We called ourselves halves.
Where I grew up, we were the majority—we children of mixed race, usually Asian and something else. My international community in Kobe, Japan, was lousy with us. So was our frequent vacation spot, Hawaii, where I was recently told that two out of three babies born of late are of mixed heritage.
It was only when I arrived at university in New Jersey that I realized the term “half” didn’t translate. To white people, I looked Asian. To Asian people, I looked not quite like them. My sister was often mistaken for Hispanic—we are, after all, one-eighth Cuban.
We mixed-race people have a checkered history here in America, and, for that matter, around the world. In South Africa, we were called “colored.” In Viet Nam and Okinawa, children who looked just like me were ostracized; their brownish hair and round eyes branded them the abandoned products of U.S. servicemen.
Whatever happens in this presidential race, Barack Obama’s appearance on the world stage will have forever altered many things—among them, I hope, a global consciousness of the existence of mixed-race folks. Doug Melville writes about us on AdAge.com in a post titled “The Minority That Doesn’t Exist“:
…there has been a lot of debate recently about a unique group of Americans. In some circles it is projected that they account for up to 5% of the population of America today. Yet they have no country of origin, they don’t have “neighborhoods,” they don’t have a TV network that caters to them, they don’t have a niche magazine, an ad agency or an organization to represent them. But over the last 30 days they have been talked about in both The Wall Street Journal and on Rush Limbaugh — amongst other outlets — and people’s reaction was a chuckle, or a smirk with every mention.
He recalls applying for Penn State under a racial category he made up: “Halfrican.” But he notes a glaring lack of media attention—particularly in his field of advertising—on this invisible minority:
I began scouring the world to look for others like me — and found out they were everywhere. Hollywood, sports stars and politicians. Tiger Woods. Barack Obama. Derek Jeter. Mariah Carey. Jordin Sparks. Halle Berry. But where is the targeted marketing? Where is the niche advertising? Where is our voice? Must we always pick a side — must everything be Black or White? Does the unwritten rule that one drop of black blood makes you black still apply?
As Obama learned a long time ago, yes, indeed, society does make us pick a side. There’s an argument among minority interest groups that we of mixed race should always elect the non-white category in order to boost our numbers—and thus our power, our voice, our funding. I don’t think that’s as awful as it sounds. But discounting 50% of my genetic make-up seems wrong.
In any case, Melville’s complaint that we see few of our faces in advertising may soon change. Elsewhere on AdAge.com, Rochelle Newman-Carrasco notes a recent ad soliciting actors for a Peter Piper Pizza commercial:
Males ages 32-35 *SHOULD BE ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS*
Then again, maybe not. Another want ad, this one for a Pampers commercial, specifies:
NO MIXED ETHNICITIES. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL FOLKS.
You know what the real deal is? At the rate of intermarriage going on around the world, we’ll all be mixed someday. Then perhaps ethnicity really will be ambiguous.