On job applications, financial aid applications, and even bone marrow transplant lists, a small section marked “Check only one:” lists between six and ten ethnic groups, which raises some concern for the adviser of a new mixed student club on campus.
“We’re often forced to choose one race to identify with, because in society today you can’t be more than one thing,” said Jake Prendez, graduate student and adviser of the mixed race club on campus. He said his application to CSUN made him identify with only one race through a check box system.
This creates a dilemma unique to people of mixed racial backgrounds, he said.
“It is as if you were saying, ‘choose your mother or your father’ to identify with,” Prendez said.
Herman DeBose, professor of sociology at CSUN, who recently published a book called “New Faces in a Changing America: Multiracial Identity in the 21st Century,” said the formation of a group such as the mixed student club would be good for students, and that a group of people facing similar issues would give students a safe haven to talk about their similarities and differences.
“A mixed race club would give its members a place, and a sense of security.” DeBose said.
DeBose, a father of four racially mixed children, said he often hears that he could not understand what his children experience in their own lives as biracial people. He said that when he leaves his home, he is not questioned about his race, unlike his children.
DeBose added that he is conscious of the negativity that comes with one who is struggling to accept or identify with biracial background.
“If you don’t have a positive feeling when people ask you what you are, it may turn into a self-hatred,” DeBose said.
Racial identity is derived from a historical perspective, according to DeBose.
“The historical aspect (of) race allows people to know where they’ve come from, and where they are now, and how they can respect their past,” DeBose said.
In 1967, anti-miscegenation, or anti-mixed race marriage, laws were removed from the United States in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia. The court ruled that marriage was important and protected by the constitution.
“The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State,” said Chief Justice Earl Warren on June 12, 1967.
DeBose said for the first time in the history of the U.S. census, the option of counting mixed race was introduced in 2000. As a result of that census, approximately 4.7 percent of Californians said they came from biracial backgrounds, DeBose said.
Prendez comes from a biracial family, and experienced problems in his own upbringing, and more specifically in school.
“Mixed race people aren’t confused about who they are, but rather mono-raced people have difficulties in understanding what we are,” Prendez said.
The idea of a mixed student club was first developed when Prendez, who was a member of an Internet community, connected with other biracial students on campus. They began to organize and decided to create a club for biracial students.
“It is nice to commiserate among peers, but the goal is to go beyond just surface issues (with the club),” Prendez said.
He said he is taking a very active, but hands-off approach to the club. He concluded that the club would be successful only if it develops in the hands of the students.
Bernie Halili, junior art major, said he and Prendez have been actively working together since the idea of a club for biracial students was first introduced. While working on a constitution for the club, she said she ran into a problem with its wording.
Halili said she is working to get approval for the club from the Matador Involvement Center, but is concerned about exclusion. She said she does not want to exclude anyone from the club, and believes people may get the wrong idea from its title.
“‘Kaleidoscope’ is one name that we’ve been throwing around (for the club),” said Halili, adding that the temporary name of the club would change soon. No official name has been set for the group.
Both Prendez and Halili said the main thing the club will attempt to do is raised awareness on campus and in society about biracial issues.
“We need to be honest and talk about race, (though) it may be a painful issue for families to deal with,” Prendez said.
People are often forced to identify with one community within their biracial background. Prendez said that they work very hard to prove themselves in that community and added that they deny themselves of their full cultures.
“We need (to have) more open minds, and more open dialogue,” Halili said.
She said she was first interested in forming a mixed student club when she visited San Francisco State University with her sister and sat in on the biracial identity course.
While the mixed student club is not yet official on campus, organizers are working on getting the group approved. Planning meetings are taking place on a tentative basis every Thursday at noon in Jerome Richfield Hall 135.
“This mixed club will provide a safe haven for people of mixed heritage, for people dealing with the experiences of interracial marriages, relationships, and backgrounds,” Halili said. “Mixed people are human too.”
Chris Daines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.