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Different Identities: Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? - 2003-08-14


As a white European-American woman who had grown up in the United States, Donna Jackson was not prepared for the reactions that she and her Japanese-American husband encountered when they began their multiracial family a decade ago. Donna Jackson Nakazawa has brought attention to the multiracial issue in her book Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? The issue personally concerns some four and a half million American children under 18.

She knew that going out with her son and daughter, who have their dad's Asian features and their mom's blond hair, would invite a lot of comments.

It happened so frequently that author Donna Jackson Nakazawa came to call them "the supermarket moments." "I'd walk in a grocery store and someone would say; 'Where did you get him?' 'What is he?' or 'he does not look anything like you!' I knew these comments are not ill intended and they are out of curiosity. Sometimes, it was even encouraging, when some would say he is beautiful and exotic. But over time, I came to see that the Richter Scale of parental instinct goes a little wild and I wanted to know how all this was affecting them and about the racial issue in America, and that's what started me," she says.

Author Jackson Nakazawa says her book, Does Anybody Else look Like Me?, is meant to be a parent's guide to raise multiracial children. "We set up from the earliest ages, a great sense of normalcy about being multiracial. It is never too early to start a conversation about race and diversity. However it is important to not overdo the conversation," she says. "For a very small child what I recommend is to fill the house with storybooks, props and tools and all kinds of things that reflect all of the diversity within your home. Our home is full of storybooks that feature mixed race children. So, I might have my 4-year-old daughter on my lap, who has blond hair with dark Asian eyes, and say: 'Wow. Look, here is a little girl that has blond hair and Japanese eyes just like your eyes that you got from Daddy. Is not she beautiful?' Then, flip the page."

For her research, Mrs. Jackson Nakazawa spoke with young people of mixed race in every part of the country, and it became clear to her that those young people are proud of their cultures. Yet, she says, there are two very key pressure points for those children. "One is in the second and third grade, when other children are very much categorizing everybody around them and say: 'who is the fastest, the tallest, the shortest, and the darkest. Oh, what about you?' And a lot of issues are rising in the playground, and it can be painful. And again at 13 to 15 years of age, as dating issues arise and kids separate at different tables in the cafeteria," she says.

She says that such painful experiences can often shape multiracial teenagers into stronger people. "They knew from their experience, from who they were, that their race does not matter. They are gaining strength from being aware of the fact that they are different," she says. "They have been able to make groups of people hang together in their high schools. They started foundations and magazines. They are doing diversity training for freshmen in their colleges. Many of them have gone in the world and become bridges between cultures. "

Matt Kelley, a 23 year-old Korean-Irish American, is one of those who are trying to build multicultural bridges. When he started college, he founded Mavin, a magazine for multiracial young people. He says Mavin in Hebrew means 'one who understands.' "When I started Mavin , I was very much, in many ways, selfish, trying to create a sense of identity for myself. What has become over five years later is much more of a way to create a sense of resource and identity among other people. We have just launched our web site at mavinfoundation.org. We get thousands of e-mails and letters every year from people who are so passionate about Mavin , about what we are doing, what we represent, and how we affirm who they are," he says.

Mr. Kelley says as the number of multiracial people increases in the United States, it is important for young people to find role models. "I also think that what is important is to look at the number of multiracial celebrities out there, commonly known names like Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, people whose names are familiar are familiar not only to multiracial people, but also to the mainstream. And who have said very publicly that they are multiracial and they are proud of that," he says.

Matt Kelley says there are many advantages of having a multiracial background. Among them, being more sensitive and accepting of others. "Whether I like it or not, I grew up with two cultures from my mom and dad," he says. "So, for a kid it could be confusing sometimes. For an adult, I realize how living at that merging point of both east and west is something I find so incredibly empowering today. I feel when I enter an argument, I can intrinsically see the two sides of the argument. I can recognize the common ground. I am able to see the complexity of the issues and feel comfortable not only with people of Asian and European descendents, but also with African Americans, with Latinos, immigrants. So much of that has really come from being multiracial."

Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of Does Anybody Else Look Like Me, believes multiracial experiences promote cross-cultural understanding. In her book, she quotes a 20-year-old girl who is an African American-Caucasian-Russian-Jewish American. She says: "People do not have much choice today except to view mixed people and families from a different perspective, because anyone that you hate will probably end up in your family tree."

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