Originally posted on: 2012/01/08
If someone were to ask me if there is one book in particular regarding the mixed-race experience that has never left my nightstand, I would without hesitation answer Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out. A collection of poetry, auto-biographies, short stories, plays, photography, paintings and more, Other Tongues succeeds in pulling together a cross-section of the lives of mixed-race women across Canada and the US, providing us with a reality check of where we stand as mixed-race women today. My copy, replete with underlines, highlights, circles and “YES!!!”, helped me to feel like the ugly ducking who found her swan group. Some examples of the many gems are:
“Coming to terms with being mixed-race is an evolutionary process.” by Co-Editor Andrea Thompson
Rachel Afi Quinn’s “…I am reminded that no matter where I am, I am a shape changer – and see myself quite differently than do the people around me. I have often felt that being mixed race has meant that I carry a secret: ‘I’m not what you think I am.’ I have only recently come to accept that I have never been what people think I am. And no matter where I go next, I never will be. Already I never am.”
Ruha Benjamin’s “mypeople/don’t know they’re related/in me.”
Jonina Kirton’s “are we not all two halves?/father, what half did you give me?/mother, i do not feel/white, i know you tried/i feel mixed, neither here nor there”
Through this book, I have also had the opportunity to meet other wonderful Canadian mixies, like the talented Jordan Clarke, who I interviewed back in August, 2011.
Over the holidays I had the opportunity to interview one of the women who started it all, Co-Editor Adebe. Read on to learn why injera & espresso might have more in common than you think and her challenge to mixed-race women everywhere!
1. What is your mix and how do you like to identify these days?
I am Ethiopian, Italian, and always somewhere between Toronto and New York. I consider myself a black-identified mixed-race woman and don’t believe in choosing the category “Other.” The way I identify myself is less “the best of both worlds” as it is a continual struggle for equity and racial justice. Still, I do admit the comedy in all of this: watching my Italian relatives eat injera (Italians invented the fork, by the way) or serve espresso, which many don’t realize was literally invented – the format, and the bean – in Ethiopia.
2. In your introduction, you mention that you studied “interracial figures in literature” in grad school. Aside from being mixed, was there another reason that you were compelled to delve deeper into the interracial experience? Can you speak to how the topic was received by your professors & peers?
My personal vocations outside academia are journalism and poetry, though I never studied journalism or poetry proper, and instead spent the course of an undergraduate and graduate degree pursuing English literature. It is from having delved into (and outside of) the canon of literary greats and studied world literatures that my interest in mixed-race literatures began and my poetic craft took off. Needless to say, my first poetic experiments were with spoken word; I felt every poem should be heard, felt, and affect change. Going to grad school represented a moment much larger than just an opportunity to study and become the intellectual I’d always wanted to me, was always more than just reading and critiquing literary greats. It was about getting to the heart of subjects that had an overarching and personal concern for me: creativity, speech, the freedom to express… a way of seeing the world in its multiplicities, a way of entering the subjectivity of literature and seeing authors as the extensions of their work.
3. In reflection of over a year of having been published, what have you learn about yourself or about life in general through your work on Other Tongues?
I learned that my mixed-race identity, as well as my identity as a poet, both stemmed from a single source of inspiration: to know the world in its intricacies, grey areas, the places where cultures crash but also fuse. It is from various crossings – as a poet, writer, educator and activist, and traveler – that my sense of self is both deeply rooted and always in-the-making. I think our book also gestures towards the realm of transformation on all sorts of levels, both in the act of reading and the effects of reading these heartfelt stories of women.
4. Is there something you’d like to say to other mixed-race Canadian women?
There are opportunities to escape the rules and roles we feel born into, which I think always requires a creative approach. And opportunities to share our stories exist and continue to exist, just as the conditions of interracial subjectivity always resist conclusion. I challenge mixed-race women to see the beauty in oscillation; instead of uncertainty, an appreciation of the complex identification at the heart of our “selves.” There is much room and a ways to go for mixed-race subjectivities to become a critical discourse. While we wished to have included the perspectives of mixed-race women across the globe (an endeavor altogether too large for the scope of this anthology—Other Tongues II, perhaps!), we hope the book can both serve as an important contribution to both the literary canon, and mixed-race studies as well as gender studies. We are so inspired by the women who submitted, whose stories, poems and artwork are being considered as new conceptual tools for rethinking race today; I thank them for their vision and honesty. Stay tuned for other opportunities to share your story.