Mitzi Uehara Carter.
Why Grits and Sushi?
This title may strike some as a cliche attempt to celebrate being black/Okinawan. Indeed, I’m a sucker for catchy titles even if corny and I use it to draw in folks in! Seriously though, my hope is to go to that space beyond the boring/exotified “I’m mixed and I’m proud” stance. This blog is a work in progress. It is a blend of my musings on race, family, Okinawa, the military, transnationalism, etc. It’s a place for me to jot down my brain farts about how I see race moving across these different contexts, to jot down the patterns I’ve noticed and try to make sense of the changes and how and what those meanings affect people who are in or between Okinawa and the U.S., either physically or emotionally.
I was born and raised in Texas and as much as I once tried to deny my southernness, it’s definitely part of how I now identify. My father is black American also born and raised in Texas. And yes, we do love our grits. My mama is Okinawan. I really wanted to call this blog “Grits and Goya” but sushi had a little more of a ring and was more accessible. Also, the image of grits with sushi seemed slightly more appealing than grits with goya–gastronomically speaking. Guess who used to cook the grits in our home? That’s right, my momma.
I am a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Dept at Berkeley. I started a long time ago then had two kids and took time off to work full time away from academia. Through my grad school career, (and yes, it’s that long to be a dang career) what I found was that I didn’t like my work being isolated in the academy. I didn’t like that it felt cut off from my creative work and the social justice stuff I was doing, not that they were ever divorced from each other in my head or that my advisors ever discouraged me from separating them. It’s part of the culture of being a grad student in certain institutions and your work becomes more internal, less open to critique and grounded dialog outside the academy.
My long-term goal for this little corner of cyberspace is to create a communal place for folks interested in similar issues, to have serious and also lighthearted dialog. I hope this space will be fruitful for a different kind of knowledge. It is more than a placeholder for my thoughts I will rework into my dissertation. This is a digital dissertation in the making with tags, comments, links, headnodding, and disagreements. I will try to speak plainly but forgive me if I use some theoretical jargon. Feel free to ask me to elaborate on anything that is muddled. It’ll help me in my own writing later so you’ll be doing me a favor too. Because this is such a personal space for me, I will remain the only contributor in terms of making posts but absolutely encourage dialog through the comment sections. This may change later and I once I get my grounding here, will open it up a bit more.
“On Being Blackanese”– I first wrote this essay back in my undergrad years at Duke for a friend who was the editor of a cool little zine called “The Raging Buddha.” It was a publication for progressive Asian-Americans on campus. I had never felt totally included in the Asian American community on campus but that request to write something for this particular group shifted my identity at that time in more ways than they ever realized. I saw an Asian American community that was radical, inclusive and wanting to learn the best ways to embrace me as a blackanese woman-by first understanding where I saw myself. It moved me to think about my identity with much angst and joy. It somehow got circulated onto different websites and from there several editors were approaching me to see if it could be included in their compilations.
Why the sudden interest in it? Well, at that time, many of the short personal essays were very heavy. Works on being biracial were still for the most part being analyzed — almost from a psychoanalytical perspective. Talk shows which featured biracial people were treating many of us like bizarre exotics or bodies harboring insurmountable identity problems. Many of the personal essays were long, memoir-like, contesting victimization claims. Mine was relatively short but still had punch (at least I thought) so it was good for reposting and to add to books with multiple essays. (There are some errors in that essay though–like when I said my mom didn’t allow us to play outside until the sun went down should say she didn’t want us to play until it was cooler (same rationale behind it but we most certainly played in that hot Texas sun.)
Of course, my identity has shifted since I wrote that piece. No one’s identity stays the same over the course of their life. My thoughts on some of the things I posted have changed. I see how the multiracial movement has been co-opted by some folks with whom I have severe political disagreements. I guess there are always strange bedfellows in every movement. I also see how the “I refuse” stance I took in regards to being labeled by others was naiive given the complexity of racialized positioning in this country. I will post my thoughts on that in my forthcoming creative writing piece that I’ll post on this blog eventually after publication.
As an undergraduate, I worked at the Center for Intercultural Affairs and was the program coordinator for the first multicultural dorm on campus. I organized monthly talks ranging from faculty diversity to biracial identity. Actually, quite a bit of my program work centered around this issue. The more I engaged in that topic, the more I realized that “mixed-race” identity issues could not simply be yet another category of racial identification–it had to actually push the ways people could be known as racial beings (while at the same time recognizing that we don’t live in “post-racial America”.) That is, I wanted engagement with identifying as multiracial to be more about challenging racial essentialism, not just about saying, hey look at how cool it is that I’m these two, three, four races…
As I began to travel and see how race played out across the world, I started to have more clarity in how race is shaped by so many other factors. My research in La Paz, Bolivia interviewing Afro-Bolivians interested folks there so that I was invited back to attend the still newly formed Afro-Andean conference of leaders across South America. I began to really listen to how articulations of race and blackness could maneuver and shift in various spaces–neoliberal, rural, militarized, etc. Urban black Peruvians understood Blackness differently from rural Afro-Andeans who from Afro-Argentinians who were articulating their blackness in the context of economic and structural changes in their country. That work propelled me into my own identity work even further, with new tools on how to ask better questions through my various careers as an educator, administrator, and now student.