Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Triggers Flashback To Germany

Yesterday, on That Day, I was scheduled to speak about biracial issues at a local high school. But when the kids tramped in, all they wanted to do was watch the streaming of the inauguration. As their teacher frantically fiddled with a computer, I tried to get the students'
attention. But, they were having none of it. Instead, I heard incessant complaining about why the streaming wasn't already happening. "I better not miss my president," one aggressive young lady warned us. After ten minutes of clicking keys, the teacher gave up and herded the kids into the cafeteria to watch the big screen TV with other students. Meanwhile, she and I headed to the library.

During the ceremony, I went over in my mind all the interesting paths that I've seemingly crossed with Obama. There's the fact that his mother attended Mercer Island High School near Seattle where I've resided on and off for a number of years. As a child, Obama lived in Honolulu. Well, I've lived in Honolulu, too--twice. My buddy, Lucy, currently lives in Kailua where the Obama's vacationed recently and where I visited Lucy's home last fall. Obama went to Occidental College in Eagle Rock. Several years ago, I spoke to a class there about biracial issues. I also met Anjulie, a transracial adoptee from Seattle, who has since become my good pal because she was in the class that I spoke to that day. And, I have a close friend who lives in Eagle Rock which is also the location of a newspaper that I used to write film reviews for. As for the inauguration, I'm acquainted with the poet who read the poem since she's a good friend of a friend. I seem to know a lot of folks in Chicago who knew Obama, too. And, the list goes on. Crossing paths these days is not so extraordinary given the world of social networking sites and instant communications. Still, it's something to ponder. Will I make the ultimate crossing with Mr. O with an invite to the White House? Now, that would be a trip!

While I watched Obama yesterday, I--of course--thought a lot about his biracial heritage. Later in the day, I appeared on the Mixed Chicks Chat special podcast to add my two cents about the subject. I had to admit that I was disappointed that Mr. O himself has said little about being mixed. Sure, he's referred to himself as a "mutt" and has revealed information about growing up with white grandparents, but it's not like he's in constant conversation about what it's like being biracial. Certainly, I don't expect him to push aside his presidential duties to focus on the multiracial agenda. Yet, I wish he'd do more.

For one thing, 2010 will be only the second time in the history of the U.S. Census that those of us who identify with more than one race group will be able to check more than one box. Think about it. For most of my life (which has been a l-o-o-o-ng one at this point), I've had to deny one of my parents. And, because the One Drop Rule for African Americans has been so prevalent, the person I had to pretend didn't exist inside of me was my Japanese mother. Even though she's influenced me more than any other living being on this planet, I, in effect, have had to announce to the world that she was no part of me. So, yes. I do believe that Mr. O could be a little louder about us biracial babies. Let's see if he does so once we get past all the economic and international problems we currently face.

Thinking about Obama, I also realized that most of the time when monoracial people use the term "biracial", they mean people who are half white and half black. That took me back to the time when my family lived in Germany where my father was stationed for three years. After moving back to the states, we ended up in an all-white neighborhood where no one would speak to us much less allow their children to interact with my sister and me. It was a lonely time for us, but she and I made good use of our solitude by nurturing our creativity.

But the really interesting thing to me now that I'm older and can look back is how white folks in Germany were nothing like the white neighbors in our Washington state home. For one thing, a lot of German kids then had black fathers. And the white Germans we knew were very friendly. Was it because they lost the war? The white American soldiers that worked with my father were friendly, too. Was it because of the Army?

As much as I prefer the idea of pure peace, I realize that having armed forces is a necessary thing. One of the benefits of being in the Army is that everyone is pretty much equal. Being forced together makes people learn tolerance. In civilian life, our white neighbors had the option of ignoring us, but in the military we all had to get along.

In these photos, clockwise: A soldier friend of my dad's visits us in Germany and sits my sister on his lap. Next, I believe this woman's name was PeeWee. She was German, and I don't remember whether or not she had a family. It seems everyone liked having my sister sit on their lap. In the next photo, we're having a picnic with a girl name Bridget, her German mother, Carmen (in the center, who is biracial), her German mother, my sister and me. The last photo is of me playing in the snow with two friends. I don't recall if they were German or American, but they never called me any derogatory names like our Washington neighbors did.

Until next time, I am...

Your Hip Hapa,

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