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Last weekend, I had the privilege of listening to Marilyn Chin read from her latest book, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. She was on the Border Crossings panel (moderated by Dmae Roberts) along with Polo Catalani and Canyon Sam. This was an amazing collective of writers and artists. It was definitely one of my favorite presentations at Wordstock.

Marilyn Chin said something that really resonated with me.

When asked why she wrote, Marilyn said she viewed writing as a feminist act. She pointed out that very few little brown girls have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Given the platform, she is committed to speaking loudly.

Damn, sister poet is dead on.

So here’s my commitment: I’ve decided to exploit my privilege of understanding race intimately. Because if I keep my mouth shut, the world will not move forward. I am young, multi-ethnic, and ready to use my creative abilities.

This means that I’m not going to shy away from examining the social, cultural, and political ramifications of race. I’m going to own my own discomfort and use my opportunities to speak. I am making the personal political.

Because very few little brown girls have the chance to be heard.

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I hate it when I  hear my friends identify themselves as an Oreo, apple, or twinkie. Racial food groups are on my shit list of terms I would like to see disappear.

Over at Racialicious, Thea Lim has nailed something that I haven’t been able to articulate:

Apart from the fact that hey, I’m a whole person, referring to my different ethnic heritages as fractions leads to some sort of existential apartheid. When I refer to myself (or others) as half this and half that, what I am implying (whatever my intentions) is that half my body, self and experience is Chinese, and half of my body, self and experience is White.

I’m implying that the halves of my body are separately Chinese and White, that if you cut me in half you could clearly see which parts were white, and which were POC. That’s clearly untrue, even if my right hand is way better with chopsticks than my left.

I was  multicultural before Obama made it cool, but I’m finally linguistically nerdy enough to pinpoint why this bothers me .

When you refer to a human being as half of something, you imply that s/he is partial at best and fractured at worst. “My grandmother was Navajo.”  honors a family’s heritage and culture. “I’m 1/4 Navajo.” makes you wonder if some of the ingredients are missing.

As Thea Lim points out, people of mixed-race identity often deal with feelings of inadequacy and inauthenticity. The language of halves, quarters, and fractions perpetuates this. This is the subtle Oreo, apple, and twinkie. For my sanity (and possibly yours), I refer to my race and ethnicity as Chinese and French.

Try this out:  “My family is ___________. I grew up in ____________.”

Doesn’t that sound more complete? I think so. Let’s change our language.

By Jessica Varin

Is Charles Dickens
on the “urban fiction”
shelf? I doubt it.
Let’s be honest-
he doesn’t belong.

In the minority ghetto,
Sapphire shares shelf space
with Toni Morrison so
white people won’t
have to read about
experiences that don’t correlate.

But who relates to the Bard?
Screw universal themes;
did you use a chamber pot today?

Let’s leave these
literary projects.
We can carpool.

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