Midwest Mixed: Taking the lead on antiracist conversations about multiraciality

Me and Alissa Paris

“There is colorism in this work. There is shadeism in this work.
There is anti-blackness in this work.
And we are here to critique that.”

Alissa Paris 
Executive Director and Co-founder, Midwest Mixed

Heat bounces off the parking lot pavement, blazes bright off light beige walls of the church where the conference is being held. It’s a typically warm, humid morning in Minneapolis. Summer glimmers across a yellow Black Lives Matter banner, bold against the south wall. Inside, the air is comfortable and cooled. Organizers and volunteers in deep purple T-shirts, “Midwest Mixed” written in turquoise, mill about, preparing. More attendees drift through doors, queue up, write their pronouns, hang lanyards from their necks. 

Volunteers hand us beautiful 29-page, full color programs. Workshops include reflective writing, creative movement, dialogue and panels. I appreciate right away that there is an emphasis in the workshops on healing, parenting, mental wellness, and healthy families. There is note taking space in the back of the program and a worksheet entitled “A Deep Dive On My Identity” to help attendees think on the different intersections of our whole selves (e.g. geography, nationality, ethnicity, language, race, religion, socioeconomic status, ability, sexual orientation, gender ID, etc.).

In the marketplace, vendors sell social justice buttons, cards and shirts, jewelry from Africa, Corage Dolls to build self-love and confidence in girls of color. Posters display Maria P. P. Root’s Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People, a history of the multiracial movement, definitions of terms like intersectionality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender pronouns. Multi-medium works by local artists fill social rooms and hallways, including Within, Between, and Beyond: a multi-layered interactive installation on mixed race and transracial adoptee stories.

The marketplace

Soon, organizers direct us upstairs to the sanctuary and the 2019 Midwest Mixed Conference, “Disrupting the Single Story,” officially begins. Director and Co-founder Alissa Paris gives an opening address. On this day, we receive an outstanding keynote by Ricardo Levins Morales, Puerto Rican Jewish artist, organizer, writer, and healer. The next day, we receive another outstanding keynote by Sun Yung Shin, Korean American transracial adoptee, poet, writer, and educator. In-between, over all the days, we also receive performances by outstanding poets, musicians, actors, and other innovators. 

I present a workshop, Talking to Multiracial Kids About Race, on both Friday and Saturday. During Sunday’s social and potluck, I present a half-hour kids session on race. Aside from presenting myself, I attend Trauma, Resilience, and Parenting in Mixed Families, led by Sierra Yazzie Asamoa (Navajo and white, Tutu, MSW, LICSW) of Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning I attend a panel, How Identity Development Impacts Mental Health, with Julie Jong Koch (MSW, LICSW), Mariah Olvera, Dr. Katie Lingras (PhD, LP) and Ed Morales (MPP, MSW, LICSW). The conference concludes Sunday afternoon with intentionally back-ended, attendee-defined caucuses. 

Panel: How Identity Development Impacts Mental Health

And by the end of the weekend, I realize I’ve just attended one of the best race conferences I’ve ever been to. 

At around 200-300 attendees, Midwest Mixed is small by a lot of conference standards, and it is young, with this year’s conference being the second so far. But it is powerful for those same reasons. Because it is small, Midwest Mixed is able to hold a special space of inclusivity, acceptance, and non-judgment. It feels like a loving gathering of family and friends rather than of professionals and colleagues. The former made it much easier for attendees to do deep (often painful) work. We knew we would be held–not ostracized–for asking questions, being unsure, or making mistakes. 

Because Midwest Mixed is young, the org still has their defined mission in sharp view: To expand understanding of race and identity through courageous conversations, arts engagement, educational outreach, and a biennial conference. “Mixed” encompasses multiracial people and children, interracial families, and transracial adoptees. Their honed focus, as you can see, was clear everywhere, from social spaces, to vendors, to art, to programming.

Maria P. P. Root’s Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People

Other reasons I was so impressed by Midwest Mixed. It is often the subtle things that send the strongest messages. This conference’s attention to detail was phenomenal. There was great signage and information, gender-neutral and inclusive bathrooms, healthy free snacks, and culturally relevant food trucks at lunch. The conference assigned an assistant to every workshop presenter. Outside of workshops, volunteers were always at-the-ready, asking, “Do you need help? How can I help you?” 

Most important of all, Midest Mixed is Black, Brown and Indigenous-centered and lead; as all race work in a US context should be. New racial identities may be emerging in this country, but white supremacy, anti-black-and-brown racism, xenophobia, etc., remain firmly entrenched at its core. In 2017 Minnesota, for instance, ranked second worst in US racial inequalities behind Wisconsin. In 2019, Minnesota still has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation, in income and education, as well as home ownership and poverty rates. 

Within, Between, and Beyond: a multi-layered interactive installation on mixed race and transracial adoptee stories

As more people claim a multiracial identity, and it subsequently becomes more mainstream, I have been disturbed to also see a lot of mixed-race work rewrite white supremacist ideologies of old (e.g. postracialism, excluding non-white mixed people, not naming race, anti-blackness, etc.). Same oppression, different era, under somewhat changed circumstances. Racism is a clever shapeshifter. I have been looking for a while for a mixed community that resists, holds fast to a hard edge, refuses to re-inscribe, and pushes forward transformative dialogue. 

Midwest Mixed is that community. 

I can’t recommend this conference enough. Gratitude, Midwest Mixed, for everything you do. You are much needed.

 You can follow Midwest Mixed at their website, on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


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