Our Mixed Voices: Sharing Our Stories, the first workshop on the first morning of my first time at the Mixed Remixed Festival. Will I be the only Asian mix present? Do I look mixed enough? Will I fit on, or will this be just another event in which I find myself sitting on the periphery armed with polite nods and laughter conjured on cue?
There were 35 orange chairs arranged on the floor of the Japanese American National Museum’s Democracy Lab. I was among the first to arrive, but one by one people steadily stream in on my heels.
“I’m blogging for the festival,” I explained to Roxanne Kymaani, an expert in group dynamics and cultural construction, and one of the two workshop facilitators. (What I meant, of course, was “I’m going to watch (from a safe distance) but I’m not going to participate (or make myself vulnerable.)) Fortunately for me, she was having none of that. “Why don’t you participate?” was her response.
Dutifully, I took a seat, by which time most seats were already taken and the audience was still growing. Ultimately, the crowd swelled to over 50 many of whom had to sit on the floor despite the extra chairs were were able to find.
What struck me were those faces – no two alike and every single one beautiful. Never in my life had I witnessed such diversity. Never in my experience had I been in a room filled entirely of mixed race folk. Never before had I occasion to use the word “us.”
As we begin introducing ourselves I began to realize just how mixed mixed can be. White, Black, Japanese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, Pennsylvania Dutch, all mixed together in so many different combinations, resulting the stunning people in this room! Had I found a safe place, a place where I belong, a home?
Angelo Lewis, author, life coach and creator of the Dialogue Circle Method, shared facilitator duties with Ms. Kymaani. After introducing ourselves, he got us started with the following prompt: Describe a time when you experienced you mixed identity in a strong or powerful way. Mr. Lewis shared his experience first and it was a story about his struggle to claim his Japanese heritage.
Here was a man, who reads as black, describing how important it was for him to embrace his Japanese heritage. For the first time I saw being mixed, not as a burden, but rather as a rich experience resplendent in its complexities. And just as Mr. Lewis grew to embrace his mixed heritage fully, so too would I.
As we continued to share I heard stories of feeling pressured to choose a side, never fitting in, turmoil over self-image, of feeling called upon to prove one’s ethnicity. The group assembled were no longer strangers to me; they were kindred souls who have lived the experience I’ve lived but never had a name for, the mixed race experience.
His next prompt: Describe a time when you experienced a conflict between our public identity and a hidden identity.
I’ve ways been conflicted in sharing my Filipino heritage because I look more Spanish than Malay or Chinese. People don’t see me as Asian and as a result I almost feel as if I’m lying when I admit that I’m part Asian.
So many people in the room shared the same experience, which, up until then, had been a private struggle for me because I believed that it was mine and mine alone. I looked around the room at all of those striking mixed faces, and I realized I had found my people, that my experiences were, in fact, our experiences.
The workshop ended with a free-association exercise about what we had experienced during the workshop. Just as we did in the workshop, I end here with the words and phrases we shared: validation, synthesis, holding that space, connectedness, finally belonging, we are all different but we all have the same problems, I am home and i am here to aid in the healing, relieved, complexity, our stories matter and they deserve to be told.
–Michael Maliner, Festival Blogger, michaelmaliner.com
This is one story in a series about the programs held at the Mixed Remixed Festival 2016. Please read through them all by searching our blog with “2016 Festival Re-Cap.”