FRESNO, CALIF. — Multiracial? Multicultural? Heavy concepts. We look at skin color, and make judgments. Identify. Classify.
This came into focus a few years ago in the checkout line of a supermarket.
My skin is impractical - the faint pink appropriate to the drizzle of Northern Europe. Our baby girl - lovely, warm, medium-brown skin, tip-tilted dark eyes and curly auburn hair - was sitting in my cart. The woman behind me said, "Whose baby is that?"
Astonished, I said, "Mine."
She continued, knowingly, "Must look like her daddy...."
A useful counter-thrust came to mind: "Isn't it interesting that you should ask...."
Our children have Ojibwa, Cree, Puerto Rican, Cherokee, African-American blood with dashes of Caucasian here and there. Our family is multiracial/cultural. How do they identify themselves? However they wish.
We did our best. Honor all factors of your lineage. We went to powwows, my husband the only Italian-American at the drum. We were actively involved in " ... battling racism across the board" long before it was chic.
We read Mary Ann French's opinion piece, "The new racial 'phantom' " (Aug. 20, 2001), with interest. Is the claim of multiracialism a potential escape from " ... the stigma of slavery?"
Since when, in this age, do we consider descent from slaves a "stigma"? Isn't it rather a proud claim - to be descended from intrepid survivors, achievers?
I am multicultural Caucasian: Orkney, Manx, Irish. My people are survivors.
According to Jack Holland (Irish Echo, Dec. 13, 2000), "an estimated 50,000 Irish people, including thousands of women and children ... between 1652 and 1659 were sold into slavery by the British. Most seemed to have been transported on slave ships to Barbados to work the sugar plantations.... The enslavement of the Irish came about as a direct result of Oliver Cromwell's war in Ireland."
Forced into profitable breeding relationships, they rebelled with their black brothers and died with them. Their descendants should be proud, should be able to say, "I'm African-Irish! I'm multiracial!"
Africans enslaved and sold other Africans. Europeans did the same. Civilization is a relative term.
We have not tried "to shelter [our children] from racism with all kinds of artificial categories constructed at the hearth." We have tried to give them their entire legacy. "Yeah, I'm adopted, and I'm Ojibwa and Puerto Rican with a redheaded Scot for a grandfather; my father is Italian-American Ghegeda and my mother is Viking-Irish."
Does that make that child cling to a hope that no one will notice her smidgen of black blood? Does it give her a just inheritance? What she does with it is her business.
An African-American friend's maiden name was undeniably Irish. I've encouraged her daughter to embrace that part of herself. She has a right to the pain, the suffering, the glory of Ireland. With that part of her out from under the bed, she is stronger to stand for the rights of her fellow American blacks. Sure, she's seen as black by the police, press, strangers, friends. But she knows she's descended as well from punished love; should she be denied this? As my children do, she deals foursquare with reality.
I was reared Scotch-Irish American. My Manx and Orkney-Canadian forebears were, at best, quaint. The Celts and the Vikings were savages. I realized I'd been robbed.
I studied Celtic. Viking culture became real, Canadian history more meaningful, a part of me. So did the Macedonian-Italian heritage that came with my marriage, the multiracism of my children, our deep involvement with African-American friends.
The Germans have a phrase, unsere Leute - "our people." It is our code phrase for love of each branch of our heritage. With fullest respect to Ms. French and her work, there isn't anything "phantom" about it.
Ruth Rosborough-Larocca is an author, and a contributor to The Fresno Bee.