Reflections on the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference (CMRS) 2017

Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference 2017

Following are the reflections of the Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) Conference 2017 by Thomas Lopez—President of the Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC).

Back in February 2015 I met with Duncan Williams, Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, Sonia Smith-Kang and Shannon Haugh over Vietnamese fusion food in Atwater Village to kick-off the site planning meeting for the Critical Mixed Race Studies 2016 conference to be held at the University of Southern California (USC). It occurred to me then that fusion food gets its name from the people eating it as much as what is on the menu. As the President of Multiracial Americans of Southern California, I knew my involvement would be more oversight than direct action since seeing to the management of MASC keeps me busy enough. Still, I sat-in in part because I needed to know in what direction we were moving and also in-part for the good eats.

We quickly realized this conference would be unlike any of the ones before. For starters, one of the first things we did was review dates in the Fall to hold the conference to maintain the biannual schedule set by the initial organizers. It soon occurred to us that many dates were unavailable due to USC’s football schedule. For those that don’t know, you don’t want to be anywhere near USC on a game day, unless you’re going to the game. As we started striking out dates due to conflicts we eventually settled on a shift of the conference to the Spring and thus was born the new Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference of 2017.

Personally, this conference would be different because my daughter would be attending at the age of thirteen. As part of her 8th grade parochial school program she needed to do a “synthesis project” in the community so she chose to help out at the conference. Having my “little assistant” tagging along proved to be quite valuable. But more importantly I was surprised by how comfortable she felt among so many academics. At one point, I was facilitating the Latinas and Latinos of Mixed Ancestry (LOMA) caucus and as we went around the room making introductions everyone declared their affiliation. “I’m with Such-and-Such University,” and, “I represent this non-profit program,” etc. When it came to my daughter’s turn without skipping a beat she said “I’m with Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary/Junior High.” Even more awesome was the lack of condescension from anyone there. If only we all gave more respect to our engaged youth.

Thomas Lopez with Maria P. P. Root

About 25 years ago I went to my first multiracial conference at Cal State San Francisco. The keynote speaker was this little but feisty lady that dropped a tone of wisdom on us. Her name was Maria P. P. Root and her words would become known as the “Bill of Right for People of Mixed Heritage,” arguably the most prolific document to emerge from the multiracial movement. At the conference we honored her with a standing ovation and she demonstrated she’s still as feisty and dedicated to the mixed community as ever. And then to follow that up with a keynote by my colleague and fellow Latino of Mixed Ancestry Rudy Guevarra as a one-two punch was programming genius. Rudy confided with me the day before that he had written a different keynote speech but felt compelled to revise it due to the results of the recent election. Well, I think most of us were glad he did. He spoke our minds about “45” and reminded us that it’s easy to break down walls; even the Kool Aid man can do it. OH YEAH!

Continuing the walk down memory lane I was surprised to run into my old friend Greg Mayeda, one of the founders of Hapa Issues Forum. We were both students at Cal back in the day. He was getting his degree in law; I was getting my bachelor’s in engineering. I’m always amazed how sometimes you meet someone after years apart and it’s as if no time has passed. I swear Greg looked exactly the same. He reminded me that I look different, namely the hair. Not only is it much shorter (as in no longer down to my elbows) but there’s a lot less of it in general. To then see my old friends connect with my new ones, such as Jeff Chiba-Stearns, is truly something special and the circle is now complete.

I have this saying that “you never really get to enjoy your own party.” Add to that file of experiences the following. MASC presented on its multiple educational initiatives but I couldn’t attend my own panel. The board sent me on an errand to attend another panel on child education that worked out well because I was able to hear Joanne Calore’s presentation on multiracial elementary education in the San Francisco Bay Area. And then the panel on multiracial studies history with Maria Root, Reginald Daniel, Paul Spickard, and Cindy Nakashima (what Paul called the OG panel) was scheduled the same time as my own roundtable on the proposed Census changes. While our roundtable was an important topic, I have to admit we wrapped up as quickly as we could to ditch our roundtable and catch the tail end of the OG. I was just able to catch Paul Spickard’s call to resistance of the current administration when I received an urgent text to help clean-up the registration room because the reservation time was about to expire. Conference organizer Laura Kina knows about trying to enjoy your own party better than anyone. Now there’s someone that earned a vacation! Can’t wait to hear the recorded panel.

Don’t get me wrong. There was still much of this conference for which to be thankful. MASC premiered its elementary parent/teacher guide “Being All of Me” that went flying off our table before the Hapa Japan Concert. Raising money was great, but even more exciting was the excitement people had to have a resource like this available. Kudos goes to Farzana Nayani, the guide author and past MASC President, for her talent and foresight to create such a thing. The next conference in March of 2018 at the University of Maryland is already shaping up to be momentous and given recent events that have happened on campus, this is an event that can’t come soon enough.

The closing night screening of Mixed Match by Jeff Chiba-Stearns was a bittersweet moment. Not only was the film very touching, but it was six years in the making and I’m going to miss not seeing Jeff at so many events hovering around with his camera. For several years MASC has been the fiscal sponsor for Mixed Marrow, Athena Asklipiadis’s brainchild and major subject of the film. I have come to accept Mixed Marrow as more than just another program of MASC but rather a mission to save lives. There were so many good memories crammed into that weekend I can’t easily dump them all here. I already miss seeing all these people whose lives I usually only get to catch in glimpses on Facebook. However, this conference still served its primary purpose in my life: to recharge my batteries and inspire me to keep doing what I do every day, moving the multiracial movement further along. Thank you to everyone involved and thank you Critical Mixed Race Studies.

Thomas has been a member of MASC for over fifteen years and is a past president of the organization. He has made numerous television, print, and on-line media appearances and speaking engagements as a keynote and panelist. As a long-time board member he has also organized conferences, a mini-film festival, and diversity training workshops. Apart from MASC, Thomas is a mechanical engineer having worked in multiple industries the most recent being medical devices. He was born and raised in Southern California with parents from Mexican American and German-Polish roots.

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