Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beyond FINESSE: Sister Contributors

I’m happy to announce I’m now a weekly columnist at, a site I profiled last spring. My M&H columns will highlight resources of special interest to M&H readers, many of whom have young mixed-race families.
Founded by supermom Suzy Richardson, is growing into a dynamic community of readers from all over the world and now writers located across the country and in the U.K. I’m honored to join its regular contributors!

Donna Sparrow
I just discovered Donna Sparrow’s blog and love the way she celebrates her beautiful family on Mom of five mixed-race kiddos ranging in age from teen to toddler, Donna has also helped raise many of her husband’s eight much-younger siblings, some of whom continue to struggle with challenges ranging from depression to schizophrenia. In her current M&H post, “My Children’s Truth,” Donna writes: “Our children are not black, nor are they white; they are both. They are not half of anything, but rather a whole — times two.” Love it.

Louise Cannon
Based in South London, Louise Cannon has two mixed-race little boys. She writes about her concerns regarding white privilege and her role as a white mom to children of color as well as the impact of racism on life in the U.K. Her recent M&H post on a frightening election result in her small town ends with the call to “never become too complacent” and the timely warning: “Hatred can sometimes be only one vote away.”

Mama C
A teacher and single mom of two gorgeous boys, Mama C writes from the heart about the concerns, heartaches, and everyday triumphs she and her unique family experience on a regular basis in posts published on MixedandHappy and on her blog, Mama C and the Boys. I love her current MixedandHappy post, “Mixed History Month?” in which she summons the spirit of Langston Hughes, muses over the emphasis she places on black history, and wonders if maybe it’s time for mixed history to be more widely celebrated. The photo that accompanies this post is priceless.

Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Ph.D.
I first learned about Marcia’s work while researching mixed-race issues for my novel, One Sister’s Song, years ago. Her resumé inside and out of academia is incredibly impressive, and her writings appear not only on but on sites such as The Huffington Post, The Root, and Truthdig. She’s also been featured in TIME magazine and on Mixed Chicks Chat. Her book, Things Said in Passing: Understanding Racial Passing from a Rhetorical Perspective, is due out later this year. As Marcia puts it, Things Said in Passing “explores the old limits and new possibilities of passing for the twenty-first century.”

Marcia considers the racial implications of all sorts of issues and topics, including pop music, movies, sports, books, and politics, and doesn’t hesitate to call out public figures on questionable motives behind their actions or statements. Among her many posts, I’m especially fond of “Crayons and Cupcakes,” a column “co-written” by her sweet daughter.

I also greatly appreciate Marcia’s closing line in a recent HuffPost article on Halle Berry: “When we realize that racial reconciliation is everybody’s job, not just a job for multiracials, then we might all be a little more mixed and happy.”

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Beyond FUNDRAISING: The UnPrison Project

beauty in captivity
Activist, author, and public speaker Deborah Jiang Stein has launched The UnPrison Project so she may continue to reach out to female prisoners across the country. Deborah speaks to women about her birth and first year of life in the Aldersen Federal Prison for women in West Virginia as a heroin-addicted infant, multiple overdoses later in life, and eventual drug rehab.

When Deborah visits women in prisons, she does much more than present herself as an example of resilience: “I share my story as proof that the past does not always define the future,” she states, adding that her workshops and presentations to female prisoners have helped her turn her personal “shame and secrets inside out.” And while her efforts impact countless women and help them turn their own shame and secrets inside out in order to finally triumph over them, Deborah’s also determined to help inmates’ children. As The UnPrison Project video notes:

· In the last ten years, the population of women incarcerated in U.S. prisons has risen by at least 800%
· 80% of female prisoners are mothers
· Most of these women are jailed for non-violent, drug-related crimes
· Most of them are victims of abuse
· Thousands of their babies are born in prisons every year
· Many thousands of American children, most under the age of 10, have a mother in prison

When we help these women, we help their children, and we help strengthen the foundation of our country’s future. Through The UnPrison Project, Deborah promotes education, drug rehab, and mental health services as well the hope for personal transformation that can make success in each of these areas possible.

But to do all this, Deborah needs your help. She’s been invited to speak to thousands of women in facilities in New York, California, South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, and Illinois. Aldersen in West Virginia would also like her to return. Let’s send Deborah to prison. Please follow this link and donate to help fund her life-changing—and potentially life-saving—efforts.

Photo © sansgluten via flickr

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Beyond FINESEE: Corey Heller, Founder of Multilingual Living

In Call Me Okaasan, Corey Heller writes in her personal essay “I Am Mutti” about her choice to speak German with her children in her home though she hails from California and is raising her children in the U.S. with her German-born husband. Having experienced a year of immersion in the German culture and language, she found upon her return home that she was driven to retain those ties, and the arrival of her first child only served to convince her of the critical need to make this desire a reality. She writes that the German culture and language “are a part of me, intertwined together with my native English and my American language and culture. I don’t want to have to decide, to choose, to have to sever ties with either of them. I want to belong to both and I want to pass on this duality to my children because, if anything, it is who I am and will always be.”

In their quest to successfully nurture a multilingual family, Corey and her husband looked for resources to help them along the way. When they found little help, they launched the Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network in 2003, following that up with the Multilingual Living website and magazine a year later. Though the magazine is no longer in print, access to its back copies is offered on the comprehensive Multilingual Living site, which also features a very active discussion forum, expert columns, and book excerpts and reviews. As Corey puts it, Multilingual Living is designed to provide “a centralized location for discussion, conversation and connection for multilingual and multicultural families around the world” as well as “a place where parents raising children in more than one language and culture can find inspiration, tools, advice, wisdom and support.”

The Language of Identity
In her post “The Language of Identity,” Corey describes the impact living outside the U.S. made on her and her determination to continue experiencing more than one culture even after she’d returned home:

“A year in Ireland followed by a year in Germany had left their imprints on me. I had tasted the richness of belonging to different cultures, of speaking a new language and I couldn’t go back to being who I had been before. There were words and sentence structures, ways of being and socializing and foods that had come to define me. I knew then that I would never, ever, ever be fully content with any one language and limited by only one culture.”

She also explains her belief that children raised in a multilingual household learn more than just another language:

“Children who grow up in a monolingual society with more than one language are offered something extremely valuable. Experts agree that a child who has at his or her disposal words and concepts in two different languages will be more accustomed to understanding and accepting the innate complexities that exist in this world. They will more easily grasp the concept that just as there is more than one word for items and concepts, there is also more than one way to solve a problem, more than one way to view an issue, and more than one way to define themselves and others. But beyond the abilities these children will gain, they will have been given something so much more valuable: They will have been given the opportunity to live in two cultures and to make them both their own.

“For our bilingual children, bridging the gap between their two different worlds will come naturally and comfortably. ... Their perception of the world, their concept of diversity, their understanding of identities will, by default, far exceed my own.”

What a gift, indeed.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beyond FINESSE: Violeta García-Mendoza

One of my favorite non-fiction pieces published in the Call Me Okaasan anthology is “Two Names for Every Beautiful Thing.” Spanish-American author Violeta García-Mendoza writes with such grace that at first I thought “Two Names” was a work of fiction. She notes in an interview on the Motherlogue blog that this piece “started with freewriting on gardens. I wanted to explore the garden origin myth as it applied to myself and my kids.”

Mom to three children, Violeta has written on a variety of topics ranging from teaching two languages in the home to adopting across cultures as well as book reviews, interviews, and poetry for more than 30 literary outlets. Currently studying fiction writing in an MFA program in Pennsylvania where she lives with her family, Violeta has also been the Multi-Culti Mami columnist for the popular Literary Mama site as well as a contributor not only to Call Me Okaasan but to The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change.

In her final Multi-Culti Mami column, Violeta reflected on her sudden introduction to American life as a young girl in a multicultural family:

“In the end, what [I learned] was to pretend familiarity, fake it until I found it…which I eventually did, after the passing of culture shock, middle school, and time. But maybe because of that experience, I identified ever since exclusively as Spanish-American. When they were smaller, I thought of my Guatemalan-born, American-raised children as exclusively Guatemalan-American, rather than as simply American, too. But my three children are from a different place and time of origin, both of which are more fluid than the ones I knew growing up. That, it turns out, changes a lot.”

Later in this column, Violeta noted she’d begun to think of her children as just American, “dropping the hyphen as an occasional possibility; toying with the idea that our mashed-up family is the new quintessentially American family.”

In “Two Names” she writes of what she wishes for her children, and of what she prides herself in providing them. “One day, my son and daughters will tell me what they remember of their childhoods. They will not need to reconcile themselves with that half language of translation, but be full of that bilingual, bicultural magic of being able to go and come back constantly between place and time.”

“If I give them anything, may it be the chance to call forth all the beautiful things they deserve.”