Based on the essays of Julia Alvarez and Danzy Senna and our class discussion, what do you think are the real issues of multiraciality or multiracial identity? The essays of Julia Alvarez and Danzy Senna address issues of multiracial identity important in their younger years as they grew up daughters of a multiethnic and multiracial background. Despite the slight generational differences, the same issues are as important today as they were twenty or thirty years ago.
The concept of one being multiracial is a relatively new concept. In the past, a person with a mixed racial background could not reasonably claim a mixed heritage openly, one had to identify with one or the either. Those that could not do that usually found themselves isolated from either background. This is made apparent in American literature through memorable characters such as William Faulkner’s Joe Christmas, a man from a mixed racial background who could not identify wholly with either his black or white heritage in the South in the early 20th century. This is also the experience of Danzy Senna, who explains that in her early experiences in Boston, that there was either black or white and no “halvsies”. Despite her father’s choice of white female companionship, her father made her define herself as black. This was the usual trend of the multiracial equation until corporations, as Senna describes, realize that multiracialism can increase their profit margin. Thus, we see the bombardment of multiracialism in pop culture today. This is especially apparent in the entertainment industry, particularly the music industry. Many celebrities now take pride in their multiethnic, multiracial heritage. Nowadays, it is chic for many music artists to be of multiracial background. Where one had to choose between one or the either, as Senna and in part Alvarez had, it was considered okay to claim a multiracial background even on official forms with the bubble sheets with white, black, Latino, Asian/pacific islander, and other for racial identification. Yet, this new embracement of multicultural is due more to commercial manipulation rather than an increasing acceptance of the evolving racial equation. One example is the popularity of Latin music.
In the last past two years, the popularity of Latin music has exploded and along with it, the careers of people like Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, and Enrique Inglesias. Some of these people claim a mixed racial heritage and accordingly, it seems apparent that a more tolerant and even accepting time in history has come for those of a mixed heritage. Indeed, many entertainers now come to fame based in part on having a mixed racial heritage. However, Latin music has been around for many years and its emergence in the mainstream is unlikely to be due to a more liberal attitude towards multicultural, multiethnic themes. The recent, newly found popularity demonstrates more of a realization that companies can exploit multiracialism for a profit. Commercialism exploits and co-opts the theme of multiculturalism in the name of profit. It glamorizes people who reveal their multicultural or multiracial background and makes them look exotic. However, it is imperative to understand, that these motives are not high-minded. It is simply for profit and record sales, that corporations have encouraged outlets for multicultural and multiracial diversity. Senna notes in her essay that an advertiser said, “multiracialism was a terrific marketing tool, the best way to sell to as many types of people as possible”(20). In many ways, this marketing tool has become obnoxious and irritating. Many Asian families in the past years have received mailings of advertising from American companies like MCI, encouraging them to use their services or buy their products because of their supposed sensitivity to Asian appeals. Many of these advertisings have oriental motifs and often, the script is nostalgic of Chinese characters. Although it was a fresh and appealing way of advertising at first, it has become annoying as the bombardment of such mailings continued. Some may say that these advertisings are a fresh and appealing way to advertise to a diverse population. However, one must understand that the purpose of advertising is simply to generate more profit in new, exotic ways. Once, the appeal of multiculturalism and multiracialism is gone from the mainstream, corporations will cut their losses and once again, multiculturalism and multiracialism will be set aside for the usual American mainstream. Nothing ever thrives on such shallow soil as commercialism.
In truth, people still tend to have problems dealing with those of multiracial descent and mixed marriages. Many families still frown on mixed marriages and often distance themselves from offspring from such marriages. Many Asian families still consider it unseemly for their daughters to marry out of their races. In the past, people considered Asian women who married out of their race to either be members of a westernized, wealthy family or common prostitutes. In Vietnam, many ostracize the offspring of American offspring and Vietnamese mothers. Often orphaned from birth, many never receive adoptive parents. Even after immigrating to the United States, many Vietnamese are reluctant to accept these children as family or in-laws. Thus, multiculturalism and multiracialism have a long path ahead. It will be a long time before people totally accept them. This is evident in schools throughout the United States. Although many claim to be diverse, multiracial and multicultural, it is evident that the curriculum is not. On the Advanced Placement Exam for United States History, there is little emphasis on the multicultural aspects of the United States. Much of the content reflects Anglo-Saxon and other European contributions to the development of the country. The exam relegates contributions by non-Europeans to trivial questions and rarely any of the essay questions except in some relation to certain wars. It is clear that much of the curriculum even at the college preparatory level does not reflect the multicultural aspects of American society. Julia Alvarez points this out in her essay, when she describes the curriculum at the school where she taught literature as a “visiting instructor.” White male writers from the United States and Great Britain wrote most of the texts in her assigned curriculum (146). Even today, many refer to American culture and past as Anglo-Saxon in nature. True acceptance of multiculturalism and multiracialism will only happen when people accept and learn to understand differences. This will be a time, when people take multiracialism and multiculturalism without the pretentious hype typical of this generation.
Despite what one might see on television and what conglomerates may want people to believe, the roots of multiculturalism and multiracialism are in shallow soil. Change does not come by commercial hype, but rather by an evolving process of change in thoughts, ideas and in the racial equation.