The Beginning of Mixed Identity

The impetus for Mixed Identity was my family – I have 3 brothers and a sister; we all identify differently. We all have the same parents.

MY FAMILY

A dad who is mostly Irish, with little knowledge to the cultures and experiences that created his people.  He has spent much of his adult life looking for this through genealogy. A few Christmas’ ago I purchased him a DNA test – he was nervous to open the email when it came. I do not think he has found what he desires, a belonging. He too has research my mother’s genealogy. He loves finding family. When I married my partner he started looking into their history as well.

His mother came from beaver trappers in Canada. They were definitely not French Candian – made the mistake of asking my grandmother this once. Definitely not French.

His father was adopted in Kansas City, Missouri. His adopted mother passed away when he was young. He was raised by an adoptive uncle in a boarding house until he was 13 when he took off on his own.  

A mom who is Tsimpshian and Iowa Farmer stock.

Her identity is strongly tied to her Tsimpshian side, my grandmother. Tsimpshian culture is matriartical and so too was my family. Tsimpshian identity – as well as our family’s religious identity – dominated our lives. We only visited the reservation – a small island in Southeast Alaska, accessible only by Puddle Jumper or Ferry – once when I was a child. It was very expensive and more so for such a large family. But our Tsimpshain family came to us often. Through my mom’s mother and sisters but also many more aunties and cousins; who in western culture would be once or twice removed but as a Tsimpshian they were just my aunties and cousins. My mother taught us the stories and even some S’malyak (the Tsimpshian language).  She made sure we knew who we were, where we came from.

Most of growing up I did not now or meet much of my maternal grandfather’s side of the family. The first time I met any of them, except my mother’s half-brother, was when I was almost 30 and just graduating from my masters’ program. But what I did know growing up is that we could trace this family back to Lord Horatio Nelson – they guy who kicked Napoleon’s ass at Waterloo.

This childhood informed our identities. But then my brothers, sister and I went out into the world. The world used our appearance to define us. This too has a large affect on how we identify. Our identities are fluid too. This fascinated me. Why did we identify so differently? What where the causes? What were our experiences? Stories of mixed-race people are compelling and each and every one is different.

OTHER MIXED FOLKS

My interest in mixed-race stories increase the more I met.

I can count the number of mixed-race friends from childhood on one hand.

Amy – The world identified her as black. Her mother is white, father black. They belonged to the same religion as us. We lived in similar socio-economic standards.

Her identity changed, depending on who she was with; when we were together she was punk rock, when she was with her school friends she was more ghetto mouse. I looked down on her at the young age of 13-16 when we were friends; I thought this was fake, that she didn’t know herself. As I have grown I have seen that identity is fluid, beyond race to socio-economics, gender, sexuality, you name it if it is part of your identity it can fluid. I can see now both Amy and I were pushing up against out religious identities, as well as our racial identity. I too switched depending on who I was around.

We never discussed race. It wasn’t what you did in the 90s.

Erica – her mother is Scottish and Japanese, her father a White supremacist Puerto Rican. She came from money. We were friends in high school and then most of my adult life. I don’t remember our identities as mixed race people playing a big role until we had been adults living outside of Southern California for awhile. Growing up in Southern California, we were just two more brown girls on the spectrum of brown. Outside of So Cal – we were racially ambiguous. Depending on where we lived we went from white-passing to exotic. We would spend hours and hours discussing our mixed identities. I am blown away at how we identified changed through out our lives. She went from identifying as white/Asian to embracing her Hispanic identity. Even as an adult, this felt at first as fake. It took me some time to accept that her father had taken this part of her identity away from her, like so many people in the past and currently, assimilation was a the quickest and safest way to achieve success in our western culture.

Her story and stories like hers has pushed me to creating this podcast.

Mat, Tim, Samira, Janice, David, Sandra, Nick, Diane, Rob, Mike, Emma, Noah, Jenny, and more –

 I have met more and more mixed peeps, along the way; each with their own story, their own way of identifying, their own way of making it in this world where everyone wants you to choose a box.

  One thought on “The Beginning of Mixed Identity

  1. Sandra Biehl
    August 22, 2019 at 4:49 am

    To my wonderful baby girl- I love that you are in Seattle. As close to my home as you can possibly be without actually being in Alaska! Glad you’re dancing and teaching your sons about both sides of their racial identity.

    Like

  2. Gerry
    October 30, 2019 at 2:52 am

    I am not accustomed to seeing Tsimpshian spelled that way. Is this the preferred spelling?

    Like

    • November 6, 2019 at 7:23 am

      No. But it is the way I grew up spelling it and I struggle to change. Tsimpsian is most common, though Ts’msyan is also correct.

      Like

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