Just 38 years ago, interracial marriage was banned throughout the United States. The 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia not only made interracial marriage legal, it also contributed to fundamental changes in the countrys make-up. The 1970s was marked by a surge of interracial marriages, followed by a multiracial baby boom which would change the face and color of this country forever. Today, in the Western states of California, Oregon, and Washington State, more mixed-race babies are born than any other race but Caucasian. The 2000 Census was the first time Americans were given the option to choose more than one race to describe themselves.
As members of the multiracial baby boom are reaching adulthood, several advocacy groups have emerged to raise awareness about the issues they face. The Mavin Foundation is one such group. The Mavin Foundation creates projects that explore the experiences of mixed heritage people, transracial adoptees, interracial relationships and multiracial families.
You still run into people every day who dont know that organizations like Mavin exist, says founder Matt Kelley. This is why Mavin is kicking off its Generation Mix National Awareness Tour in the spring. The tour, led by five mixed-race youths, will travel 8,000 miles through 16 cities from Seattle to Boston in an effort to spread awareness about multiracial issues and the resources. It starts this April.
Despite the fact that multiracial Americans constitute a rapidly growing population, few schools and social service agencies are dedicated to multiracial youth. Kelley hopes that the Generation Mix Tour will make evident the need for such resources. He also criticizes current employment, educational, and other institutions for failing to transform with the times. Too often we are confronted with having to check just one box, making us feel like we dont exist, says Kelley. Complying with this demand not only forces people to choose one race over another, he says, it also forces the resignation of multiracial people to statistical insignificance. This can lead to very serious issues. For one thing, multiracial individuals encounter different problems of health care than monoracial people. In particular, it is more difficult to find matches for bone marrow transplants among multiracial people, increasing the threat of diseases like leukemia. Raising awareness about such problems will lead to increased availability of local resources with which to tackle them.
Kelley, half-Korean and half-white, explains that he created Mavin in part because of his own struggle with issues of identity. Growing up, I didnt feel like I had full access to both cultures, he says. Transracial adoptees also encounter very specific questions of identity. When children of color are placed with white parents, questions arise that go far beyond differences in complexion. Exploration of ones heritage takes another dimension when ones parents belong to a different ethnicity. Kelley says the Mavin Foundation is working to bring light to such issues of identity, but he emphasizes that this cannot be accomplished without parents, teachers, and social workers becoming more aware of racial issues.
And, of course, there are lots of great things about being multiracial. Marinda Melonson, 20, says "I think a lot of people feel that because you're mixed-race you might be confused about your identity or have some issues with incorporating multiple sides of your heritage into one." But she is also helping plan the tour because also knows that not everyone has it so easy.
"I think my family life was very secure and great support for me, so I dont have any too severe identity issues, she adds. But I think we all struggle with identity particularly as adolescents and young adults trying to fit in.
As a student at the University of Washington, Marinda joined a group called Mixed and they helped connect her to Mavin. This spring, she and the other participants on the tour will be offering a Student Station for high school and college students to find information on how to get involved with and start a multiracial student organizations.
In its journey from West to East Coast, the Generation Mix National Awareness Tour first and foremost seeks to make the public aware that multiracial Americans are growing in number and in voice. Its objective is not, however, to create a new label or category to place multiracial people under. Its not about creating a new group, Kelley insists. Its been about how to identify ways we can create spaces for mixed heritage people within existing communities. It is a movement to recognize and acknowledge how people identify themselves. It is not merely another attempt to increase diversity, but an effort to expand the dialogue on race in our country.
In addition to information booths, the tour will also provide the tour members to speak about their own experiences and an hour of time in which members of each local community will have the opportunity to participate in a facilitated discussion about what it means to be of a mixed-race background.
Kelley expresses excitement at the prospect of creating a more complex and constructive national dialogue on race. Both multiracial and monoracial individuals are beginning to understand that race in America is no longer a matter of just black and white. Its not just about mixed people being frustrated by a black/white paradigm, says Kelley. Its also about black and white folks understanding that this dichotomy may be based in history but is not representative of the make-up of our country today. A more open discussion of race will also bring to the surface issues of inequality experienced by both monoracial and multiracial people. This discussion is threatened, says Kelley, by people who still push for the idea of colorblindness. The only way to battle inequality is to take the approach of color consciousness, because, as Kelley reminds us, race may not exist, but racism certainly does.
Melina sees the tour as having the potential to expand what she considers a movement being built around multiracial awareness.
"I think in the beginning of a movement, there is one big push in the direction toward national recognition," she say, adding I have a feeling that next year when we do it again it will be even bigger and reach a lot more people.
The Generation Mix tour kicks off on April 4 and is scheduled to run through May 11, 2005. Visit www.generationmix.org to learn more.