inc., Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival, Multiracial Americans of Southern California,, and the Biracial Family Network. A strong contingent of undergraduate and graduate students from DePaul University and area colleges and a surprisingly high number of graduate students from across the country joined us as well.

"Exploring the Mixed Experience in New Media" round table with (left to right): Greg Carter, Tiffany Jones, Fanshen Cox, and Seven Riley
Thomas Lopez from Multiracial Americans of Southern California
Marriage Equity USA activist Stuart Gaffney, CMRS 2010 co-organizer Wei Ming Dariotis, Ken Tanabe of
Representing Fusion from Rutgers University - Phillip Handy and Matthew Vaden
When Camilla Fojas (DePaul University), Wei Ming Dariotis (San Francisco State University), and I initially envisioned this conference back in 2008 at a multiracial leadership retreat outside of San Francisco, we thought CMRS might be a small gathering of 50 or so academics. We were blown away not only by the number of people who showed up but also by the level of energy. I saw a lot of people there from the 8:30am welcoming remarks on Friday am all the way through the 10pm Saturday night closing event! I kept hearing people talk about what a legitimizing experience this was for them both on a personal and professional level.

From left to right: filmmaker Jessica Chen Drammeh, CMRS 2010 keynote speaker Mary Beltran, and organizers Camilla Fojas, Laura Kina, and Wei Ming Dariotis
"Visualizing Mixed Race: Art & Ambiguity" panel from left to right: Jillian Nakorntap, Debra Yepa-Pappan, Amy M. Mooney, Myra Green
Audience members Emily Hanako Momohara and Allen Turner
We want to thank everyone who participated in making CMRS 2010 happen and we are looking forward to the next steps for Critical Mixed Race Studies: founding an association and a peer reviewed online journal; planning for CMRS 2012 at DePaul University and CMRS 2014 (hopefully at the University of Washington); looking for ways us to continue to stay in touch virtually (listserv, dedicated website); and ways to keep the momentum going for CMRS for 2011. There is a lot of work to do and we’ll be sending out the business minutes shortly with ways for you all to get involved.

Following the conference, a colleague challenged me to describe what Critical Mixed Race Studies is in layman’s terms. My best attempt for now is, “Critical Mixed Race Studies focuses on multiracial, interracial, and transracial adoption populations and is concerned with social justice.” My co-organizers and I came up with the following “academic” definition back in 2008:

Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) is the transracial, transdisciplinary, and transnational critical analysis of the institutionalization of social, cultural, and political orders based on dominant conceptions of race. CMRS emphasizes the mutability of race and the porosity of racial boundaries in order to critique processes of racialization and social stratification based on race. CMRS addresses local and global systemic injustices rooted in systems of racialization.

Our reason for this wordy and hopefully careful definition was an attempt to describe something that was already happening around us rather than something purely theoretical. The term “critical” builds on the field of Critical Race theory, a discipline that emerged in the 1970s in the US, which has historically been concerned with racial justice advocacy. Multiracial scholarship in the US began to emerge with key publications such as Paul Spickard’s Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century American (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) and Maria P.P. Root’s Racially Mixed People in America (Sage Publications, 1992). What has yet to happen is an organized effort to establish critical mixed race studies as a field with an aim towards mentoring, networking, and supporting scholarship. We wanted to highlight the interdisciplinary focus and the transnational focus that is currently emerging.  Much of the early work in multiracial scholarship has been focused within national boundaries (e.g. the US racial paradigm) or rooted and aimed at only one specific discipline (e.g., psychiatry, sociology). We want to describe something more expansive while at the same time not erase important work that continues in specific geographic regions and within disciplinary contexts.

With this in mind, it quickly became apparent at CMRS 2010 that we might never agree what “critical mixed race studies” is (and that’s perfectly healthy for this to be contested terrain) but I think we can come to a consensus as to our mission “to advance Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) as an academic discipline and a professional field committed to excellence in teaching, research and service to the community.”

Like so many others, I first became interested in issues of mixed race as part of a personal journey to understand my own family history and place in the world. I’m Okinawan, Spanish-Basque, French, English, Irish and Dutch….in other words Asian/White. I grew up in California and the Pacific Northwest identifying as “hapa.” Following the 2000 US Census, I was eager to move beyond biography to find out what other mixed folks were up to. In 2002 I created a series of oil paintings, The Hapa Soap Opera series, starring an all mixed race Asian cast. Living in the Midwest since the early 90s and entrenched in Asian America, I could only imagine such a community in a virtual space. By the time I created my 2006 Loving charcoal series (named in honor of the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court Case, which overturned the nation’s last anti miscegenation laws), my work reflected the growing number of mixed race peers that had come into my life. By and large they were members of the post 1967 bi-racial baby boom but, who despite our shared mixed heritage, we were still quite disconnected.

Artists Maya Escobar and Laura Kina, writer Tina Ramirez, composer Alejandro Acierto, filmmaker Jonathan Reinert. Round table organized by Alejandro Acierto "Creating Resistance: Using the Arts in Challenging Racial Ideologies"
In 2008, I created a course for DePaul “Mixed Race Art and Identity” for which there was no existing textbook or sample syllabus to model after. This meant me, as a studio artist, having to set down the brush for a season and pick up the pen (or rather MP3 recorder) to begin to collect artist interviews and assemble a bibliography and index of readings and resources to bring back to my students. At the same time I began to became more involved with MAVIN, “the nation's leading organization that helps build healthier communities by raising awareness about the experiences of mixed heritage people and families.” I currently serve on MAVIN's board. I mention all of this because my story as an academic working on multiracial issues and wearing multiple hats (artist, writer, curator, community organizer etc.) is probably quite typical. It’s been a circuitous, albeit exciting, route of finding existing resources, building my own and navigating uncharted waters. Surely there must be an easier way! Joining efforts with Camilla Fojas and Wei Ming Dariotis, we began to imagine what we might have in common as a larger academic and activist community. With the 2010 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference, our virtual connections have become a physical reality.

CMRS 2010 keynote speaker Andrew Jolivette
Rather than celebrating the arrival of the watershed moment of research on multiracial issues, in which we find ourselves, our three keynote speakers all offered cautionary advice and provocations. In Andrew Jolivette’s November 5, 2010 opening keynote presentation, “Critical Mixed Race Studies: New Directions in the Politics of Race & and Representation”, he asked us, “How do we make coalitions with other oppressed people? How do we break out of the divide of immigrant and citizen or native and non-Native…are these simply binaries and what does all of this have to do with mixed race identity?” He went on to say,

….So what does it mean to be critical, and what can critical mixed race studies offer in dialogues and movements for new directions in the politics of race and representation…what can this critical mixed race studies do about social justice, about human rights, about ending rape, ending economic genocide, about Islamaphobia…and transnational exploitation through capitalist systems of forced and cheap or free labor…in prisons and sweat shops…on borders and in wars…what is our call to action…what will it take for us as Indigenous people and folks of color to work across the divides that have been intentionally set-up to divide us…

Jolivette set the terms for a Critical Mixed Race Pedagogy as he challenged us to “Keep the Revolution Moving.”
Critical mixed race pedagogy as I define it contains four basic components: 1) social justice; 2). Self-determination; 3). cross-ethnic and transnational solidarity; and 4). Radical love. Social justice as articulated by critical mixed race pedagogy asserts that all communities regardless of history, socio-economic circumstance, educational background, health status or national origin require access to the same rights of national and global citizenship as all other bodies.

CMRS keynote speaker Mary Beltran
Mary Beltran in her Saturday morning November 6th keynote address, “Everywhere and Nowhere: Mediated Mixed Race and Mixed Race Critical Studies”, laid out the current media landscape presence of multiracials and as her title implies, we seem to be everywhere but yet there are very few nuanced stories being told on either the big screen or the small screen about the lives of multiracial individuals. What’s happening instead is that mixed race (as in half white) characters fill the diversity requirement and are used to reinforce normative standards of whiteness. Beltran called for more multiracial screenwriters to take on this challenge. What I took away from Beltran’s talk was how she looked at the pros and cons of focusing on mixed race within her own hybrid position as an Associate Professor in Communications and Chican@ and Latin@ studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Because we do not have a set field or departments within the institution, we must work across fields. Interdisciplinarity and intersectionality thus become key theoretical and methodological approaches. The flip side is that many of us work in isolation. Simply finding who else out there is working on related topics poses a significant challenge.

CMRS 2010 keynote speaker Louie Gong
On the evening of November 6th, Louie Gong who describes himself as “a Native of mixed heritage (Nooksack, Squamish, Chinese, French, Scottish)“ asked us to consider issues of access in his talk, “Halfs and Have Nots.” Gong shared his own story of growing up in a Nooksack tribal community and what the stakes and terms are for education both in Native communities and for mixed race youth. He talked about the multi-generational trauma of the boarding school system on Native communities and how he started high school with 11 other fellow Nooksack tribal members and how by his senior year, only 2 ended up graduating. He asked us all to raise our hands if we had an undergraduate degree or were on our way to receiving one. I’m pretty sure almost the entire audience raised their hands. He went for the heart. Our privilege was obvious. So what are we in Critical Mixed Race Studies going to do about those other 9 kids? He went on to talk about how his work with MAVIN, and the multiracial movement and how it has been through his artwork with his custom Coast Salish shoes (see that he has really been able to open doors to talk about multiracial issues within Native and youth communities. At the end of his talk, Gong told a story of coming home from school each day and grabbing a juicy red apple and going out to get the mail. As he would walk across the res, kids would yell out, “cannibal!” It wasn’t until years later that he figured out why they were yelling that. The audience was silent for a moment….no one laughed. Gong had to go on to gently prod us…”you know, apple - red on the outside, white on the inside….” No, we aren’t all the same as mixed folks. That silence, that space that starts as misunderstanding, is very important. It’s really the beginning of understanding.

and now for the CREDITS:

Help behind the scene. Cristina Rodriguez and Maria Ochoa from Latin American and Latino Studies and the Center for Latino Research

Kenji Tran from Global Asian Studies holding up a conference bag. Logo design and conference cover design by Sandra Franco.
I first want to thank my fellow CMRS organizers WEI MING DARIOTIS, Assistant Professor Asian American Studies San Francisco State University, and CAMILLA FOJAS, Professor and Chair Latin American and Latino Studies.

We wish to especially thank DePaul University Department of Latin American and Latino Studies and the Global Asian Studies program for HOSTING the inaugural 2010 CMRS conference. We are deeply indebted to the countless hours MARÍA ISABEL OCHOA and CRISTINA RODRÍGUEZ put in to make sure all the big and little details for the conference were covered. We also want to thank MAYRA ALANIS, JOVANI PEREZ, ANTHONY RODRÍGUEZ, and CESAR ALANIS of the Latin American and Latino Studies and Center for Latino Research and ELIZABETH LILLEHOJ and KENJI TRAN of the Global Asian Studies. None of this would have been possible without the continued support of the Dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Dean CHARLES SUCHAR.

We would like to thank our partners MAVIN for helping spread the word about CMRS far and wide and MAVIN’s ERIC HAMAKO, AMANDA EREKSON, JENEE JAHN, MONICA NIXON, and THERESA RONQUILLO for organizing workshops for this year.

I have to give a special shout out to KATRINA CALDWELL and LAILA MCCLOUD of the Center for Intercultural Programs for sponsoring and organizing the November 5th mixed mixer and the November 6th event with comedian Kate Rigg.
Comedian Kate Rigg messing with an audience member after the show

We would also like to thank the following DEPAUL UNIVERSITY units for their generous co-sponsorship:
African &Black Diaspora Studies
American Studies
Art, Media, & Design
Center for Latino Research
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
LGBTQ Studies
Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity - President’s Signature Series  - especially ELIZABETH ORTIZ and MIRANDA STANDBERRY-WALLACE
The Society of Vincent de Paul Professors
Women’s and Gender Studies
Women’s Center

SPECIAL THANKS to all the other individuals who helped organize CMRS 2010. Thanks to SANDRA FRANCO for her amazing logo design and for creating a graphic design identity for CMRS, JENNIFER MANGUINO of Broughton Hotels for shuttle services and delightful accommodations at the Willows, City Suites, and the Majestic Hotels. None of this would have been possible without the assistance of faculty and staff across DePaul including: ASTRA STEPHENS and the staff of the Student Center; LINDA GRECO from DePaul’s Liberal Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office for creating the CMRS 2010 website; WEN-DER LIN and the staff of Information Services; AISLINN CALLAHAN-BRANDT of Parking Services; MARK GOLDBERG-FOSS and the staff of the DePaul Bookstore; and ELIZABETH SOSA and the staff of Chartwells Catering Services.


  1. Have you got any mixed race events coming up shortly because if so we would like to post them on our Mixed Race UK site.

  2. Thank you for this detailed article Laura. It helped me for the article I'm writing for Multicultural Familia about Critical Mixed Race Studies.