Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Humankind-ness Of Sarah Moriguchi Ross

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

Over the years, Watermelon Sushi World has featured people of all cultures, ethnicities and races. Whether they were mixed, transracially adopted, interracially involved or crossing cultures, they have taken us along on some incredible journeys, and we’ve learned a lot. This bi-month’s Hip Hapa Homee also adds to our multi-culti education by showcasing her family—hopefully, a model for what future families might look like. Read the post below and see if you agree:

Q: Sarah Moriguchi Ross, who are your parents, and how did they meet?

Sarah (right) officiant at Golden Gate Park wedding, 1969
A: My parents met in San Francisco where I was born. My dad had just come out of the Army and WWII, and headed west from Hartford Connecticut. My mom had been working in Louisville Kentucky in the war industry doing draftsman work for airplane building plans. She is from Charleston West Virginia. They met at a boarding house they both resided in.

My dad is German (on his dad's side) and Irish (born in Irish free state) on his mom's side. He was the oldest of eight. My mother is English (on her dad's side) and Native American (Seminole) on her mother's side. I was considered white, although when I was old enough to ask about identity, my parents would say I was a “Heinz 57”. Back in the day, this was a mustard blend that was marketed. My aunt told me about my Seminole heritage much later in life. I was informed that my grandmother, my mother's mother, was adopted and that the county court house burned down with all the records.

Sarah as USPS mail carrier, 1969
Q: What was it like growing up?

A: Growing up in San Francisco, I was fortunately able to interact with many people of different ethnic backgrounds. Being raised white, the conflict I encountered was with my parents over my choice of friends. At 14, my first boyfriend, Fred, was 16 and the oldest of five kids in a multiracial--we used the term interracial back in the day--family of German and Japanese parents. Toshiro (Fred’s dad) was a Nisei soldier who fought in WWII in Germany. He married Josephine (Fred’s mother) who was a young German woman who survived the war. They came to San Francisco and sent for Fred when he was 4, and he got entry into America. He was born in Munich in 1946.

Fred and I married and divorced young. We had two children. I moved to Oregon in 1973 pregnant and with two children—and, single. In 1975, my friend Randy and I started a relationship that resulted in marriage and produced four children. We also raised some of his children. Altogether, we are the parents of ten. I gave birth to seven children. Two are inter-ethnic and five are interracial (multiracial). Randy's three are: one African-American and two multiracial. He is African-American, or a more common term “black”. He is the oldest of three brothers from Los Angeles. We have been together for 39 years.

Sarah (3rd from left, top row) with husband Randy, their four children, and two of hers with her ex-husband
Q: What inspired you to create H.O.N.E.Y., Inc.? (Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth?)

A: Raising our kids of color in a mostly white area presented some concerns--discrimination, mistreatment and lack of role models who looked like them, or even similar to them. The clincher was when they heard us talking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and they were like, “who?” We knew if we did not do something for them, as well as the community, the situation/area would remain backwards. So, in 1983, before the day was declared a holiday (1986), we planned a big family-friendly celebration for Dr. King’s birthday. We had a petition on the wall to create the day as a holiday. When we finished with the event, we realized that our group of friends and volunteers were a multiracial mix of parents with mixed-race children. Then, we started to organize ourselves to discuss our concerns and our children's identity development. We agreed that combining our efforts to form an organization was a good direction, and incorporated in 1985.

top row: Lela Ross (Sundancer), Karen (Moriguchi) Phelps, Sarah, Randy, Fred Moriguchi, Niyah Ross
bottom row: Maurice Ross, Ayanna Moriguchi, Tumasi Ross

Q: What are some of your group's goals?

A: Our group goals are dual in essence: support interracial families and create a racially harmonious environment. We held programs for children and many adults sat on advisory boards to provide feedback to the larger community. I remember this one instance when I was at a city planning meeting and advocating for black people on the topic of naming a park after Martin Luther King, Jr. The city planner looked at me in complete seriousness and said, “I didn't know any black people lived here.” This was the early 1980's. 

The goal statement from our Facebook group, Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth H.O.N.E.Y. Inc., was founded in 1983 in Eugene Oregon. This non-profit was formed with the goal of providing support and advocacy for the enhancement and acceptance of multiracial persons and their families. The organization’s premise is that in order for the healthy development of interracial families to thrive, it is important that racial harmony be attained by our society. Therefore, through education, Honey strives to create a well-established multicultural community. Our programs and projects reflect these fundamentals. Typically, we still hold celebrations for MLK Day and Loving Day in a family-friendly style. We had a Saturday program for 20 years called Culture Club. Now, it is more of a playgroup and held less frequently.

Q: Some of us are aware that Eugene Oregon is considered a politically radical community, but is it a particularly mixed-race city?

A: Eugene's second biggest “ethnic group” is comprised of persons who are two or more races. This figure is not inclusive of persons who are inter-ethnic, i.e., white and Latino. Our largest ethnic group is Latino. Some data is still a challenge. An old friend once said, “The black University of Oregon football players sure do pepper up the place.” He was a “blue blood” originally from Chicago. I think that meant a light-skinned black person.

I make my own observations about our mixed-race populations. Over the years, the demographics have changed statistically and visibly. When my children attended school in the 1980's, they were the only children of color in their class. Now, as my grandchildren attend school, there are many children of color and, often, they are multiracial. Children of color and mixed-race kids are less isolated now in the school institutions. Therefore, there seemed to be less need for our program, Culture Club. Yes, there are black and brown environments here. But there is no neighborhood that is defined by a particular ethnic group other than white. Upper classes live in the hills and lower classes in flat lands. We have a huge population of homeless people and families. Honey families are a mix of low income and average income folks. The 1,200 black people on the census tend to be middle-class or greater. The five or six thousand of two or more races are a variety of income backgrounds.

Q: Oregon once had a “no blacks allowed” law, yet today, the Pacific Northwest is known as a progressive/liberal region. Any thoughts on that?

Sarah, at center with long white hair,
doing Tai Chi on Loving Day
June 21, 2015 

at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park
A: Yes, that is why the area is mostly white. It was called the exclusion law. When the state was formed in 1859, there was a vote to determine if this would be a slave state. They voted against slavery and for exclusion. This excluded people of African descent, Chinese, Hawaiian and Malays. That law was discontinued in 1926. If I were a ruler of this Oregon land, I would say immigration should only be granted to People of Color for an indeterminate number of years until the racial balance was achieved. Exceptions only to family members. A total fantasy, I know. White supremacists nationwide want to make Oregon a white homeland, and there are many white Oregonians who resist this, also due to their liberal progressive nature. However, when it comes to exclusion, groups still practice various ways to stick to their own kind. My kind is human kind, thank you. A good book on this state history is called, “Peculiar Paradise, A History of Blacks in Oregon.” 1980 Laughlin, (I think). When I read the book in 1989, it really made me realize why this area is like it is. A big “ah hah!”

Q: Since you are so invested in youth and tomorrow's citizens, you must be optimistic about the future.

A: I am not a person with her head in the sand. I know what is going on and it is all very concerning and upsetting. But, yes, to say I am optimistic is true. We have big problems and they can be solved. But division only makes matters worse. Divide and conquer is very effective, and we all need to counter these divisions--put our heads together and create peace, life and love.

Mahalo, Sarah. Dear Hip Hapa Homeez, please consider visiting these links:

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

And join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook where we interact with you through comments on postings of articles like the one above.

Your Hip Hapa,