Category Archives: Blog

Salt

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mrp

I remember the taste coming sharply. Tears slid down my cheeks and past my lips as my mother raked a brush through my unruly hair in an attempt to tame it. It resisted, and the long mess of curls, tangles, and frizz seemed to wrap themselves tighter around the brush. I stifled a shout of pain. An hour passed.

This event occurred fairly often; I was a mess-prone child with little regard for the state of my clothes or my wild hair. So in the second grade, when faced with this multiple-choice question on a test about measurement —

How long does it take you to brush your hair every day?

a. one second

b. one hour

c. one minute

d. one week

I picked b.

I got the question wrong. And when I asked the teacher why, she said,

“Well for most kids, it only takes a minute!”

Dejected, and still holding a test with a big red X, I returned to my seat. My teacher ran her hand through her own smooth, straight hair and returned to her work.

I went home to my family quite upset. Upon retelling what had happened, they tried to soothe me with the fact that I had still done quite well on the test, that it was just the teacher’s ignorance and inexperience with ethnic hair that had caused her to respond how she did. Even so, I remained angry at what I perceived even then as an injustice.

When an educator presents a diverse classroom of children with a standardized curriculum-based worksheet that only some of them can answer truthfully and still be correct, we’ve got a problem.

This is only one experience, one example, but it’s indicative of a much greater issue in our world today: a shortage of voices speaking out against prejudice. Whether this injustice appears in the form of microaggression, outright racism, or sheer ignorance doesn’t matter. Something needs to be done about it.

In the case of Mixed people, the silent call to be heard is ever more urgent. We come from all places and all backgrounds, yet have no place to turn to when we seek community. No one experience to unite us in our struggles. And more often than not, we don’t know anyone like us who we can ask for help when things get difficult.

This is where Mixed Race Politics comes in.

All activism must start somewhere, and we chose to begin by creating a blog and releasing a publication written, produced, and run entirely by mixed people. We hope to increase awareness of problems that uniquely affect us, show the world through our perspective, create a community within this social identity, and someday down the line even forge our own path in the political sphere. But even if our only success is making someone feel like they weren’t alone in this world, our efforts will have been worth their salt.

Protecting Mauna A Wakea: The Space Between Science and Spirituality

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“Take a moment to pause from your busy day and think about the most sacred place that you are connected to, the place that brings you peace and accepts your prayers. The place where your god dwells, very likely the place where your grandparents and their parents once prayed: the place you would safeguard with all of your might, with all that you are and all that you have. If you said the holy name of that place out loud, what would it be? Would it be the name of a church, or temple, a chapel you hold dear? Say it — utter its name out loud as I do. My church, my temple, my mountain: Mauna A wakea — Mauna Kea [The White Mountain].”
— Pua Case, Hawaiian community leader

When I describe the night sky from Mauna Kea to people who have never been there, I liken it to taking a paintbrush, dipping it in white paint, then flicking it a thousand times on a black velvet canvas. Sometimes it scares the shit out of me because it’s so clear that we are looking at the Milky Way edge-on. If there is some kind of god I must have been close to it there.

Mauna Kea is special to the Hawaiian people because it represents the beginning of our oral history, what we call moʻoleo. The view of the white cap of Mauna Kea poking through the clouds is likely the first thing our kupuna (ancestors) saw as they rolled through the deep ocean swells and peered through the mist in search of the priceless ʻaina (land) we call Hawaii nei today.

Kaulana Nā Pua (Famous are the flowers)

If built, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will be a 1.4-billion-dollar 18-story telescope with a segmented mirror lens the size of a basketball court. But the telescope is supposed to be built atop what is considered by many to be the most sacred mountain in Hawaii: Mauna Kea. The TMT will be the fourteenth observational complex built atop Mauna Kea, reigniting a controversy that began in 1977 with the proposed construction of the W. M. Keck Observatory. Native Hawaiian opposition to the TMT has resulted in a recent temporary freeze on construction. Demands range from halting construction, to continuing dialog between the Native Hawaiian community and the parties involved in construction, to the removal of all 13 standing observational complexes on the mountain.

Yes, Mauna Kea is a spiritually significant place, but my reasons for opposing the construction of the TMT are actually not spiritual. To gain some understanding of the complicated issue at hand, I want to take a historical turn: I want to consider the immoral suppression of our islands by the West. Most of all, I want to tell the story, our story, in a way that respects Indigenous knowledge in the way the West did not.

The construction of the TMT plays into a long history of colonization and oppression known too well by the Hawaiian people. I often refer to Hawaii’s grisly history of colonization as being “swept under the rug” when taught, if at all, in classrooms in the contiguous United States. Hawaiian history is fraught with imperialization, from the exploitation of our natural resources by the West, to a US-backed coup that imprisoned our Queen Liliʻuokalani in her own palace in 1893, and the US annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in 1897. Yet almost eight million tourists visit Hawaii each year, and I’d wager that most of them have little to no knowledge of this history. But it is not just knowledge of Hawaii’s imperialized past that is fading: Hawaiian people themselves are a diminishing population. It is estimated that by 2040, there won’t be a single 100% pure Hawaiian left on planet Earth.

Indigenous does not equal anti-science

At the end of the nineteenth century, Hawaiian King Kawika “David” Kalakaua, our Merrie Monarch, is credited with exposing our culture to the Western world. Kalakaua was enamored by science, so much so he had electricity installed in Iolani Palace years before the White House did.

Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as a whole have never opposed science: on the contrary, our expansive knowledge of the natural world and renowned skill for astronavigation, or wayfinding, were light years ahead of our Western counterparts. Captain James Cook, credited with discovering Hawaii, used a Polynesian master navigator by the name of Tupaia, to chart their course from Tahiti to Hawaii. Tupaia used ancient knowledge of star paths and ecological meta-data passed down from his kupuna to navigate. We call this ancient knowledge manaʻo.

Tupaia would later die, likely of dysentery, on the ship’s final journey back to London. Cook would take full credit for Tupaia’s navigational accomplishments, claiming them as discoveries of his own. Sadly, many other Native Pacific Islander master navigators suffered the same plight. By being ignored, Indigenous knowledge was simultaneously devalued and put at risk of becoming extinct.

Historically, the West has sought to dominate Hawaii: it has done so at the expense of acknowledging and respecting Indigenous knowledge, and at the cost of Hawaiian lives. For these reasons, many Native Hawaiians have developed a distrust of Westernized institutions. Unfortunately, this means that Western science — the systematic field of study that attempts to organize knowledge — has been shunned as well.

As a young, Native Hawaiian scientist who intends to return to Hawaii after finishing my postdoctoral research, I realize the complicated implications of my choice to stand by my people and oppose the construction of the TMT. Am I shunning science by doing this?

Aloha ʻAina (Love the land)

The TMT is meant to help us peer deeper into the heavens, just as our kupuna looked to the stars for knowledge. They used the heavens as a tool to discover uncharted ʻaina and then cultivated it in a sustainable way. We have a saying in Hawaii, “always put it back the way you found it.” Our kupuna knew that by dividing the ‘ainainto ahupuaʻas (sustainable land divisions), we could ensure the production of resources for future generations.

To build the TMT, nine acres of ʻaina would need to be excavated. Hawaiians are worried that ancient burial grounds, heiau’s (temples of cultural significance), and underground fresh water aquifers will be destroyed, resulting in a domino effect with unknown consequences. With a collective consciousness encapsulating respect for the ‘aina, why would Hawaiian community members want to encourage the construction of the TMT? Many Native Hawaiians are asking, “Why should we stare deeper into space if we can’t see what is right in front of our faces?”

Indigenizing Social Media

To quote W. E. B. Du Bois, “The system isn’t broken, it was designed that way.” Opposing the construction of the TMT isn’t about opposing science: it’s about the opposing the system that was designed to oppress Indigenous Hawaiians.

The Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and now #ProtectMaunaKea are similar in that they all grew exponentially through social media. Hawaiians have shown strength in our ability to unite and forge a movement against that system; it is a success in itself to have mobilized and spread awareness about the TMT debate beyond our islands. Our voices have been heard far and wide, and that reach has been valuable at home, too. With the help of advocates across the globe, the Hawaiian people have created enough momentum to force Governor David Ige to place a temporary freeze on the construction of the TMT. The question is, how did we garner the support of people all around the world?

The first images I noticed on Instagram were alarming, showing the arrests of 31 Hawaiians protesting the TMT. These posts used Hawaiian words for hashtags: #kuleana, one’s sense of responsibility or accountability, and #alohaaina, love the land. Soon after, I noticed the use of English words, especially #TMTshutdown. But it wasn’t until community organizers started combining Hawaiian and English words that the fuse was lit on the bomb that is the #ProtectMaunaKea movement.

The majority of images from the initial arrests and protests were from smartphones on site at Mauna Kea; circulated widely by reposts and retweets. The idea of Indigenous community members utilizing hyper-connected digitized technology to oppose the construction of an omnipotent observational turret feels to me of an episode of Stargate SG-1. It’s only fitting that Hawaiian actor/model/activist Jason Momoa, of Stargate and Game of Thrones, joined in the protests.

Soon after, singer/entertainer Nicole Scherzinger joined, and they used their celebrity (a combined seven million followers on Twitter and Instagram, to be exact) to alert the rest of the world. It appears that once Hollywood started caring, the rest of the world started caring, and #ProtectMaunaKea started to supernova. After the mainstream media in the contiguous United States picked up images of Jason Momoa, koa staff in hand, locks blowing in the wind with the Keck Observatory in the background, Governor Ige had one choice: to put a freeze on construction.

I Mua (Moving forward)

After discussions with my ohana (family) I kept returning to a central question. What am I first: a kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian)? A hapa haole (mixed race Hawaiian)? A scientist? A human being?

The #ProtectMaunaKea movement represents more than just Hawaii. It represents Indigenous communities around the world that are at risk of having their manaʻo go extinct. But as the Merrie Monarch Festival, the largest annual hula festival in the world, came to an end at the beginning of this month, it is apparent that Hawaiian culture is alive and well.

Though we are often viewed as a community of warriors, Hawaiians continue to protest the construction of the TMT peacefully. Maybe King Kalakaua was right: opening our doors to the rest of the world might have been a good idea. Without allies there would be no one to listen to our voice.

We will continue to build our moʻolelo for the keiki (future generations). For over two thousand years Mauna Kea has remained a critical stronghold, straddling the spiritual and the scientific world. To quote Hi’iakaikapoliopele, the patron goddess of hula, chant, and medicine: “Hele a aʻe ulu a noho I ko wahi kapu” — “traverse all that is convention, only then will you invoke your divine nature.” Mauna Kea will forever occupy the space between spirituality and science. TMT or no, our culture will continue to thrive and we will continue to move forward. I mua.

Mahalo nui loa for strengthening my kuleana and helping me find my voice:
The Protect Mauna Kea Movement
Riley Taitingfong
Laurie Makanani Fox
Leslie Kaulehua Fox
Cliff Kapono
Kaumakaiwa Kanakaʻole
Sarah Ballard
Patrick Kirch
Walter Ritte

Introducing: Ibeyi

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All my life I have felt uninspired and isolated from the mainstream artists who supposedly represent me and my generation. However, this year, I discovered a new rising talent who I find relatable and inspiring: Ibeyi.

For artists not part of an Anglophone country, never mind while also being part of an ethnic minority, acquiring international fame as a music artist can be difficult. However, with this French-Cuban duo of twins, these obstacles do not seem to pose a problem. With millions of views on their music videos and a world tour this year, it is likely that in a year’s time everyone will know their name.

In addition to this success, Ibeyi embraces their mixed race identity and integrates it both in their music and in their persona. For instance, they chose to incorporate the Yoruba language in their songs, an homage to their Yoruba culture, and to their deceased father who brought them their passion for music. The Yoruba are a West African ethnic minority that developed a diaspora in Cuba due to slave trade.

Blended language use is an example of mixed race people refusing to choose between the facets of their identities. Ibeyi is not speaking only English, or only Yoruba: they are using both to create something beautiful. Ibeyi’s linguistic diversity in their music should encourage more polyglot mixed race artists to do the same.

Ibeyi is directing their whole identity into their creations; they are not afraid of showing their emotional side and they are not afraid of showing their culture. Their father’s memory is a common theme, and in their music video ‘Mama says’ we see one of the twins breaking down while singing with her sister and mother. They are not trying to appear perfect, and therefore unrelatable.

I genuinely hope that Ibeyi will make history in the music world. In our current society, the number of mixed race individuals is constantly increasing, which calls for more representation in the music sphere. Artists should not hide their culture to please the music world, and the introduction of more artists like Ibeyi could allow this.

Ariana Miyamoto: Colorism and Anti-Black Racism in Japan

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ariana

Ariana Miyamoto, a beautiful 20-year-old with great skin, was recently crowned Miss Universe Japan and will represent Japan at the 2015 Miss Universe pageant. Unfortunately, because she’s mixed, there are people who think that Miyamoto isn’t “Japanese enough” and shouldn’t represent Japan. These people are terrible and racist.

There’s no doubt that mixed people face discrimination in Japan simply for being mixed. In 2006, during the succession controversyover the Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne, one politician famously denounced the idea of allowing women to reign, as, he said, an empress might marry outside Japan and have mixed children (very objectionable!). “If Aiko [the eldest princess] becomes the reigning empress, and gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him, their child may be the emperor,” said politician Takeo Hiranuma. “We should never let that happen.” The argument is that a mixed Japanese person can’t represent Japan.

Miyamoto faces the same criticism, especially since she’ll be a cultural ambassador as she heads to Miss Universe. But discrimination for being mixed isn’t all she faces: she also faces bigotry specifically because she’s black.

The most common term for “mixed” in Japan is “hafu,” a pronunciation of “half,” and it describes a person with one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent. The term is supposed to encompass all mixed people, regardless of where their other parent is from. But the most visible examples of hafu individuals are mixed Japanese and white.

Anyone familiar with Japanese entertainment can tell you that hafu are overrepresented there, and most, if not all of them, are Japanese and white. Famous names like Becky, Anna Tsuchiya, Christel Takigawa, and Angela Aki, off the top of my head, are all part white. (My grandmother, for instance, regularly tells me that I should be a tarento specifically because I’m hafu.)

In Japanese entertainment, being visibly part white codes for social capital and desirability. This isn’t a new construct: it was chronicled in Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1924 novel Chijin no Ai, or Naomi, about a young couple at the turn of the century, obsessed with bucking tradition and embracing Western culture and trends. The titular character, Naomi, is known as an effervescent party girl blessed with Eurasian features and a name that can be pronounced easily by foreigners. It’s said that Naomi is beautiful because she looks like a white American movie star.

Being visibly part white can confer privilege. And visible whiteness is certainly valuable in an industry built on Western beauty standards. But Ariana Miyamoto, though she’s mixed, is perceived differently: her visible blackness shapes how she is seen. And Japan is no stranger to anti-black racism and colorism.

All mixed people face discrimination in Japan for being mixed, but beyond this there is no singular hafu experience. Conversations about Miyamoto’s reception in Japan need to focus on her blackness as much as they focus on her mixedness.