On any given day, a line can be found in front of a Japadog food truck in Vancouver. A combination of Japanese-style foods such as okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and tonkatsu with hot dogs, the Vancouver staple encapsulates the multiculturalism and hybridity of the city, as well as the country as a whole.
This mixing of race, culture and ancestry is on the rise in Canada, with reports from Statistics Canada showing that more than 340,000 children in Canada are growing up in mixed-race families, bringing with it a new set of challenges to parents. Although society has come a long way, expectations based on skin colour still exist. This means that parents will likely have to bring a new awareness to child rearing, teaching their children how society may view them. And it’s not only the children that may face scrutiny or probing questions.
One parent of a mixed race child took her frustrations to the internet with an article entitled “10 Things You Should Never Say to the Parent of a Mixed Race Child” . This list includes statements and questions such as “I thought he would be darker!” and “Are you the nanny?” – comments that are thought to be appropriate or even necessary by the asker, simply due to the skin colour of parent and child.
Despite the challenges of both being in a mixed race couple and raising a mixed race child, it is important to note that neither is feasible in certain parts of the world, in fact, interracial relationships were at one time forbidden in much of the world. In South Africa, for example, mixed race couples were banned during the Apartheid era. This slowly began to change under the influence of political leaders and activists such as Nelson Mandela. Regardless of the changing climate around the globe, there is still a long way to go before societies as a whole embrace interracial relationships. Even in Canada, there continue to be instances of bias against mixed race couples. In 2014, Chief Michael Delisle of the Kahanwake Mohawk evicted Waneek Horn-Miller – a Mohawk woman – and her white, common-law husband from their home on Kahanwake territory.
In an interview with the CBC, Chief Delisle stated: “All we are trying to do is preserve, not only culture and language and identity, but who we are as people.” This question of identity is brought up time and time again in conjunction with the issue of mixed-race families. In an article for BBC, Mpho Lakaje, a South African man, recounts his family’s warnings after his marriage to a white woman (Daniela Casetti-Bowen). They urged the young couple to reconsider having children, as “mixed-race children always [have] a tough upbringing because they do not have an identity”.
So, what is the answer to the identity question? There doesn’t yet seem to be one.
Canada is a country of hybridity. The multiculturalism and mixed ancestry of its population is part of what makes it so captivating. There are challenges and obstacles that come with it, but the dynamic nature of identity and the mixing of cultures often lead to the creation of wonderful things. Vancouver is a microcosm of this hybridity, filled with food and customs and art from a myriad of cultures. The city’s identity is one of synergy, with immense talent of “hybrid ancestry in literature, film, dance, music and other performances”.
Festivals such as Hapa-Palooza, this year taking place September 16 – 20, 2015, are both an opportunity for those talents to be showcased and a celebration of the diversity this city has to offer.
Mixed Voices Raised begins at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 16th, in the Alice McKay Room at Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch.
Hapa-palooza Festival is organized by the Hybrid Ancestry Public Arts Society (HAPAS), a non-profit society dedicated to bringing public programming that explores and celebrates mixed heritage.