Photograph by Claire Dresser
According to mixed race activist and education specialist Mariah Rankine-Landers, “Mixed race perspective is like a bridge, or an in between.”
This sentiment was echoed and explored by speakers in the mixed race speaker series assembly that took place during second and third period on January 5.
The assembly was an effort by Hapa Club to shed light on the different experiences of mixed race people. Hapa is a Hawaiian word that is used to refer to people of mixed race.
“The goal of the assembly was to simply raise awareness to the presence of mixed race students and staff on campus, and that while many issues that concern students of color might be shared by those who are mixed, there can also be unique viewpoints and pressures,” said Berkeley High School (BHS) teacher and presentation panelist Richard Conn.
The assembly was organized after Associated Student Body leadership approached Hapa Club and asked if they wanted to host a speaker panel.
The club agreed and began planning. To incorporate more varied voices in the assembly, they recruited mixed race students outside of the club to help organize and participate in the assembly.
Hapa Club is the only organization on campus that is centered around being mixed race.
“In Berkeley we often discuss issues around racial inequality and racial identity. While these discussions are very important and valuable, our club felt that the mixed race perspective is often overlooked when talking about these topics,” said Samuel Battles, a panelist and one of the student organizers of the assembly.
The assembly began with a presentation by Rankine-Landers. To start, she asked audience members to look each other in the eye for one minute while they answered the question, “What is your lineage and where do you come from?” After, Rankine-Landers talked about her experience as a mixed person and the difficulties that have come with that identity.
Her story was about how she grew up with the white side of her family, and didn’t connect with black culture until later in life. “Trying to find a space of belonging in the Central Valley as a mixed race girl was really difficult,” Rankine-Landers said. She recalled having two different friend groups, separated by race. In both of groups, Rankine-Landers “not connected to either whiteness or blackness, just that in-between space.”
After visiting with family in Jamaica, Rankine-Landers said she felt more comfortable in her identity and more connected to her heritage. She ended her presentation by coming back to her original statement about how being mixed race bridges her perspective. She closed, “People can walk over you and it can be strenuous, but it also can be beautiful.”
After Rankine-Landers spoke, a panel of mixed race students and teachers answered questions about how they navigate their own mixed race identities. They talked about how the similarities and differences between their multiple can identities intersect and work off of each other.
For example, one of the panelists talked about how the swastika symbol means different things to her parents. To her Jewish mom, the swastika signifies hate and evil, but to her Indian father it is a symbol of love and peace that has been twisted into a sign of evil. When asked what she liked about being mixed race, another panelist said, “Being mixed race has made me into a social butterfly. I can move about multiple groups.”
The assembly discussed aspects of the mixed race experience through individual stories and insights. “Hopefully this will end up being the first of many mixed race discussions,” said Conn.