Friday, November 17, 2006

Children of the Rainbow: Multiethnic Youth

This is an article I had done at the request of a program working with multiethnic youth.

Children of the Rainbow: Multiethnic Youth

Terry Tafoya

One of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States is children who have a mixed heritage. In the 2000 census, 4 million children identified as being ethnically mixed, with a total of nearly eight million, or 2.4 percent of the American population. In Oregon, California, and Washington state, the birth rate of such children was only exceeded by Caucasian children.

What are the special needs and issues of such children? One is the need of providers, professional, and parents to be able to formally acknowledge their existence. For example, in the Procedure guide of the NICHD Study of Child and Youth Development for administering the Multi-Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), a concern is addressed about a child identifying as belonging to more than one ethnic group. The NICHD instructs the examiner:

D. What if the child marks more than one response to a question?
If the child marks more than one response to a question, tell the child to select just one
answer: I need you to pick just one answer; the one that seems most like what you think.\

What might someone like Tiger Woods, the professional golfer, answer to such an examiner? According to reports, as a child he invented his own identity term. “He has openly stated that he objects to being called African-American. His parents raised him to embrace all of his heritage. When he was a boy he made up a name to describe himself, ‘Cablinasian’, which encompasses Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. "But to be called any one of them, he said, was to deny a part of him" (Leland, 1997, p.59).

For the purposes of this article the following distinctions will be made, since so much of the published literature uses a variety of terms in discussing the “roots” of youth and other individuals. For example, the U.S. Census and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget both utilize the term race, even with the formal recognition that the “… racial and ethnic categories set forth in the standards should not be interpreted as being primarily biological or genetic in reference. Race and ethnicity may be thought of in terms of social and cultural characteristics as well as ancestry.” (Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) However, other writers, including the author of this article, have misgivings over the use of the term “race,” which has little biological basis in reality, and is more reflective of a colonial period that no longer reflects current reality, where most anthropologists have given up measuring the size of assorted craniums to prove “White superiority.” Just so, in this article, the term “multiethnic” refers to a mixture of two or more ethnic groups, whether in an event or process (a multiethnic approach to cultural competency, e.g.) or an individual (such as Keanu Reeves, born September 2, 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon to a Chinese-Hawaiian geologist named Samuel Nowlin Reeves and an English showgirl turned costume designer named Patricia). The term “multicultural” is used to express a blend or combination of various behaviors and activities associated with specific cultures (for example, a multicultural Spring celebration) but is not used in this article to describe an individual. This decision is related to a point later discussed, where “culture” and “ethnicity” are clearly distinctly separate phenomenological categories.

It is important to recognize that the concerns expressed in this article are not only ones of a psychological or ethical nature. The Association of MultiEthnic Americans stresses that there is a major health issue in acknowledging how awareness of multiple ethnicity can make a difference in appropriate care:

Accurate collection of medical data is a prerequisite for optimal health care. One serious gap has been our country's error in the way people have been screened for genetic diseases, bone marrow donations and drug reactions. The mistake has been the lack of inquiry into the existence of multiple ethnicity in individuals. If, for instance a health practitioner makes a decision about someone's race by just looking at them (and not asking them about the existence of additional ethnicities) they may miss the opportunity to test for more than one potentially fatal disease. Example: A darkskinned person presumed to be African American, but who is also Caucasian and Jewish. Both Tay Sachs Disease and Sicle Cell Anemia need to be ruled out. The need to ask specifically re: multiple ethnicities is also true for bone marrow donors. In addition, research is beginning to show that different ethnic populations may respond differently to various medications. It is essential that healthcare institutions be made aware of the census option change and make sure they utilize accurate methodologies to obtain vital healthcare statistics. (
The 2000 census represents one of the first formal opportunities for individuals to go beyond the artificial limits of the NICHD study, and deal with reality. In the words of Francis Wardle, an early childhood educator: “Multiracial and multiethnic children receive a variety of harassment, from benign questions that want to know, "Well, what are you, anyway?" or "Are you Hispanic or Indian (Asian)? I can't tell," to more direct bias regarding their combined background. Teachers need to respond to these incidences quickly and sensitively, while simultaneously providing accurate information to other children. One of the great strengths of having multiracial and multiethnic children in a program is that it exposes all children to the richness of diversity and challenges the concept of single categories and groupings.
Multiracial and multiethnic children should not continually have to justify who they are, and they should not be required to select a single racial or ethnic group because others may be more comfortable with these labels. We need to help our children appreciate the diversity and complexity of all people.”
Ethnic identity may also be seen as an appearance based perception of how one looks, but it also has an impact on how one is treated. Ethnic identity can be understood as a social construct. (Walters, 1990). According to Alicia Fedelina Chávez and Florence Guido-DiBrito:
“It is viewed as an individual’s identification with ‘a segment of a larger society whose members are thought, by themselves or others, to have a common origin and share segments of a common culture and who, in addition, participate in shared activities in which the common origin and culture are significant ingredients” (Yinger, 1976, p. 200).

With an emphasis on the role of self-construct, Carmen Guanipa-Ho and Jose A. Guanipa observe that:

Ethnic self-identity is the integration of ethnicity or race into one's self-concept or self-image. It is the full recognition of one's ethnicity(ies), and the subsequent self-identity that flows from the values, ways, and styles of that ethnic background(s), instead of from the self-concept based on the opinion and prejudices of the larger society towards that ethnic group. Ethnic identity is an identity that develops from within, instead of an image that is imposed by society stereotypes. However, it is important to say that the stereotypes that large society places on ethnic groups can be a great contribution to the adolescents' sense of pride or shame about their own ethnicity, and can be a great source for adolescents' ethnic identity conflicts (Maldonado,1975). Rotheran & Phinney (1987) define ethnic identity as "one sense of belonging to an ethnic group, and the part of one's thinking, perceptions, feelings and behavior that is due to ethnic group membership" (p. 13). Ethnic identity also is related to your capacity to empower yourself and represent your ethnicity(ies) in the most constructive way.

In understanding the process of identity formation in these children, Eugene Ematusov suggests they: “… seek to look, act, feel, and be like significant people in their social environment. "In his book Youth and Identity, Erickson (1968) relates ego identity and self-esteem to racial identity. He states that ambiguous messages about one's race may place a person at risk for developing what he referred to as a 'negative identity'" (Oka, 1994, p. 3). The possibility of negative identity has been a very controversial issue regarding biracial children. Those who are opposed to interracial marriage often say, "But what about the children?". The fear is that the child will not be accepted by either culture and this rejection will lead to problems. "Some studies have found that it is more likely for interracial children to experience difficulties related to a poor self-identity, such as gender confusion, self-hatred, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, delinquency and alienation. Yet other studies have found interracial youth to show high levels of creativity, adaptability, and resiliency" (Herring, as cited in Hoskins, 1996).”
In actuality, scientifically sound work on long-term issues of multiethnic youth is still in its infancy, and there should also be some question if some of the earlier studies from a generation or more ago reflect the experience of children in the twenty-first century, where internet access, support groups, and a greater awareness of the need for cross-cultural competency in providers allows even isolated families and communities an opportunity to explore these concerns. It would be interest, for example, to replicate the study done by Alstein and Simon (cited later in this article) in a computer-savvy community.
A brief historical overview may also be useful in terms of trying to understand how complicated even attempting to define the identity terms can be that providers, families, and individuals might use to describe themselves and others. There may also be developmental phases that an individual may experience, where someone who is a grandparent in 2006 may have been variously identified as “negro,” “Black,” “Afro-American,” and “African-American” during his or her lifetime. Just so, someone who is 60 may have gone from identifying as “Queer,” to “Homosexual,”to “Gay,” and back to “Queer,” (where the first and last terms can be understood as an attempt at “subversive discourse,” and a negative term used by Dominant Culture” is taken and used in a positive way by the Subordinate Culture).
The United States has a long history of attempting to categorize individuals of mixed ethnic heritage into specific slots reflecting their identities, often of a derogatory nature, including “half-breed,” “mulatto,” and “coyote.” This was often related to the concept of “blood quantum” or what percentage of “White Blood” or the “Blood” of other ethnic groups flowed through a child’s veins, a practice sometimes referred to as “hypodescent.”
Wikipedia explains how this was used: The American practice of applying a rule of hypodescent rule began its development in the colonies in the 1600s largely in response to the American context of slavery: a mixed-race child was likely to have a mother who was a slave and a father who was a slave master or owner. See Hickman, 1175-1176. In its most extreme form in the United States, hypodescent came to be a "one drop rule," meaning that if a person had one drop of black blood, she was considered to be black. See One-drop theory. An example was Virginia’s 1924 Act for the "Preservation of Racial Integrity," which defined as white a person with "no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian." Similarly, Utah's anti-miscegenation law (passed in 1899, repealed in 1963) also followed the hypodescent rule, although it didn’t carry it to the "one-drop" extreme. The Utah marriage law prohibited marriage between a white and anyone considered a negro, mulatto, quadroon (one-quarter negro), octoroon (one-eighth negro), Mongolian, or member of the Malay race (presumably a Polynesian or Melanesian).

Ironically, the concept of hypodescent was not applied by the federal government to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Indeed, the opposite was true, where at a specific point of diminishing blood quantum (usually at 1/4th), an individual whose parents and grandparents were formally recognized by the U.S. will not be able to obtain official status as an American Indian or Alaska Native. This approach has had a devastating impact on American Indians and Alaska Natives, since in many cases, access to federal resources mandated by treaty rights, including education and health, depend upon being able to prove one’s Native identity. American Indians and Alaska Natives are the only ethnic group the federal government continues to track on the basis of their blood quantum, in the manner the American Kennel Club track pedigreed poodles. Individuals who don’t have “enough” Native “Blood” are denied federal recognition of their identity and resources can therefore be denied. This is further complicated by what are called “non-recognized” tribes/nations (which usually meant that their ancestors had not signed a treaty with the United States and those tribes/nations that are recognized by a specific state, but not on a federal level. And it’s not simply a matter of access to resources—there are over 2,000 laws, rules, and regulations that apply to Native Americans that do not apply to their non-Native neighbors. (Tafoya and Rowell 1988)
For example, enrolled tribal members on an American Indian reservation may be subjected to the jurisdiction of the local tribal police, but those police might not have jurisdiction over the non-Native partner of a tribal member. This has serious consequences where domestic violence is concerned. On many reservations, when major crimes are committed, such as murder or grand larceny, the FBI will become involved, since Indian reservations are technically seen as “federal land.” However, domestic violence is not considered a federal crime. In these circumstances, a tribal policeman can escort an abusive non-Native domestic partner off the reservation, but cannot arrest him or her. There is also nothing to prevent the abusive partner from simply walking right back on to reservation lands.
Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee writer, commented on his feelings on blood quantum: Basically, there are four problems with this. One, it puts pressure on Indians not to marry white people or their children will lose their heritage, and that bothers a lot of people. Two, it means that if some of your ancestors aren't in the records, you can be denied being an Indian. Three, it's wrong for outsiders to tell you if you can or can't belong to an ethnic group. Nobody makes African-Americans prove their entire family line and apply for some governmental Certificate of Degree of African Blood before they can get a scholarship from the NAACP or put "Black-owned" on their business if they want to. And four, most disturbingly: it guarantees the extinction of the American Indian. By this standard, white is the default, and everyone is approaching whiteness. Someone who is 1/8 Indian is considered white, and that is the end of their Indianness-- they are white and their children will be white, forever. On the other hand, I am 1/8 white, but that doesn't mean that's the end of whiteness in my line. It keeps sitting there, just as it has since the 19th century when my white ancestors entered my family. Eventually one of my descendants will marry a white person again and hah! We will be 1/4 white. A person can get more white, but not more Indian. Do you see what I mean? Every generation, there are fewer people this system thinks are full-bloods, and all the blood quantums get smaller.
It can be understood that given these factors, American Indians and Alaska Natives may have the least incentive to become more multiethnic…even intermarrying with American Indians or Alaska Natives will diminish one’s “Indianness” using the standards of the Federal government, since the quantum requirements of identity are based on the idea of “a” federally recognized tribe…in other words, although someone who is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe who is ¼ (usually the minimum quantum for enrollment) can marry someone else who is an enrolled member of a different federally recognized tribe, who is also 1/4th, their children will also be 1/4th American Indian, but only 1/8th of the mother’s tribe, and 1/8th of the father’s tribe, and therefore, may not be eligible for enrollment in either tribe.
From a psychological level, this has caused a great deal of discord within American Indian nations and families in terms of “I’m more Indian than you!” as well as “who is Indian at all?” This often leads to a great sense of frustration of tribally enrolled grandparents whose grandchildren are not recognized by the government as being “Indian.”
The politics of Identity also created generations of “illegitimate” Canadian children where their mother was recognized legally as Native, but would lose her Native status (and her “legitimate” children would then not be recognized as Native) if she married a White man. (Although in fairness (?), a White woman marrying a Native man obtained status as did their children—making blood quantum a relative non-issue. This hodge-podge of identity continued until the Canadian Constitutional revisions in the early 1980’s. Canada dealt with mixed blood Natives as a separate category from “Status” and “non-Status” Indians, called “Metis”
Lewis concludes: For my part, I think a mixed-blood Indian is just an Indian. Before white people came here, the tribes all mixed around a lot, and it didn't make anyone's culture disappear. You just belonged where your mother belonged, or, maybe some tribes did it where your father belonged. They didn't have to prove who they were. I'd personally like to see it that way again. But there's a problem with that, and it's resources. Indian tribes don't have a lot of resources now. There is hardly enough money for programs for the people we have. If we let in anybody who wanted to come? It would be very difficult practically. And it would be impossible to get federal money if we couldn't prove anything about blood, and few tribes are wealthy enough to get by without that. And, too, there are complaints from Indians that too much intermarriage and 'passing' and leaving the tribe is making us lose our culture. Certainly it is making us lose our languages. So a lot of people don't want a solution that would encourage more of that. That is why there's disagreement on this issue. Personally, I would rather see five non-Indians get Indian status than one Indian be denied it. Not all Indians agree with that, but it's what I think. The white politicians, of course, want just the opposite.

In terms of identity formation, Jack Forbes, a noted Native American anthropologist , has suggested that nearly thirty percent of all American Blacks and nearly eighty percent of Latinos have some degree of American Indian “Blood.” ( Black Africans and Native Americans: Race, Caste and Color in the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples" (1988) The Mestizo Concept: A Product of European Imperialism
By Jack Forbes (\
American historian Clarence Walker has spoken extensively on what he calls the prevalence of interbreeding among Native Americans, African Americans and Anglos in the 17th and 18th centuries and the effects it has had on Native Americans. "On the East Coast, there was a great deal of intermixture between red, black and white," Walker reports. "In New England, as Indians were driven into towns, they married blacks and disappeared from the census." Walkder also can also lectures on how the reality of a mixed-race America belied the 19th century political and cultural images of the United States as a "white" nation.

There is no clear indication of how many individuals identity as “Euro-American,” but have some degree of American Indian “Blood.” One of the reasons for this can be traced back to Andrew Jackson, the American President, who tried to force American Indians east of the Mississippi to march to Oklahoma on the infamous "Trail of Tears."
Many who were of mixed American Indian and European heritage, lied about their ethnic origins in order to avoid being forced to give up all their lands and possessions at federal gunpoint. Those who went through this experience forcibly suppressed publicly expressing their American Indian heritage, telling their succeeding generations that they must never reveal their "secret." (Tafoya, Personal Files)
This has resulted in a certain level of "dysfunctional" behavior in some families where a number of the current and immediately past generations express anger and frustration at older members of their family who "denied" them access to their rightful heritage. These are generational realities...of modern Americans who are living in a time where being openly Native American carries very different consequences than it did in the past, where A) in the 1800's you could have been forcibly removed from your property by federal troops; B) until 1924, you weren't recognized as a citizen of the United States; C) you were not able to buy alcohol until the prohibitions were removed after 1954; D) you were at extreme risk of having your children removed and placed into Euro-American homes in conjunction with the Indian Adoption Project run by the Child Welfare League of America, starting in 1958 and continuing into the 1960’s, and E) your expression of Native Religious Freedom was not federally protected until 1978. In other words, the reluctance of admitting and proudly claiming American Indian heritage is very understandable among the older generations of those who were publicly recognized as obtaining "White Privilege."
An important historical study by Alstein and Simon (1977) looked at transracial adoptions to examine the connections between adoptive parents and their transracially adopted children, and between the siblings within the families. Significantly, they also investigated the perceptions of the adoptees’ ethnic identities by their parents, and the expectations the parents had of their children’s future. The ethnic heritages included American Indian and Alaskan Native, as well as Korean, Mexican, and African American. Using the Clark Doll Test (a projective instrument common for this time period) as well as pictures, Alstein and Simon concluded the transracially adopted children were more likely to be “racially color blind and more indifferent to race as a basis for evaluation than any other group reported in any previous study, including studies not only on children in the United States but in Hawaii, New Zealand, and other parts of the world" (Simon & Alstein, 1981, p. 1). They also found that the parents tended to believe that race did not and would not be a major issue in how people perceived, evaluated, or related to each other. These adoptive parents were optimistic but seemingly realistic about the likelihood of their children's emotional/psychological adjustment and about their children's ability to "relate to the culture and society of their adopted parents and to the society of their ethnic origins" (Simon & Alstein, 1981, p. 2).
The Simon and Alstein study shows there should also be a distinction made between culture and ethnicity. In most individuals, the categories of culture and ethnicity overlap, so they can often be thought of as the same thing. But in the case of transracial adoption and with some children of multiethnic relationships, the difference can be more easily seen. For example, a Korean child adopted by a European-American family may identify more closely with the culture of his or her adopted family, and have a self-perception of being “White.” With some children of multiethnic heritage families, their parents may separate or divorce, cutting off contact with one or more sides of the children’s roots. Such children may then grow up, identifying with the culture of the parent who remains with the children, but in each case the ethnicity of the child never changes. The difficulty with studies like that of Simon and Alstein and others, is that it tends to be a “snapshot” of a particular moment, and does not reflect the various developmental stages such children may undergo over the years. As suggested later in this article, some children who are transracially adopted or who are multicultural, there may be a point where elements of their ethnic identity ends up in a dramatic separation from their parents (adoptive and biological) while trying to come to terms with a more appropriate concept of self.
For example, in a follow-up project,
…Simon and Alstein (1981) contacted many of the families from their study published in 1977 to assess the families' subsequent experiences and perceptions. Simon and Alstein, using a survey questionnaire, were able to contact 71 percent of the original sample (Alstein & Simon, 1977) and had a return rate of 93 percent. They found that similar percentages of families lived in predominantly White neighborhoods (77%) and the remaining families lived in mixed communities. Sixty-three percent of the transracial adoptees reported that most of their friends were White, about one-third had both Black and White friends, and three percent had mostly Black friends. A large majority of the transracial adoptees (74%) were considered to be "doing well" in school with no academic problems or conflicts with teachers, but 14 percent of the children were described as "slow learners" and another 10 percent were "not motivated." The remaining two percent had difficulties with teachers.
Wardle observes that:
Limited research is beginning to show that multiracial and multiethnic children not only have identity needs that are different from single-race children, but that they are suffering in our programs because their unique needs are not being met (Bowles, 1993; Brandell, 1988; Cruz-Janzen, 1997; Poston, 1990; Wardle, 1992). Using this evidence, it becomes clear that the early childhood community needs to address the needs of multiracial and multiethnic children and their unique families. These children include biological, multiracial, and multiethnic children in blended homes, foster homes, adoptive homes, and a variety of biological homes.

In trying to better understand the process multiethnic youth may use in identity construction, a model from gay and lesbian studies may be useful. One of the first non-pathological constructs was by Cass, who proposes a 6 stage developmental model that may parallel the experience of multiethnic youth:

I. Identity Confusion (“Could I be ___?”)
II. Identity Comparison (“Maybe this applies to me?”)
III. Identity Tolerance (“I’m not the only one.”)
IV. Identity Acceptance (“Being me is ok.”)
V. Identity Pride (“You should know who I am!)
VI. Identity Synthesis (“This is part of who I am…but not the only part..”)
(While the Identity elements are directly from Cass’ model, the suggested quotations are the author’s.)
Just so, a number of authors dealing with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered development, have suggested the importance of identity formation, which may have implication for multiethnic youth identity as well. (Green and Herek, Hammersmith and Weinberg, Herek, Herek and Glunt, Herdt, Martin, Stein and Cohen, Troiden). For example, there are at least three levels of identity formation—1) Self-Identity (What I believe myself to be), 2) Perceived Identity (What others believe me to be) and 3) Disclosed or Shared Identity (What I choose to reveal to others). One of the authors is American Indian (Self-Identity—“What I am”—in this case, Taos Pueblo/Warm Springs), but while doing cross-cultural mental health research in Indonesia, was consistently mistaken for being Indonesian, but always being seen as being from a “different island.” This is perceived identity…in this case, perceived as being Indonesian. It is then a situation of whether or not to correct the local people as to the “error” of their perception.
In the same way, Wei Ming Dariotis, a faculty member of San Francisco State University, has commented upon her self-identity and perceived identity, both ethnically and in terms of sexual orientation:
How has being [an] Asian American [woman] affected your art?
I have to combine these two questions because I am an Asian American Bi woman—I am not gendered separate from how I am raced, and vice versa. My being a woman is integral to my identity as an Asian American—I experience being in this body as a mixed heritage Asian American woman; sometimes mistaken for Latina, West Asian, Eastern European, but always racialized, and always as an ethnic minority “exotic” woman is sexualized. These themes and issues are integral to my work, whether I explore my own, and my family’s, personal history and identity or I consider these issues in larger social and political contexts. My mixed heritage and my identity as a Bi woman (I don’t say “Bisexual” because it mistakenly emphasizes the sexual, when what is at issue is gender—I can be attracted to people of either, or any, gender) are also connected for me—they are both a form of transgressive sexuality that challenges/contradicts normative ideas of sexuality and identity. I am a Bi Hapa woman. (
[author’s note: “Hapa” is a Native Hawaiian/Pidgin term that means “half,” and in most contexts refers to a mixture of Native Hawaiian and “haole” (a Native Hawaiian term often used to describe Euro-Americans) elements, whether a person—someone who is “half White and half Hawaiian,” or a “Hapa song,” where the melody is Native Hawaiian and the lyrics are in English.]
This is undoubtedly a very common experience for youth of mixed heritage, who may be perceived as something they are not. The sexual orientation component is an additional and important factor, since it is one that is often an “invisible” identity component in a heterosexist society, where people are usually assumed to be “straight.” It is intriguing to see how integrated a recognition of how sexual orientation has become part of contemporary approaches to understanding multiethnic identity. This is understandable because sexual orientation, like gender, or disability, is something that cuts across all cultures. Attitudes of self acceptance of one’s ethnicities as well as one’s sexual orientation (as modeled by Dr. Dariotis quoted earlier in this article, has become the norm in a number of publications and organizations. For example, a group called Mavin formed in Seattle in the late Nineties as a natural outgrowth of adolescent youth and young adults in their early twenties who wanted to explore what it meant to be multiethnic in a society that at the time, did not seem to be particularly supportive. They have not only established networking conferences, but also useful resources for working multiethnic children, and recently completed a video documenting a five western state tour of universities and colleges, where representatives of Mavin took the “message” to other students.
Other organizations and programs in various urban areas have been developing to fit the growing needs of families. These include: Association of MultiEthnic Americans

Hapa Issues Forum
Interracial Voice
LULAC - League of United Latin American Citizens
The Multiracial Activist
Our All-American Rainbow Heritage
In addition, a psychologist who has worked with Mavin to create appropriate curriculum materials has additional resources:

And finally, there are excellent programs that are designed to address the special cultural needs of Native children who are not being reared by their own families. An example would be Tribal STAR (Successful Transitions for Adult Readiness) Addressing the Needs of Rural Native American Foster Youth. They have a goal of supporting and improving child welfare services in rural Native American communities across the state of California. Their ultimate goal is to assist tribal communities and providers to increase positive outcomes for tribal youth who have been in foster care. They can be contacted through the Academy for Professional Excellence: