Mixie and the Halfbreeds
“Then Bowie says, ‘Iggy would have loved you my little china girl.’ And I say, ‘shhh…’ and throw my drink in his face. ‘I’m Japanese you moron!’ Then I wake up.”
Taking issues of race, culture and identity and throwing them together in a blender, co-writers Julie Tamiko Manning and Adrienne Wong have created at a theatrical concoction called Mixie and the Halfbreeds. Produced by Neworld Theatre in association with the Powell Street Festival and directed by Maiko Bae Yamamoto, the play revolves around two Asian Canadian women of mixed race who approach their cultural dualism in very different ways. Inviting the audience to explore questions of mixing in contemporary Canadian society and popular culture, Mixie and the Halfbreeds poses a number of questions: Where does culture come from? How do we mix cultures without losing our whole sense of self? What does it mean to be mixed race?
Co-writers Julie Tamiko Manning & Adrienne Wong discuss some of issues brought up by their play, which has its world premiere on June 18 at the Vancity Culture Lab (at the Cultch).
In Their Own Words
Mixie and Trixie (Julie Tamiko Manning & Adrienne Wong)
Adrienne Wong (Trixie) and Julie Tamiko Manning (Mixie) might not be carbon copies of their Mixie & the Halfbreeds personas, but as Asian Canadian women of mixed race, they’ve struggled to find a balance between their individual senses of self and the push-and-pull of their racial hybridity. Adrienne and Julie reflect on embracing their mixie-ness and what it takes to survive and thrive as a self-aware hybrid in 21st century Canada.
Mixie and Trixie each deal with their hybridity in their own unique way. How common do you think their attitudes are among Canadians of mixed race?
JULIE: Funnily enough, I have never discussed hybridity with my sister, brother nor my cousins, the majority of whom are of mixed race, nor have I with most hapas within the Japanese Canadian community. Until recently, at least for me, my attitude towards being of two races has been more about identifying as “different” than identifying with a “community of mixies.” So, it’s hard to know. It’s a bit of undiscovered country. I am hoping that Mixie and the Halfbreeds will at least awaken some sort of recognition within the mixed race community. Sometimes it can change everything when you discover that you are not the only one out there with these feelings. Maybe when mixies discover their new label, they can find some pride and identity in that!
ADRIENNE: I think that we intentionally chose two extremes because of the dramatic potential. These two characters have opposing points of view and a yearning for otherness. The characters are set inside of contemporary North American society where the other is still defined as racially different. I think that there’s opposing tension in Mixie and Trixie, a yearning for that otherness and the specialness it confers. We live inside a media culture that places things Eastern on a bit of a pedestal. We have a bit of hangover from Orientalism, and then you add in the contemporary images of China and Japan and what’s happening there now, and the nostalgia for your ancestors’ time, the stories that you may have heard or invented, and all of that affects how you live your life now, and whether or not you see people like you on the street.
Do you think it’s possible to be a hybrid and live without tension or struggle or conflict?
ADRIENNE: I think so. To me, conflict lies in any person’s struggle to understand their identity and their social identity as a human. In the case of these two characters, they’re really hung up on their racial and cultural identity, but I think for some people, those cultural differences are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Instead, they are avenues that open doors where what’s wonderful about being a hybrid or a mixie is the feeling of having the best of all worlds. You can choose this but not that part of your heritage. You can put all those best things together into your own image of yourself.
JULIE: I believe that the conflict is partially within ourselves (sometimes literally!) and partially from outside society. There is a sense of pressure from the outside world to be what people identify you as. Many people will identify people of mixed race with their non-white part. A perfect example is President Barack Obama. He is almost constantly referred to as black. Not to take away from such an historical moment for African Americans, but every time he is referred to as black, a large part of his existence is being denied. There is a comedy bit from The Chappelle Show, called Racial Draft, where delegates of different races (Black, Jewish, White, Latinos and Asian) draft people identified with multi-cultures into their race. For example: the Black delegation drafted Tiger Woods (played by Dave Chappelle) onto their racial team. Woods’ response was: “It’s a tremendous opportunity for me to finally be part of a race, have a home. I’ve been so confused. I Love you Dad!” This is a perfect and hilarious commentary on life as a multi-racial person. Feelings of not fitting in, confusion, guilt for identifying with the race of one parent over the other’s. Then again, some people may never look at life that way. If you see yourself not as half, but someone with two cultures instead of one or none, the conflict dissipates.
How closely does your life experience mirror that of either of the characters?
ADRIENNE: Not that closely. I think what’s interesting is that often when you see pieces about identity, frequently the writers are writing from personal experience, and I think that also happens in the immigrant storylines we’ve seen and the reconciliation between generation’s storylines that we’ve seen. What’s different about this is that it’s not based entirely on Julie’s life or my life. We have definitely exaggerated some things, and hyped some things, and created opposing tensions so that we can explore this issue from extreme angles, from angles of extreme entry, and hopefully by doing that throw some ideas or notions into relief.
JULIE: I would love for this play to not be my diary or my therapy session because I don’t think that that would be very interesting or accessible to anyone else, though I can only write from my own experiences, so most things are based in truth. This being my first written work I’ve fallen into that way of writing a lot. That has been and remains a big challenge for me. On the other hand, the reason why I wanted to write this is because I wanted to add my voice to the Canadian plays already out there. I didn’t think that this voice, the voice of a mixie, was out there yet. Mixie is pretty much me magnified. For example, though I am not a recluse like Mixie, her behaviour is a magnification of my feelings of being an outsider.
Was there a moment in your life when you realized that you were a hybrid?
ADRIENNE: I grew up in Calgary and because my last name was Wong, I felt like I was Chinese even though there weren’t really any Chinese kids in school with me, but that’s what I identified with. But at the same time I went to French immersion school and my mom is French-Canadian from Manitoba, so we spoke French, and learned French Canadian traditions, all the food and songs and so I felt, growing up in Calgary, very connected to that French Canadian legacy. I remember feeling very different.
JULIE: As soon as I started to attend school I knew that I was different. In kindergarten I was the only English kid in a completely French environment. I don’t even think I recognized that our differences were racial. In grade 1 my best friend was the typical blonde, pretty one. Even though her adopted sister was Korean, I only saw that I was not the blonde, pretty one. It still wasn’t about race, I guess. But it WAS about being blonde. It was only when I was around 10, 11, 12 that I realized that my parents were of different race and that made MY existence confusing, because then I had to negotiate around TWO cultures when I had never even recognized them previously.
Have you found in your career that being of mixed heritage has been an advantage or a hindrance?
ADRIENNE: I think that what’s interesting is that being of mixed heritage, I will always be seen as Asian, but I’ll never be seen as White, so the French Canadian side of my heritage is in some ways invisible. Nobody would look at me and say, are you French Canadian?
Because our culture is so visual, and we take in a lot of information through our eyes, and when white people look at me they see an Asian person, and when I meet Chinese people, they know that I’m not fully Chinese, and they want to know what I am, and that’s really the question that always surfaces: what are you? Which is a strange question and doesn’t occur as much as I’ve grown older, although it still happens, although people have found different ways of asking that question, such as: where are your parents from originally? I think that it sets up a false idea that we are somehow pie charts that can be sectioned off. Always people say you’re half, and I say, which half? Top half? Bottom half? We are all mixed up inside of us, and we are intrinsically mixed. You cannot take half away and be left with half. You take half away and you’re left with nothing. The math doesn’t work.
JULIE: My emotional response would say that my racial ambiguity has been a hindrance. In my experience there has rarely been much room for non-traditional thinking in Canadian theatre, and so it has been frustrating. My mindful response would be that it has been an advantage, because I have found great opportunities and challenges in the plays that I have worked on and have met inspiring and exciting artists through these projects that I never would have had I not been who I am.
What do you think that audience members who aren’t of mixed race learn from Mixie?
JULIE: My hope is that people will recognize that there is a pride in being of mixed race, that being a mixie is a specific identity. AND this may sound cheesy, but that we are all the sum of our parts, whatever those parts may be. Whether we identify as mixed-race, mixed culture, mixed gender, mixed education, mixed emotion, mixed parts, mixed nuts, whatever the mix is—it creates a 100% whole-grain person.
ADRIENNE: For me, I always hope that when people come and see the work that they leave and have a slightly different perspective on what it is to be human and what it is that the other humans around them need to be those humans. We know ourselves, we can know ourselves as well as we can, as well as we want to, but we’ll never really know other people unless other people tell us what it’s like for them.