Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beyond FEATURES: HYPHEN on Hines Ward and the Multiracial Dream

Another new site just came across the radar during a search for a Sports Illustrated for Kids article (yes, I have a teen-age son) about Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ward is Korean and African American, and his story became popular with the press even before he made the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XL earlier this year. A February trip back to Korea with his Korean mother received a great deal of attention, too. From what I’ve read, all this attention did nothing but good: Biracial children in Korea and their families have traditionally been ostracized. By publicly acknowledging and discussing what he and his mother endured…and learned…during his childhood, Ward has given biracial children in Korea and the U.S. a role model worthy of as much attention and respect as they—and the press—opt to shower upon him.

The October 2006 Sports Illustrated for Kids story, “This is Who I am,” apparently isn’t available on-line. I’m glad I read it and encouraged my son to read it, too. The article allowed Ward to tell his story in his own words. The anecdote I’ll remember most is the one of Ward as a fourth-grader who was teased and never felt accepted by white kids, black kids, or Asian kids and who scrunched down in the car one morning at drop-off so no one at school would see him with his mother. His mother realized he was embarrassed to be seen with her and started crying. “After that,” Ward stated, “all the name-calling just went in one ear and out the other.”

The blog of Hyphen magazine offered its own take on Ward’s appeal in this February 17 post, “Hines Ward and the Multiracial Dream.” The post raised concerns about the attention celebrities like Ward get, concerns that are voiced by many: “Sometimes…it seems that people enthusiastically embrace all things multiracial and multicultural just as a way to show how modern and with it they are.” In the comments to the post, one visitor suggested that spotlighting celebrities like Ward, who are in “positions to inspire,” can only be a good thing. I agree. I do believe, however, that it’s important for publications like Hyphen magazine and its blog to question the often-stereotypical portrayals of Americans whose identities and families cross racial and/or cultural boundaries. The Hyphen blog is full of stories that reflect concerns shared by many Americans of Asian descent.

For other resources on such issues, check out Hyphen’s comprehensive list of community links to sites like Thailinks and Asian Pacific Fund.

Photo © Associated Press

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Literary Mama features so many thoughtful and thought-provoking reviews, interviews, poems, stories, op-ed pieces that I have to tread carefully for fear of sinking in over my head. Then I stumble across something like this review of Barbara Katz Rothman’s Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption by Deesha Philyaw Thomas and I’m sunk with no hope of resurfacing for a good half hour. Or so. Because reviewers like Thomas do works like Rothman’s “critical examination” of “assumptions about race and family in this country” wondrous justice when they consider an author’s intentions while also analyzing that author’s success or failure in achieving stated goals.

And there’s so much to consider here. Rothman, a white adoptive mother of a black child and Thomas, a black adoptive mother, approach the subject of race in America from two distinct perspectives. Yet Rothman, Thomas states, seems to understand that she will never fully understand racism, and yet justifiably claims the right not only to acknowledge the impact of racism on her family but to study racism, analyze it, and present her understandings of its impact on many, many families.

Thomas ultimately concludes that Rothman succeeded because she refused to write yet another “memoir of a white woman discovering race.” This book, instead, explores a variety of issues that stem from transracial and/or transnational adoption. Consider this quote from Rothman concerning the history of hair:

“In the doing of hair, one does race. Race is constructed, celebrated, despaired of, enjoyed, feared. Hair is a test to be passed or failed, a trial to be endured, an intimate moment to be shared. In memoirs of those raised within the African-American community and those raised by white people, hair and the doing of hair emerges as a focal point for the discussion and for the experience of race…. White people—especially but not exclusively those of us raising black children—need to know these stories, need to know the politics and history of hair.”

White people also need to know the politics and history of race in our country. As Thomas states: “Weaving a Family is Rothman’s gauntlet and guidepost to adoptive parents—and to anyone concerned about race and family.”

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Beyond FACTS: FLYING OVER 96th STREET by Tom Webber

While researching Tom Webber’s memoir Flying Over 96th Street: Memoir of an East Harlem White Boy, I had the pleasure of stumbling across the Jerry Jazz Musician site. Check out the wonderful Jerry Jazz interview with Webber; it features photos from Harlem as well as excerpts from jazz classics by the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday that celebrate the diverse moods of life north of 96th Street. What I love most, though, are the school photos of Tommy Webber and his best friend, Danny, also featured on the interview page. I had grown fond of both boys while reading Flying Over 96th Street, and to find their smiling faces on a web site was a real treat.

At age nine, blonde and blue-eyed and hailing from the comforts of the Upper West Side, Tommy Webber moved with his family into an East Harlem housing project. Webber’s father, a Protestant minister, had decided he’d do much more good living among his parishioners. Nearly fifty years later, Webber lives in East Harlem again, this time with his wife and their family. As Webber notes, “I carry East Harlem within me wherever I go just as surely as I carry my likes and dislikes, my beliefs and values.” His story of his childhood growing up on the streets of East Harlem, also known as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem due to the large numbers of its Puerto Ricans residents in the ’50s and ’60s, includes many examples of reverse discrimination, but offers the willing reader much more. “One thing I've learned for sure growing up in East Harlem is the wisdom of letting each person define for himself what he is.” This is Tom Webber’s message, and it rings out from every page of Flying Over 96th Street. From forays into Manhattan to run-ins with police officers who weren’t sure they liked to see a white boy playing with a black boy, from tough lessons on neighborhood basketball courts to fun lessons in diddy-bopping and Spanish lingo, Webber’s memoir provides a wealth of details and an appreciation for the extent to which the human spirit can soar once barriers are removed, once fear is replaced with a willingness to share what’s real between races, once friendships are allowed to take root and blossom despite the differences we’re all so quick to see.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Beyond FRIDAY: Scouting for...Peace of Mind

This morning was breezy, around sixty degrees. I parked the car to walk my two girls to the front door of school since their brother wasn’t with us to help at car line and since my older daughter was carrying a new globe in for show and tell. My kindergartner had her silver cat necklace for show and tell tucked safely in her Hello Kitty backpack. As we walked up the sidewalk along the east side of the school, I held my little one’s hand, realized she was humming, and willed myself not to talk. Instead, I watched my second-grader with the globe in her proud hands and her pink coat and Disney backpack, felt the rose-petal hand I held, and really listened to my little one humming. She reminded me of my son humming at her age while skiing. The world in such moments is so comforting. A blue sky, a happy child or two, contentment captured, if only for a few moments. And on the walk back to the car alone after kissing my girls good-bye, I reached in my pocket and found a tiny white seashell speckled brown like a bird’s egg, fragile and so far from the sea. I’d no idea how it got in my pocket, but accepted it as a token of consciousness, a reminder that what’s most important is also most temporary, a talisman of awareness that despite the world’s many disturbing, desperate crises, personal glimmers of peace remain within reach.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Beyond FAREWELL: Remembering All Those Killed in Terrorist Attacks

This is the photo that got to me. I’d been trying to work through what to write today, and this photo (credit: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) that just came up with the headlines persuaded me to write something. “A man grieves outside the World Trade Center site in New York September 11, 2006” the caption reads. And so many grieve with him. So many miss loved ones who were taken from them that day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. So many wish we could travel back in time five years and a few days, even one day, and do something that would have kept 9-11 – and every awful thing that’s resulted from it – from ever happening. Five years later, and we all grieve. U.S. military families grieve for lost soldiers who’ve perished in Iraq and Afghanistan; Iraqi families grieve for the thousands of innocent men, women, and children who’ve died in their ongoing war. So many wish they could wake up and find it’s all been a very long bad dream and things are back to the normal we knew before September 11, 2001. And some realize trouble started brewing long before then, and wish we could go back even farther in time. After a memorial service for a Syracuse University student killed on Pan Am 103 in December 1988, I stood in his family’s kitchen and noticed a candle in the window and heard his mother say, simply, that the candle was there to guide her son home. Many will light candles tonight, and remember. Many will wish those candles could indeed light the way home for the ones they love and miss so terribly. This man and so many like him grieve today, and we all wish there was something we could do to make so much suffering somehow bearable. So we light our own candles, we hug our children, we pray for peace. And we promise, once again, to do things like this more often; we promise always to remember.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Beyond FAIR ACCESS: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic

It’s hard to imagine not being able to read. I was always the kid who read everything in sight (and yes, got teased for being so brainy; is it any wonder I grew up to be a writer?), and my daughters seem inclined to take after me in that respect. Success in so many areas depends greatly on the simple ability to read, and so often we take that ability for granted. Imagine being a fourth-grader who struggles in school not because she doesn’t want to learn, but because words on a page simply don’t make sense. For students of all ages who strive to learn despite reading difficulties, there’s Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, “the only nonprofit organization in the country recording textbooks for students of all ages who are blind, print-impaired, or physically challenged.”

Established in 1948 in a makeshift studio in the attic of the New York Public Library, RFB&D is now headquartered in Princeton, NJ, with more than two dozen offices located across the country. I was at the Denver office this morning to participate in the Rocky Mountain Unit’s annual read-a-thon with other Colorado authors. Eight studios buzzed with reading authors and our volunteer engineers who helped guide us through the process of recording portions of assigned books. While a handful of personnel man the office, most of the people who make this program work are volunteers. Today’s list of volunteers included Helen Thorpe, wife of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, as well as former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, best-selling authors Stephen White and Marne Kellog, and Denver Poet Laureate Chris Ransick. While I didn’t exactly hang out with these folks today, it was fun to know I was participating with them in such an important project. Staff members of the Rocky Mountain Unit of RFB&D were certainly busy, with 55 authors scheduled to read from early morning into the evening in celebration of the unit’s 55th anniversary.

Just a few years before the Rocky Mountain Unit was established, the founder of RFB&D, Anne Macdonald, set up shop in that studio in the New York Public Library in order to record books for servicemen who’d lost their sight during combat in World War II. Many of these young men wanted to go to college on the G.I. Bill, but needed a lot of help to make that dream come true. Anne Macdonald and her volunteers made a huge difference in their lives and, subsequently, in the lives of thousands of students through the years. Go here to read just three stories of dramatic life changes attributed to RFB&D. I can’t help but marvel at the strength of the people highlighted in such stories as well as the fact that simply reading about them is such a joy. While reading in general has always been a treat for me, through RFB&D I’m finding that reading to help others can be even more enjoyable.