Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Free And Open Sky

Have you ever felt like the people who cycle into your life come predestined? I feel that way often, and I love it. I'm always amazed when someone casually checks out my blog, drops a comment, and then ends up becoming my friend.

This week’s Hip Hapa Homee is such a person. Sky Obercam is a prolific Bay Area writer who’s written for The Source, Bossip, Format Mag and Clutch. She first sent me a link to a blog she wrote about “bumblebees”—a term she uses to describe black women and Asian men relationships. Curious, I contacted her and discovered that she had a wealth of information to share about her own interracial marriage. Besides, we’re both working on erotic fiction featuring multiracial characters. And, Sky happens to be the name of one of my characters. Predestined, I say.

That’s Sky in the pix above, right, and below, left.

Q: What’s a nice African American girl like you doing in an interracial marriage with a Caucasian guy?

A: Well, simply put, I met my Mr. Right at the tender age of 22. We actually met at this excellent bar/lounge in Philly (which is no longer in existence) called Wilhelmina’s via two mutual friends. I was immediately smitten. There was just something about his energy. The fact that he was a bona fide hottie didn’t hurt either! Long story shortened (which is no easy feat for me--ha!), I downed my drink, and probably everyone else’s sitting at the table (memory is naturally a little fuzzy), and cornered him as he ordered another drink at the bar. I was always such an aggressive chica--but when it was time to ask him to pony up the digits, I realized I had nothing to write with, so I had to remember his number. The fact that I was able to do so despite having damaged so many brain cells was a pretty good sign that it was meant to be.

David and I were an item for seven years before we actually married. We faced many obstacles along the way, too. Some were characteristic of young adulthood. Some were typical of the usual challenges interracial couples face. We grew up, basically, and learned how to cope with the racial limitations of those around us. The best part is that our families have finally grown close, moving beyond the tension of the past and forward with love and respect. I feel blessed that our son is surrounded by such a loving family.

Q: What do you hope for your biracial son as he grows up?

A: I’ve spent a brief amount of time living abroad, and one of the things I noticed was that biracialism (of the black and white kind) is not viewed as a guaranteed life of torment or some sh*t. Nothing good comes from estranged cultural identities. I get why it’s so prevalent here, and other places that have apartheid-like roots, but we’ve got to evolve. That does not mean putting one on a pedestal above the other, but openly accepting one’s entire self, free of guilt. You can’t embrace one hand and deny the existence of other, you know? David is German and Italian, and I’m what some refer to as an MGM (multi-generation multi-racial) African American, so our son is truly a citizen of the Earth. What I hope for Raffi is that he grows up feeling secure, resisting imposed fragmentation and embracing his total self.

Q: You have an interesting family. Please discuss.

A: My parents had me later in life, which wasn’t common back in the 70’s, particularly since I was their only child. My mom was born in 1940, my dad in ’36, and I often felt they instilled a lot of values reflective of an earlier time. My aunt and grandfather were an integral part of my early childhood as well.

In terms of my background, I think of it as a patchwork of oppositional forces in some ways. I was raised in West Philly, not far from 52nd Street; so, in other words, the ‘hood. I never knew if it was my family’s influence over me, or my stubborn free spirit, that always put me at odds with my surroundings.

My mother’s family is pretty homogenous, but my father’s is reflective of that portion of West Virginia African Americans who have significant Native American and Scots Irish lineage. My husband thinks my dad looks like Lou Diamond Phillips--hee hee. Anyway, despite his appearance, he’s the most conscious black person I know. He was affiliated with the Black Panthers at some point in his life. He spoke jive and lived the life--so to speak. Conversely, his parents came from an era where brown skin was looked down on.

I’ve always been a bit eccentric--never really feeling at home in any of my surroundings. I got a lot of heat for “talking white”, “listening to white music", not concerning myself too much with urban fashion trends of the day, and being light-skinned. You know, kids find every excuse in the book to vilify each other. Anyway, after getting raked over the coals in public schools, my folks decided to put me into a private Quaker school. So, I went from being the white girl, to THE black girl--the brunt of thinly veiled hostility from the teachers and getting ignored by all the boys.

So, I guess you could say I was this sushi eating, Tears for Fears loving girl from the ‘hood who viewed the world from a quasi Black Nationalist perspective. There was a loneliness to the disparities, but there was beauty, too. I sometimes see my childhood as fertilizer for the garden that is now my life (cheesey but true!).

Q: You’re such an accomplished writer. Tell us about your work.

A: I’ve been writing creatively since I was a kid really. I never thought I could make a living out of it—o.k., I was really always just afraid to try. That all changed when I got pregnant with my son Raffi. My husband and I agreed that I’d stay home with the baby until he was old enough for preschool. It was then that I decided that I would dedicate myself to the craft, and make a living out of it no matter what. So, I just started writing, and sending out pitches to various mags and stuff. When Raffi was about five months old, I got a gig writing with a high profile gossip blog. It was then that I realized I loved comedy writing.

Eventually, I moved on to focus on freelance writing. I really wanted to challenge myself. I was able to write some travel pieces for The Source, as well as features and news for Format Magazine. Most notably, I joined the team at Clutch Magazine, which has been a dream come true for me. There’s really nothing out there quite like Clutch, and I love the opportunity to help create a space where folks who are totally underrepresented have a chance to connect, share, and grow.

I also co-founded Visual Culture with my husband David, but he is the true inspiration behind it. He’s a graphic designer, but more than that. He’s a true artist with a passionately progressive outlook. It started out just being an artful design blog that explored various aspects of graphic design. Since its launch though, it’s become a resource that encompasses not only design, but strives to raise awareness of social and environmental issues and, as we say, cultivate discussion, inspire, and inform.

In terms of fiction, I’m in the process of completing a short story. I’m resistant to labels, but I guess it could fall under “Multicultural Erotica”. I think of it, however, as “Life with Details”--hee hee hee.

Q: You recently interviewed actress Sophie Okonedo who has Nigerian and white English heritage. What did you learn about her mixed-race life?

A: It was great speaking with her, but I was at a disadvantage because our conference call connection sucked and she could barely hear me. I was actually told ahead of time that she was not open to speaking of her private life, so my attempts to really explore that subject was a bit thwarted. She was really sweet and fascinating to speak with though.

Q: You used to write for The Source. Are you a hip-hop aficionado?

A: I probably have one of the most eclectic music tastes of anyone I know. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of modern mainstream hip-hop. The industry has robbed it of its soul--for real. I don’t listen to any hip-hop prior to 1997, or so.

Thank you, Sky! Your name suits someone as free and open as you.

Here are links to some of Sky’s work:

Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez, we now number over 1,100 on our Facebook Group page! The support you’ve shown is phenomenal, but don’t forget to join our Watermelon Sushi Fan page so you can stay up-to-date on our film. Every t-shirt purchase helps move the film forward and gets you a rear crawl credit, too. What better gift to give for the holidays? Check it out here:

Until next week when the next Hip Hapa Homee cycles through my life, I bid you a fond farewell.

Your Hip Hapa,



Dede said...

GREAT interview! Sky is just about the sweetest (and talented) person you will ever meet! Love the questions! and of course the answers :)

mek said...

Big up to the talented Sky! She fits in everywhere from London to Philadelphia to San Francisco to beyond! Thanks for the inspiration!