Thursday, July 27, 2006

Beyond FAMILY: “My White Father” by Anne Branigin has reprinted an insightful column by Asian American writer Anne Branigin. Originally published in Philippine News, “My White Father” reveals Branigin’s direct approach to her mixed-race heritage, and much more. She discusses the pang of guilt she feels when she checks a box that fails to indicate the hidden half of her heritage, the curious questions she gets from friends after they’ve met her father. And she expresses her appreciation for the challenges her father must have faced as he helped raise “two Asian American children—who must see a society much different from the one he grew up in, through entirely different sets of eyes.”

Branigin doesn’t mention childhood stories of times when the fact that she was brown and her father was white raised eyebrows, but I’m fairly certain she has a few. My husband still tells the story of carrying our blue-eyed, blond-curled three-year-old son out of a furniture store, waiting for someone to stop him. The fact that my biracial husband has brown skin and my son has white skin (and was kicking and screaming because he wanted to play some more on the bunk beds in the store) probably did raise a few eyebrows, but luckily no one called the police.

On the flip side, I still get questions about my daughters, who look nothing like me. I’ve been asked a few times if my middle child (who strongly resembles her daddy) was adopted, and where in the world my youngest got her glorious head of black curls. Like Anne Branigin, I understand people’s curiosity and know raising children of mixed-race heritage does not necessarily involve tragic identity crises. And I appreciate, too, that a child who may not resemble one parent still inherits mannerisms from both sides of the family. As Branigin writes: “From my mother I get the loud laughter and the ability to function in the limelight. From my father, the downward gaze when recalling memories, and the desire to return back to a safe place, alone.”

We are our parents’ children and our children’s parents, regardless of what the world sees—and fails to see.

Photo ©

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beyond FORTITUDE: Teri Westerman of the Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League (PHAMALy)

Denver’s own PHAMALy summer productions are renowned not only for their incredible entertainment value, but for their inspirational impact. The only theatre group in the country that uses solely disabled actors and welcomes actors with any disabilities, PHAMALy has presented unique and powerful productions of classic musicals for the past 17 years. This month, PHAMALy presents The Wiz, in which Dorothy is played by blind actress Juliet Villa. Villa’s seeing eye dog, Deidra, plays Toto.

Teri Westerman, one of the founders of PHAMALy, plays several roles in The Wiz. A wheelchair dancer since age 11, Westerman has exhibited many, many times her ability not only to step up to a challenge but to succeed beyond anyone’s expectations. A 2006 Volvo for Life award-winner, Westerman has performed and competed in a wheelchair for years and also teaches the intricacies of wheelchair dance. Square dancing, ballet, and ballroom are only a few of the styles she’s mastered; she competes internationally in ballroom.

But it’s through annual PHAMALy productions that Westerman’s continued impact on the lives of local actors with disabilities is most obvious. As the Volvo for Life award site states, “By her actions, her achievements, and her enthusiasm, she inspires people everywhere to go beyond their limitations.” I’d add that Teri Westerman inspires us all to look beyond perceived limitations of others to appreciate all they have to offer, on and off the public stage.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Beyond FUN: New York City

I love New York. Really. We just enjoyed an overnight stay in the Big Apple during our visit to see friends and family back east, and everything came together to make that little side trip truly memorable. Times Square was packed as ever and the weather was steamy hot, but that just made each stop inside an air-conditioned venue that much more fun. If you’re ever in New York with little ones, have lunch at the Stardust Diner,where servers wearing clothes from the 1950s (including poodle skirts) take turns belting out show tunes while you eat. A horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park is another treat, especially when your driver invites your kids to help drive. And when you’ve had your fill of historic sites and craning to see the top of the Empire State Building, look around you at the people and enjoy another terrific view: a view of one of the most diverse populations you’ll ever see in one place. People flock to New York to live and visit from all over the world, and everyone belongs there. Long live the ideal of the American melting pot that thrives in our cities and the people devoted to making our cities safe, beautiful places so many love to call home...or just long to visit again and again and again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Beyond FINESSE: Ben Franklin

Thanks to blogger Bailey Stewart over at Long and Writing Road for a collection of inspiring quotes from our nation’s founding fathers. My favorite is at the top of her list and is from Ben Franklin: “Without Freedom of Thought there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as Public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.”

As we celebrate our independence, let’s consider what we can do—individually as well as collectively—to help the many worldwide who have never known or even imagined the many freedoms we consider our birthright.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Beyond FORTITUDE: Kerry Ann Rockquermore, Ph.D.

I try to reserve “Beyond FORTITUDE” posts for people who impress beyond belief. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Sociology at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), is one such person. Co-author most recently of Raising Biracial Children, Kerry Ann Rockquemore teaches, speaks, and writes books, articles, and book chapters on multiracial identity, interracial dating, and race and racism in America.

The daughter of an African American father and white mother, she is also Founding Director of the Underrepresented Faculty Mentoring Program at UIC and is actively involved in the Chicago Interracial Research Consortium (CIRC). Through the CIRC, UIC faculty and graduate students conduct research in the Chicago metro area on interracial families, trans-racial adoption, and multiracial identity and then provide their findings to social service agencies, media, and policy makers.

Professor Rockquemore is making a difference for people of mixed-race heritage through her important work. Not only does she influence the many students who take her courses at UIC, she reaches out to the entire academic community through her writings and presentations, contributes to regional programs that affect mixed-race families, and helps those of us outside academic circles understand her life work through books like Raising Biracial Children and Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America.

I have a good friend who received her doctorate degree at a young age, and I’ve seen the effort it takes not only to accomplish that tremendous feat but to build up an impressive academic resumé within a matter of years. I also understand the drive it takes for someone to devote herself to a cause she knows deep down is important. Kerry Ann Rockquemore is obviously devoted to raising awareness about interracial issues.

If you’re interested in communicating with Professor Rockquemore about your experiences with racial identity, check out her site heading “Halfbreed Nation” for information on how you can contribute your story to her ongoing research efforts.