Mixed Up Confusion
I got mixed up confusion
Man, it’s a-killin’ me
Well, there’s too many people
And they’re all too hard to please
But I’m walkin’ and wonderin’
And my poor feet don’t ever stop
Seein’ my reflection
I’m hung over, hung down, hung up!
Bob Dylan, 1962
“In terms of being an Asian American writer, I’m mixed race. I think there are issues about being racially mixed that are different than for people who are Japanese-American, or Korean-American, or Chinese-American in background. People don’t know where I come from. My father is Japanese. My mother is Latina. There is a line in the play, “I look at you and I don’t know what i’m seeing.” I think a lot of people look at me and don’t know what they’re seeing. There are issues that people who are of mixed heritage deal with that are complicated in terms of finding their home in a specific ethnic group.”
Playwright Naomi Iizuka (in Asia Source on her play 36 VIEWS)
Historically, humans have always felt more comfortable with absolutes. It is perhaps easier to see the world in terms of black and white rather than in shades of grey, to categorize rather than to empathize, to see difference as a blockade rather than an invitation to explore.
In some strange twist of logic, if we can place those who are perceived as different into a box labelled “other”, it helps us to define ourselves in an often confusing and chaotic world. The lines are easy to draw and examples are plentiful: Palestinian vs. Israeli, Christian vs. Jew, Protestant vs. Catholic, etc. Reading the daily recounting of the conflicts that are raging around the world at any given time, I’ve sometimes wondered if classifying the “other” as an enemy doesn’t help focus a nameless and impotent rage that would otherwise have to be turned inward.
But what if we could just mix things up? What if we were to look into the face of the “other” and see not the enemy, but ourselves? Or better yet, what if we were to look in the mirror one morning and see the “other” reflected back at ourselves. Most of the barriers we set up are, after all, invisible. If we were to dismantle the artificial walls that we have erected around ourselves the world would be a more wide open and tolerant place.
Surely we have held on to old hatreds and resentments for so long that it has poisoned the very air that we breathe.
In Canadian mystery writer John Brady’s fine novel Kadish in Dublin, the son of a prominent Jewish judge has been found dead in Dublin, the apparent victim of foul play. Following the incident, two police officers discuss the Jewish angle to the killing with one of them expressing surprise that there are any Jews at all in Ireland. When told that there are about 2,000 Jews in Ireland, he tells a joke that goes something like this: A car is stopped at a roadblock in Belfast. An armed thug leans into the car window, sticks a gun in the driver’s face, and demands to know whether he’s Protestant or Catholic. The driver replies that he’s neither, he’s Jewish. The thug, who looks confused, tells him to stay where he is and steps away to confer with his colleagues. A moment later he leans into the car window again and says, “sure, but are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew though?” This joke—which is shaded, as the best jokes are, with truth—has stuck with me for years for its perfect encapsulation of the base pettiness behind many conflicts and the narrowness that hatred engenders.
When Barrack Obama was elected to the White House, he was widely hailed as the first African American President, yet the fact is, he is the product of a mixed race marriage. Surely that is as revolutionary as anything else about him—the fact that he bridges the racial divide. Hopefully he is equipped, by way of his cultural duality, to better understand the nuances of the often-divided nation he presides over.
In Mixie and the Halfbreeds, the latest production by Neworld Theatre, Julie Tamiko Manning and Adrienne Wong gleefully mix things up with a look at how cultural duality plays out in a battle between two neighbours. As the press release says, the play explores complex and relevant issues of culture, identity, and race, and tackles questions of mixing in contemporary Canadian society and popular culture. 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? In the play, one of the characters says, “I am the sum of my parts and when some of my parts are ignored, I feel like I’m not seen at all.”
As someone who has spent his whole life “all mixed up”, it is heartening to see these issues coming to the fore for the first time. I have never felt victimized by my bi-racial identity; to the contrary, it has mostly been a blessing. Still, I can’t help but feel that those of us with bi-racial or multi-racial identities have much to learn, but also much to teach, in a world where the status quo is not working.
As Maiko Bae Yamamoto, the director of Mixie and the Halfbreeds, recently said, “It’s not just about growing up Chinese or growing up White. It’s about growing up.”