Just over two years ago, I received an email from Mixed Remixed founder Heidi Durrow, stating I’d been selected as a featured writer for that year’s festival. Heidi had no idea that her choice would come to transform my entire life.
I knew I wanted to be part of the Festival as far back as 2008, when Heidi ran a festival under a different name. Back then, I was immersed in my grad school program on the East Coast and didn’t have anything creative to show. Instead, I became a chair at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference in 2012 and presented my master’s thesis about the “tragic mulatta narrative.” While CMRS was amazing, I kept tabs on Heidi’s work and waited for her to reemerge with a festival project. When she finally started Mixed Remixed, I sent in my submission around midnight on the very last day of open applications.
All throughout grad school, I wrestled with a dual existence. I liked academia, but I couldn’t stop writing a memoir about my relationship with my black father who had died in 2001. My thesis no doubt helped spark this fever, as reading the works of Nella Larsen, Danzy Senna and Heidi herself made me desperate to share my own mixed race story.
In fact, Heidi helped fuel my desire to fuse my two worlds of literature and race even before I knew who she was. In the pages of the canonical book Black, White, Other, Heidi and others shared their experiences about being mixed race. The book came out in 1994 and I read it like the Bible, desperate then find race mirrors in my every day life.
When I received my acceptance from Heidi, I was at the end of a yearlong relationship, was teaching at an after school program, and had just been accepted to an intensive teaching credential program at San Jose State. Every time I stepped onto the SJSU campus, I felt overwhelmed by dread, and every time I told my students at the after school program to follow their dreams, I felt like a hypocrite. I had known I wanted to become a full-fledged writer since I was seven years old.
As fate would have it, or perhaps just good luck, my then boyfriend broke up with me and left me in a pile of tears. Once I wiped them away, I got back to work on my memoir and found letters from my father from 2000 and 2001, advising me to pursue an untraditional career path in the Arts. I practiced my reading for the festival on my coworkers at the after school program, and the look of wonder in their eyes was one I’d never seen before. The day before the festival, I stopped by my ex-boyfriend’s apartment to drop off his things, and then continued down 101 with a resolve to put my career before any relationship goals.
I fell in love with Mixed Remixed, and I fell in love with L.A. The reactions from the audience at our little reading (Mixed Remixed has big readings now) made me feel like my story was their story. Audience members came up to me after the reading, and I got validation not only as a writer, but as a mixed race writer as well. For the first time in my life, I knew my story had merit, not just to those looking in from the outside, but also to those who share the same mixed up DNA as myself. And theirs was the validation I needed.
By fall, I had transferred to one of the after school program’s L.A. County branches and began crafting my freelance career. By the next fall, I published an article in the online magazine For Harriet, called “What It Means to be Mixed Race During the Fight for Black Lives,” which discusses being mixed race during the increased coverage of police brutality. With this article I experienced the life changing nature of a viral story. I received personal messages, retweets and Facebook shares from mixed race people across the globe. They told me I had been able to put their thoughts into words in a way that finally made sense to them.
I also received an inundation of criticism from black and mixed-race men and women who all tried to define me in different ways. Some claimed I was black, some claimed I was mixed race. Some said I was delusional. Others said I was stuck up. Throughout all this backlash, I was able to keep a level head, largely because I knew I was part of a mixed race community, full of people whose identities had also been questioned and who knew the only way to stay sane is to remain true to your own self-perception.
Mixed Remixed has changed my life in other ways as well. I’ve made friendships, some of which I know will last a lifetime. I’ve networked with other writers, as well as filmmakers and musicians. I’ve found a home at a yearly event that stays with me all year long, and my life in L.A. is made sweeter by the connections I’ve made inside those doors.
After my viral article a mixed race writer named Sarah, whom I hadn’t met before, asked me to write an educators’ guide to accompany the biracial anthology she wrote with a co-author named Bryony. Last year I volunteered at the festival, and this year I’ll be meeting Sarah and Bryony, who are now friends and coming out from Puerto Rico and England, respectively. They’ll be panelists at the event, and we’ll be selling both their anthology and the educators’ guide, the latter of which is about to hit the shelves.
I can’t wait to walk through those doors in June and see what’s in store for this year’s festival. I knew no one my first year, and my second year I knew just a few from the year before. This June I’m excited to reconnect with a growing number of friends and acquaintances, and I look forward to meeting new members of the Mixed Remixed family. Heidi has built a veritable wonderland for mixed race folks, and through her hard work and passion she continues to change lives.
Shannon Luders-Manuel is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Essence.com, For Harriet, The Establishment and Multiracial Media, among others. Follow her on Twitter @shannon_luders or visit her blog at www.shannonludersmanuel.com.
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