Monday, January 28, 2008

Beyond FINESSE: Patry Francis and THE LIAR'S DIARY Blog Day

Today is the release date for the paperback edition of The Liar’s Diary by Patry Francis, but it’s something much more. It’s a date set aside by more than 300 bloggers to not only help spread the word about this terrific book but to celebrate a dear friend.

Patry, a new (young!) grandmother, beloved mom, talented writer, and one of the most insightful, generous people you’ll ever meet, was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. After two surgeries her prognosis is encouraging but an additional surgery remains to be endured in March. A group of Patry’s friends initiated The Liar’s Diary Blog Day so all of Patry’s many fans can pitch in to help her promote her book simply by writing about the new edition of The Liar’s Diary that’s hitting bookstore shelves.

I discovered Patry’s inimitable blog, Simply Wait, in late 2005. Hooked, I read most of the archived posts, discovering along the way a gallery of New England folks, every-day people Patry so cleverly portrayed and obviously cherished. In the fall of 2005 Patry also wrote of the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; her memories of that city; and her and her husband’s interactions with Chris, a very special cab driver who went out of his way to help a couple of Yankees enjoy their week in the Crescent City:

“But when we drove past the neighborhood just beyond Louis Armstrong Park,” Patry wrote, “Chris’s expression changed. ‘There’s a whole generation out there that’s dying. People talk about the drugs and the guns, and yeah, those things are bad. But the real problem here is people got no hope. Can’t live without hope.’”

Hope. I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about hope lately. Chris was so right: We can’t live without it, at least not us stubborn Americans who so often exist for just one more stab at making our dreams come true. It’s what keeps us going. Long before her cancer diagnosis, Patry explored in her blog the constant flow of hopes and dreams that graced her life, that compelled her to stop and write it all out. By putting those fleeting images into words and by painting so many memorable portraits and scenes for her readers, Patry gave voice not only to her own hopes and dreams but to those of the colorful characters who peopled her memories, her workplace, her seaside town, her home. And by offering up those stories she did much more than simply air it all out and entertain passersby: She gave each of us permission to whisper or write or even blog about our own treasured dreams, our own hopes for “some day.”

We all cheered when Patry announced her book deal and wrapped up her waitressing job, though we knew we’d miss her tales from the weddings and christenings and other celebrations no one in actual attendance likely realized were so carefully observed; her insights into the lonely person at the back of the room touched by her kindness; her comical interactions with the boss, with the lady cook, with her co-conspirators/fellow waitresses; the way she put every good tip to very good use as a gesture of true appreciation. We loved it when she hung her worn work shoes up on a tree limb. And as one new year led to another we congratulated her on the publication of her first book, her adventures in New York, the birth of her beautiful grandson, her summer office on the back porch with her new laptop. She shared difficulties and downfalls and despair, too, like any good friend, and we rallied at such moments to remind her of the many reasons we love her. All along we kept in mind the stories she’d told us about family and friends and even casual acquaintances, about how she not only survived single motherhood but through it all learned to treasure the special gift of each of her loved ones. And we relished the special way Patry noted details of everyone she met and tied impressions into understandings about others and self that so many of us long to share.

And then Patry announced she’d been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Grieving and hopeful right along with her we sent her every type of well wishes and prayers and positive vibes we could to buoy her spirits and encourage her healing process along. What I personally did not expect was to read more rather than fewer posts on Patry’s blog, but I should’ve known better. As Patry recently wrote in a bittersweet post about rating one’s bliss:

“What I’ve missed from my waitressing days, and what the hospital provided was interaction with the wider world. People I didn’t know. Stories I hadn’t heard. Catalysts to insights and thoughts that stretched far beyond myself and my beloved few. The stream that becomes a vast, transformative river. In the hospital, I walked into that river again.”

As Patry writes and shares with us revelations from this new chapter of her life, we hang on to her every word. Through her posts since her diagnosis and initial surgeries, she’s revealed even more eloquently that daily doses of gratitude and awe are just as important as our cherished hopes and dreams. As her friend Chris in New Orleans put it:

“It’s okay though. I got my cab, and my little house, and a good family. Even got a little savings in the bank. Every morning I wake up, I wake up thankful.”

I’m thankful for Patry’s willingness to share so much of herself and her writings on her blog, and was very pleased to interview her for a Literary Mama profile published in early 2007, when the first edition of The Liar’s Diary hit bookstore shelves. I joined her blogging friends who preordered her book (“even before my mother did,” she joked), snatched it up the day it was released, or cherished a leisurely stroll into a local independent, thrilled to finally see that stunning cover among the hot new titles. As I wrote back then, The Liar’s Diary “confronts the question of loyalty to friends versus family in a plot-driven thriller involving a mysterious stranger, murder, and two conflicting takes on truth.” The Liar’s Diary is one of those books you stay up late reading, take along in the car, and can’t wait to get back to.

It’s so fitting that so many of the writers and bloggers Patry has inspired are writing today to spread the news about the release of the paperback edition of The Liar’s Diary, which sports its own stunning cover. To read more of these tributes, go to the amazing list of participants (which includes literary agents and editors and others in the biz as well as writers as diverse as Laura Benedict and Karen Dionne (both of whom helped spearhead this effort), Khaled Hosseini, and Jennifer Weiner) on Susan Henderson’s LitPark blog. Just scroll down past the fun photo of Patry enjoying her 2007 Literary Blues Pie with friends to see the official list of links.

To read more of Patry’s wonderful words, add Simply Wait to your blogroll, pick up your copy of The Liar’s Diary, and enjoy. You’ll be glad you did.

We love you, Patry!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Beyond FINESSE: Lisa Kenney at Eudaemonia and Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing

I’m lucky to call an inspiring Denver blogger and writer, Lisa Kenney of Eudaemonia and Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing, a good friend. I’m also happy to help spread the word about her new important endeavor as publicist for the Pendulum Foundation, a Juvenile Justice Advocacy Organization established in 2001.

Pendulum “is dedicated to educating the public about the issue of children in adult prisons and in transforming the lives of youthful offenders who are currently behind bars.” Based on a determined belief in redemption rather than retribution, the foundation provides programs and educational opportunities designed to “transform the lives of young men and women inside adult prisons, exiting prison, and serving time in juvenile facilities.”

Children serving disturbing LWOP (life without parole) sentences constitute a major focus of the foundation. According to Pendulum, Colorado alone has 50 (!) juveniles serving LWOP, many of whom were victims of extensive abuse throughout childhood. The foundation also notes “a disproportionate number of minority youth serving life. While 4.4% of Colorado’s population is African-American, 26.7% of those serving life are black. We have kids as young as 14 serving LWOP.” Colorado houses many of its juveniles serving LWOP in adult prisons, where they’re much more likely to be beaten by guards and sexually assaulted, and to commit suicide.

The Pendulum Foundation also works toward prevention and intervention by helping troubled children and teens to keep them out of the penal system; bringing “restorative justice and life skills programs into juvenile detention centers and adult prisons;” and working on federal and state levels to provide a “comprehensive prisoner re-entry program.” Pendulum is also developing an Arts in Prison program to benefit young LWOPs and other incarcerated youth.

This is a complex, emotional cause that Lisa holds dear, and for good reason. As she puts it, “Regardless of the circumstances of the crime, the thought that children as young as fourteen or fifteen would be locked up with adult violent offenders, without therapy or any form of rehabilitation [is] incomprehensible to me.” Rather than simply become upset when she learned about this issue through the Frontline special “When Kids Get Life,” Lisa opted to take action. Despite the demands of her job and her determination to complete a novel this year, she recently accepted the challenge to work with Pendulum to help raise awareness of the fate of juvenile offenders in adult prisons in Colorado and across the country. Visit her new website Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing as well as the Pendulum Foundation site to see what you can do to help give young people with literally no hope for the future a glimmer that might save their lives.

Photo ©

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beyond THE FUTURE: Dr. King’s Legacy of Peace…at Home

Not only is today the holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s date of birth, but this year it’s also my parents’ 53rd wedding anniversary. As one of my brothers recently put it, we’re all very thankful to Mom and Dad for so much, but especially “all the lessons, mostly done without words, on how to keep a long-lasting marriage and raise a happy family.” I was never treated unfairly by my parents, and have tried for a long time to emulate my mom’s calm approach to child-rearing. As I noted in my last post, it ain’t easy! Last year at this time I wrote about this challenge; much of that post follows here, with some updated details:

My girls are fascinated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They’re convinced that if he’d never been born, their lives would be very different. Or at least Lauren’s would; she’s my middle child who strongly resembles my husband’s biracial family. Sarah, my youngest, once announced that Lauren was “black and white” while she—Sarah—was “just white.” When Lauren and I tried to explain all three kids in our family are “part black” since their grandfather was black, Sarah seemed to understand but then shrugged and announced she still had white skin, apparently pleased that would never change. I don’t know if Sarah extended that to an understanding of how she might have been treated during Dr. King’s era versus how her sister would have been treated; Lauren, meanwhile, is convinced she wouldn’t even be in school today if it hadn’t been for Dr. King.

After watching the PBS Eyes on the Prize documentary on the Civil Rights Movement last year, I was impressed not only with Dr. King but with the brave souls who conducted the sit-ins, volunteered to be Freedom Riders (an assignment that turned out to be especially treacherous), or actively protested Jim Crow laws. Inspired by Dr. King’s message, they subjected themselves not only to humiliating treatment by police and passersby but to very real threats to their safety and lives.

When I lived in Nashville, I conducted some library research that led me to Fisk University. While I knew Fisk was a traditionally black college, I had no inkling of the tremendous role students from that school played during the Civil Rights Movement. Eyes on the Prize not only includes footage of the sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters and how violent they turned, but documents the Fisk classes that taught volunteers how to conduct sit-ins. During the classes, students rehearsed their incredibly self-controlled, non-violent reactions while other students behaved like antagonist police officers. The actual officers who bullied students from the lunch counters—only to come back to remove the same students time and again—must have been impressed to at least a small degree by the resolve and courage of these young people. The students’ determination to make their statement without raising a hand to retaliate or hurt another person lay at the core of their efforts and contributed greatly to their ultimate success.

So I try to explain to my girls Dr. King’s overall message: believe in yourself and treat all others with the respect with which you’d have them treat you. Since this correlates so closely to the Golden Rule they grasp it immediately, and since it involves racial issues, they’re especially intrigued. I suspect, too, that Dr. King’s message fascinates because it’s tied so dramatically to a fight against unfair authority figures.

One of my New Year resolutions last year was to stop being an unfair authority figure to my kids. With a lot of help I’ve come a long way, but (and my kids will vouch for this) I have a long way to go. My temper still flares, just not as often. This year, Dr. King’s holiday offers a well-timed chance for a review of how things are going now that the busy holiday/birthday season for my family has passed. I feel challenged intellectually more than emotionally lately, and I definitely don’t feel as overwhelmed as I used to. Meanwhile my kids are getting older and more mature, so they’re less likely to react to rules with nerve-wracking meltdowns.

When I do feel myself losing my cool, it helps to recall the images not only of Dr. King and his message of peace but of activists like the Fisk students who set such a noble example for the rest of the country. This is something I can draw on throughout the year, not just on one special day. When my girls have questions about what happened so long ago and how it impacts their lives, I can get out our books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and read with them. I can talk to all my children about the importance of striving for peace in our world, and I can teach by example, one step at a time, as I treat them with kindness and respect on a consistent basis. This has always been a difficult challenge, but it’s a road I continue to travel so I may someday attain the prize I’ve had my eyes on for so long; so I may someday get to a real place of peace in my home and in my heart.

Photo “Fisk University student Jean Wynona Fleming behind bars in the Nashville jail.” © Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement

Saturday, January 19, 2008


The seventh in a family of eleven kids, I helped with little siblings and then babysat for more families I can remember beginning at a very young age. Working with children has always been a joy for me, so I never guessed parenting would ever pose a challenge. And then I had kids of my own. Kids I couldn’t hand over to someone else when they had a sudden meltdown and I was too tired to think straight; kids who looked to me and depended on me to fix every little thing that’s out of sorts in their world, day or night, 24/7.

And I lost it, many times. Even when I had one child, my son who’s now a teenager, I couldn’t seem to get a handle on how to cope with demanding behavior from an energetic, spirited child. I was the parent and my child was supposed to do what I told him to do, right? By the time my son was in preschool, I lived far from home with no family around and my husband traveled all the time. I was the primary caretaker and number-one playmate, and usually I did okay, but there were times…many, in fact…that I ranted and raved and screamed right back at my son: when he refused to wear sun lotion or his bike helmet, for example; when he got out of bed at naptime over and over; when he screamed and clung to me at preschool drop-off; when he had to be carried (screaming again) out of a pool because he refused to come out on his own (I was wearing pants and caused a scene of my own going in after him. Fun!). By the time my son was five, I had a deep vertical crease between my brows and was gearing up every day as if for battle. There were good times and lots of outings and friends and fun in between the battles, but my goal every day was to get through and see him through whatever challenges lay ahead without me completely losing it or either of us getting hurt.

Today, we’re on good terms. He’s a teenager, yes, but not a disruptive one. We’ve both been through counseling and it’s helped tremendously. My husband no longer travels extensively and most of his family now live close by and they’re all eager to help. My son now has two little sisters and while each of my children possess notably different temperaments and personality traits, they also seem to be comfortable with the limits established in our home for behavior and basic routines like school mornings, mealtimes, and bedtimes. We’ve got a long way to go and some things remain to be balanced, but we’ve all learned a lot and, I believe, feel good about the state we’re in.

How much easier the past fifteen years would have been if I’d had Lynne Reeves Griffin’s Negotiation Generation to read along the way! I’ve always read parenting magazines and parenting books, including Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka that helped a great deal way back when. The concept of Raising Your Spirited Child—that every child harbors special gifts and deserves ample opportunities to shine rather than be set up to fail on a regular basis—are echoed in Lynne’s book. But Lynne, a registered nurse and well-known behavior management expert, goes a step beyond reassuring that challenging behavior can have a good side and lays out simple tactics to set up not only a child—but that child’s parents—for success.

Lynne speaks directly to me and many other parents when she offers her no-nonsense advice for “taking back parental authority without punishment.” From establishing kid-friendly lifestyles (AMEN!) rather than adult-centered lives for children, organizing early dinner and bedtime rituals that allow a child to perform well in these areas before they’re too tired, demanding respect for all members of a household, building fences and adjusting them as a child grows not only in size and age but in emotional ability to manage more responsibilities and freedoms, to (most importantly for me) refusing to react emotionally or to talk (and talk and talk) in the middle of a conflict involving rules that are supposedly non-negotiable, Lynne’s strategies for working with rather than against a child while maintaining family order and parental sanity are all simple to understand and implement.

For more information about Lynne, check out her author website, her nifty parenting blog, and the fantabulous Writer’s Group blog, in which she regularly posts about the ups and downs of living a writer’s life. Kudos on all your fine work, Lynne, and thanks!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beyond FAVORITES: What I Love About Denver

Fair warning: This is a long one!

Larramie over at Seize a Daisy tagged me recently for a Local Knowledge meme. I’d like to add a twist: rather than tagging at the end I’d like to invite three other local bloggers (Lisa, Carleen, and Rebecca) to list the top reasons they love Denver as well as the top reasons they miss wherever they came from. I’m a transplant who’s also lived in Dallas, Nashville, and Hartford (CT) who’s originally from Syracuse, a mid-sized city smack dab in the middle of New York State that’s surrounded by lush hills and valleys and apple farms. Syracuse itself features my alma mater up on a hill, Syracuse University, which continues to grow and change at an amazing pace. I still have plenty of family in the area, which means Syracuse will always be home for me. What I miss most about it (besides close family and cherished friends):

GREEN lawns that rarely need watering
Wooded areas everywhere
Proximity to New England and New York City
Fall foliage
Armory Square shops and restaurants

What I love most about Denver (besides local family and friends), my adopted home:

Nonstop views of the Rockies
Four seasons, all mild
Skiing on snow instead of ice
300+ sunny days a year
Open spaces and trails in every town
Barely any bugs
LoDo (Lower Downtown) shops and restaurants
Tattered Cover bookstores (though I still miss the original!)

Neither of these cities hosts a dynamic literary scene. While in Nashville, I attended the annual Southern Festival of the Book and loved it. Denver once had the Rocky Mountain Book Festival, which has fallen by the wayside in recent years. In 2002 that’s where I saw and sold my first copies of my book (One Sister’s Song); ambushed George Plimpton for his autograph (though he wasn’t there for a signing); learned about George Dawson (and bought his biography Life Is So Good); met author and New York Times feature writer and now Columbia professor Claudia Dreifus (and failed to offer her a ride downtown when she voiced her concern about finding a cab in the deserted streets of the DU campus; duh!); and had a lovely conversation with poet extraordinaire Jane Hirshfield. At my very first Rocky Mountain Book Festival in 1996, I was introduced to the new Pearl Street Publishing house, which would eventually accept my book for publication, and met Michael Henry, poet and co-founder of the then-fledgling Lighthouse Writers Workshop. While I’ve taken only half a dozen Lighthouse classes and look forward to taking many more in the near (fingers crossed!) future, I definitely include Lighthouse as another Denver highlight; I know Lisa and Carleen, both of whom are much more involved in this local literary landmark, would agree.

Also within the Denver community is Community Resources, Inc., an organization that (among other things) brings professionals of all types into Denver Public Schools to share their expertise and inspire students to pursue their top career choices and follow their dreams. Through CRI, I’m now mentoring my second fifth-grader in short-story writing and I recently presented at a career fair at Denver’s historic East High School. My career fair category of “writing” was broad enough that I brought along publications ranging from a local community newspaper to alumni, trade, and consumer magazines to an assortment of books that included my own novel as well as Patricia Wood’s Lottery, John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye, Lisa See’s Peony in Love, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother I’m Dying, etc. etc. The one I’ll be sure to remember next time is Patry Francis’s The Liar’s Diary; I forgot how many students love to read mysteries! I handed out bookmarks with my e-mail noted, and plan to pass along links to websites of these and other authors to interested parties as I hear from them. I also pushed Lighthouse Writers as a terrific resource for those who can’t wait for college to begin serious writing instruction and for the school staff and other adults who approached me, wondering where to start with that novel or memoir they’d always wanted to write.

I love talking to students about writing, and at the career fair also enjoyed noting the differences they exhibit, from the freshmen who shyly admit to writing poetry, to the serious-talking young men who thrive on Stephen King, to the two boys who strolled up looking like they ought to already wear trench coats and hats with press passes stuck in their hatbands. None of that fluffy creative writing for these types; journalism was the name of the game for them and the mention of publications like The New York Times or Time or Newsweek garnered their interest much more than Poets & Writers or The New Yorker. I also got their attention when I suggested the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News surely offer student internships and they’d do well to research them.

You can guess at interests by just looking at some kids, but many students at East surprised me over and over. While some kept their heads low and their voices even lower, others answered with an exuberant YES when I asked “Are you a writer?” and launched into a long list of their writing and reading interests. One girl kept talking and talking about all the stories she had coming out of her head; when I realized the other two girls I’d been talking to looked a little unnerved by her enthusiasm, I drew them all into the same conversation, handed them each a bookmark, and invited them to e-mail me. The two quiet girls appeared grateful and pleased, but the other girl was clearly moved. “Thank you!” she exclaimed, pulling me in for a hug that made my day. While so many of the students reminded me of myself and my friends at that age, one of my favorites was a boy in a special education group; though it was hard to understand his slurred speech at first, I’m glad I kept trying until I finally realized he was speaking at length about his love for photography. He said he planned to “travel the world” and take pictures, and his eyes lit up as I opened a copy of National Geographic and showed him a full-page landscape photo they’d run. When I picked up a local magazine and said, “You could start by sending your photos to smaller magazines like this, then work your way up,” he pointed directly to the National Geographic and said he’d much rather “start at the top.”

On the drive south from East High School, I saw a man walking home from the Denver Botanic gardens carrying a flat of purple pansies. It’s way too late for fall planting (though pansies are annuals, they do survive the winter here on the Front Range and are a welcome sight each spring when they re-emerge), so I imagined he’d pot them for some indoor color until after Mother’s Day, when it’s finally safe to plant outside in Denver. I enjoyed the fact that he bought these springtime favorites in January despite the snow on the ground and the north winds blustering through town. By the end of the East High career fair, it was evident many of the upperclassmen were eager for spring and the promise the end of yet another school year held for them. A few rowdy girls who seemed especially ready to escape the confines of high school began drumming on a table, laughing at their willingness to enjoy a few free moments, to celebrate whatever had brought them together, to forget worrying about what they’d be doing in a year or two or ten. These girls in their spirited display and the man with the flat of pansies are as sure signs of spring to come as the two robins that flew by my trusty minivan this morning despite frigid temperatures. Denver winters harbor many surprises, from sudden unpredicted blizzards that make locals appreciate their warm homes to a turn in weather that leads folks outside for a run or a walk or a stop on a park bench to enjoy the warm noon sun. Every day here seems to hold the promise of more wondrous days to come. No wonder I’m so happy to call Denver home.

Photo © Denver Visitors Bureau

Monday, January 14, 2008

Beyond THE FUTURE: Women for Women International

What do Bill Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Anderson Cooper, Conrad N. Hilton, various NPR stations across the country, Ms. Magazine, The Washington Post, and 60 Minutes have in common? They’ve all featured the dynamic, grass-roots organization Women for Women International within the past year. Sunday night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported in the CBS 60 Minutes segment “War Against Women: The Use of Rape Against Women in the Congo Civil War.” This grim piece revealed not only the systematic use of rape as a typical (!) weapon of terror against women and girls, but the crippled Congolese government’s inability to do anything to stop it. The impact on families and communities is as devastating and deadly as on the tortured rape victims who have little hope for their futures.

Enter Women for Women International, which provides “direct financial and emotional support” to women survivors of war. One survivor of the Congolese “rape epidemic” featured in the 60 Minutes report—whose story is composed of literal layers of devastation and despair—is now benefiting from WWI programs that teach life-changing skills such as how to read and write and run a business. The goal for every woman helped by WWI: economic self-sufficiency. The technique used: match willing sponsors who pay a $30 registration fee and then $27 a month to help a women survivor of war get the food and water and other basics she needs before she begins her training in life skills and then moves onto job skills and business management training. In short, WWI provides those who wish to help a simple, direct way to impact the lives of those in desperate need.

Since 1993, WWI has helped more than 120,000 women in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Kosovo…. As one woman in Congo is quoted on the WWI site, “This program has dared me to hope of having a house, of living in peace, of reclaiming my dynamism, my dignity…. I would like to be someone of value again.” No wonder so many people are taking note of this organization’s accomplishments and the efforts of its founder, Iraqi-American author and activist Zainab Salbi. I’ve yet to read up on Ms. Salbi’s full story (her books alone are amazing), but I’m looking forward to learning more about her. Thank goodness for her and the WWI but they can’t do it all alone; now that 60 Minutes has featured this organization’s tremendous work among the most desperate in the Congo, maybe soon we’ll hear what the rest of the world plans to do to help.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Beyond FACTS: Mixed Heritage Center

MAVIN has done it again. In conjunction with the long-standing Association of MultiEthnic Americans, the still-young and ever-hip MAVIN Foundation has established the Mixed Heritage Center to providing information and highlight resources for “people of mixed heritage.” I love the simple yet comprehensive definition of “people of mixed heritage” presented in the MHC mission statement: people of “mixed heritage” are “multiracial, multiethnic, transracially adopted, or otherwise affected by the intersection of race and culture.” That covers a lot of ground, and so does the Mixed Heritage Center, a site designed to grow as visitors contribute their own knowledge and experience either through discussion forums or by suggesting relevant resources.

The MHC is clean, accessible, and chock full. Number two on the list of recommended resources is Dr. Maria P.P. Root’s popular Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage, a 15-year-old document I’ve referenced before that bears repeating, especially at the beginning of a brand-spanking New Year. As a parent of children of mixed heritage, I can’t tell you the extent of the comfort I draw from these words.:

Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage

Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multiethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime—and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD, 1993, 1994

When I showed this document to my teenage son, he reacted with surprise and concern that people of mixed heritage require such a statement in order to defend their identities. I know he’s aware of mixed-race issues not only because our family is mixed but because I’ve written a book on it and spoken at his school about these issues. While at first I asked if he’d rather simply not consider this Bill of Rights something that applies to him, he repeated that he’s concerned about others, not himself, leading me to believe he’s comfortable with his identity and doesn’t see the need to explain it to anyone. I chalk that up to the fact that he’s always “fit in” with friends and classmates since he resembles me more than his biracial dad and we’ve always lived in predominantly “white” suburbs. Still, he got me thinking. My daughters, on the other hand, look nothing like me and my older girl has already run into friends’ questions about her race and identity. I have a feeling when both my girls are old enough to fully understand the implications of Dr. Root’s words, they’ll feel empowered every time they read them.

For me, the most important statement in this unique Bill of Rights is the last. As someone who married across color lines, I hope everyone who reads Dr. Root’s words will consider this right to choose any time they question another’s choice of mate, friends, or lovers. We all have the right to freely choose those we love, even if that choice causes some discomfort to those around us. What matters most is what brings each of us comfort and joy all through the year, from this January to next. Thanks to resources like the Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage, the Mixed Heritage Center, the Association of Mixed Heritage Americans, and MAVIN, and thanks especially to my immediate family and my extended families and friends who’ve always supported us, I find a great deal of both every day.

Yep, it’s a family photo, though a little dated: It was taken in 2006 on the hubby’s birthday. Our son is now 15, has his driving permit, and is about two feet taller!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Beyond FUN: Happy New Year!

From all of us in Denver...and from our twin nieces Caitlyn and Morgan, too!