By: Sierra Jacob
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the 4th annual Critical Mixed Race Studies conference at USC. While the label “mixed race” reaffirms the classification of race, critical mixed race studies simultaneously reaffirms and deconstructs it. CMRS resists categories and blurs socially constructed racial lines.
Growing up in Hawai’i, depending on the situation, I fell under the category of local, hapa, or haole. I remember feeling the constant need to belong. Once I moved to the mainland for school, my race always came up as a talking point. Being ‘racially ambiguous’ made me search out my own Indo history. While I started to identify myself as Indo or mixed race, there was still no obvious community I belonged to—in my day to day life. Without a clear sense of community, I used writing and poetry to define the in-between space I inhabited.
In grad school, I started to do more research about my Indo heritage. Living in Montana, I was physically isolated from prominent Indo communities. While research and editing for the Indo Project helped me understand more about my culture, I still felt the geographic distance and language barrier of being a third generation Indo. While there is an active online Indo presence, I personally have a hard time connecting over social media—especially since I’ve never been to Indonesia or learned Dutch.
At the same time, I started reading the work of mixed race authors. Although these weren’t specifically Indo accounts, the same search for identity existed. I started to research the mixed race experience—and found it was actually an emerging academic genre. I didn’t realize my identity search was a shared experience. Attending the CMRS conference was an empowering experience. For the most part, everyone was racially ambiguous—everyone seemed to exist in the in-between. While I learned a lot, the best part the experience was the community. I found myself less critical of how I existed in a space; I also found myself not questioned in a space.
Much like The Indo Project, the CMRS conference brings together people who have a shared experience. Indo’s literally blurred the lines between Dutch and Indonesian identity. Our bodies resisted the strict divides of colonization. I believe knowing our racial and ethnic background is important: it increases the gray area and resists the binary. I also believe identifying oneself as mixed race, opens up the circle. No, there weren’t any other Indo’s in my Montana graduate program but there were folks who identified as mixed race. I’ve created a website that brings together a number of ideas and concepts from the CMRS conference. My website compiles articles, scholarly work, videos, and community connections. It’s a great place to start!
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