Before Obama was Obama: Voices of Older Mixed Race Americans & Interracial Families was a great panel featuring panelists Cathy Tashiro, Roy Harrison.
Until now, no one has examined the collective stories of the 20th century’s older, mixed-raced Americans. Stories of younger people of mixed heritage are out there but Cathy Tashiro’s book Standing on Both Feet: Voices of Older Mixed Race Americans (Paradigm Publishers, 2013) takes the story one step further―analyzing how previous generations worked to find their place in decades when their very existence violated entrenched societal beliefs and legally enforced color lines.
This panel featured a conversation between author Cathy Tashiro and Roy Harrison.
Cathy Tashiro is the author of Standing on Both Feet: Voices of Older Mixed Race Americans which interweaves the experiences of 20 people born between 1902 and 1951 who are mixed African American/Caucasian or Asian American/Caucasian. The book’s title refers to a frequent theme in their stories―a life with one foot in each culture; but a society that checked the box of racial identity for them based largely on rigid definitions of race.
Like the people she interviewed, Cathy Tashiro is of mixed race. She was born to a Japanese American father and white mother from Kentucky who got together right at the end of World War II when there was a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment. Her mother was initially disowned by her white grandfather for marrying her father. She is Faculty Emerita in the Nursing and Healthcare Leadership Program at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Her perspective is informed by the unique blend of her experiences as a health care provider and sociologist, and she has published articles and book chapters on mixed race identity, mixed race and health disparities, and the meaning of race in healthcare and research. Before getting her doctorate in sociology, she was a health care provider in many community-based settings with diverse populations.
Roy Harrison who joined Cathy on the panel and was a subject in Cathy’s book (as Fred Johnson) has a unique bio that you can read here: “In 1965 I obtained a copy of my birth certificate which gave me quite a surprise. It confirmed my birth in 1941 to Roy Harrison, a Negro born in Sheridan, WY and Carole Harrison, a Creole, born in Taylor, ND. My mother was in fact of Norwegian descent. There was no mention of my race. As a child I had no problem with being a Negro but I wondered why, since I was more white then Negro (my father also had Creek ancestry). A friend said he was told that my mother couldn’t be white, because it was illegal. Like many mixed race people living in white areas, I had no idea that there were other people in the world like me. I have been Colored, Negro, Black, African American*, Mixed Race, but I now refer to myself as a Mixed Race-Other. However I claim the right to self determination and call myself whatever I want, whenever I want, even African American* which I don’t care for.”