[Marxism] In S. Florida, multiracial 20-somethings resist pressure

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Sep 18 11:06:01 MDT 2006


Interesting item about racial politics and identity among Cubans
living in the United States, and as this indicates, about racism
among the Cuban exiles. They often demagogically claim that they
are opposed to racism in Cuba, but here in Disneylandia, you'll
see they don't quite practice what they preach for the island.
Fascinating material which also helps understand the expansion
of Islam among Latinos living in the United States of Freedom,
and why groups such as the Nation of Islam are having more and
more impact among Latinos. This isn't a recent phenomenon, by the
way. I've noticed this quietly proceeding for quite a number of
years. The NOI devotes extensive space in its website to Spanish
language materials. Malcolm X rejected Christianity and became a
Muslim for reasons entirely understandable given his experiences
in the United States, especially its prison system. Malcolm's own
experience wasn't unique, nor did it come to an end when he was
assassinated. Anyone who wishes to bring about positive social
change in today's world must understand how and why this is so.

Some Marxists approach atheism as a virtual religion. I recall in
my days as a member of the Socialist Workers Party of the United
States, no one who professed acceptance of a religion was welcome
to belong to the group. The existence of God, or some other kind 
of a supreme being, consciousness, force or whatever, is something 
which cannot be verified by empirical proof or logical argument as
it is faith-based. The interesting quotations from what V.I. Lenin
had to say on this subject close to a century ago don't do much to
enlighten us about what is to be done TODAY. There have been one
or two changes in the subsequent century. Ignorance, greed, racism
and violence remain among the central tools which the capitalist
powers use to bludgeon the rest of us into submission. Consumerism,
forced religious instruction, and other tools augment the basics.

But religion, considered in the abstract, outside of time, place
and circumstance, is hardly the problem which some Marxists seem
to think it is. In looking back at Israel's debacle in Lebanon, it
is unlikely that Israel's analysts are seeking the roots of their
defeat in anything fundamentally religious, though it may well be
presented to them in a religious form. I read a fascinating item
today about Hezbollah which is posted to the Monthly Review zine:
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/dhq170906.html


Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California
=================================================================

<http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorida/sfl-cmultiracesep18,0,6
979500.story>

In S. Florida, multiracial 20-somethings resist pressure to choose
'one box'

By Jamie Malernee South Florida Sun-Sentinel

September 18, 2006

What are you?

People ask Sara Gama that question all the time, thanks to her bronze
skin and dark, exotic eyes.

Growing up, the Pembroke Pines college student let everyone assume
she was Hispanic, like her mother, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican
descent. If she brought friends home, she asked her dad not to cook
curry or speak Hindi. "I never told people I was Indian because
people would make fun of it. You know, `Dot on your forehead,'
`Towelhead,'" she said. "I guess I was embarrassed. When you're
little, you don't want to be different."

Alionna Gardner, a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University in Boca
Raton, recalls a different problem: not of rejecting her heritage,
but being rejected by others. Gardner was born in Cuba, but because
she is also black -- both sets of her grandparents are from Jamaica
-- she found many Hispanics dismissed her.

The first time, it happened in school. Because her native language is
Spanish, she was assigned to a Spanish class for fluent speakers. She
tried to walk into the classroom.

"There was this boy at the door, and he stopped me and said, `You
don't belong here,'" she recalled.

All young people struggle to find belonging and a sense of self as
they enter adulthood, but for a growing number of young South
Floridians, the process is more complex. They can be pressed to
choose between their different ethnic or racial backgrounds or to
forge unique -- and at times, lonely -- identities.

As a result, long after most young adults have moved on to questions
about their careers, relationships and life goals, many mixed people
in their 20s are also still grappling with who they are at a
fundamental level, said Marta Cruz-Janzen, professor of multicultural
education at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

"You're supposed to be in `one box' because we still have a fear in
this country about people whose boundaries are blurred," said
Cruz-Janzen, who is of Puerto Rican, African and Asian decent.

Multiracial boom

In Broward County, about 5 percent of people in their 20s identify
themselves as being of two or more races, according 2005 population
estimates from the national marketing firm Claritas Inc. That's
double the rate for the general population in the United States and
Florida. In Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, about 4 percent of
20-somethings are of two or more races.

Those statistics still vastly underestimate the area's multicultural
Baby Boom because they don't count a huge segment of South Florida's
diverse landscape: Hispanics. That's because being Hispanic is
considered an ethnicity, not a race.

It is generally accepted that young children start with no concept of
race or ethnicity. Then, Cruz-Janzen said, multiracial and
multiethnic young people learn that they are somehow different and
are pressed by both adults and their peers -- most of the time at
school -- to pick a single label.

Thomas Harrison, 26, a teacher at Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale,
identifies himself as both black and white. But he says this has long
confused others.

"It hit me around the first grade. My mom came to school to chaperone
a field-day trip, and all the kids, they're like, `That's not your
mom! She's white!'"

As multiracial and multiethnic young adults mature, however, they are
often able to let go of their parents' and society's expectations and
explore multiple identities based on their own preferences and new
experiences, said Marie Miville, an associate professor of psychology
at Columbia University.

"College is a big time for people to experiment and put on new hats
as they develop a more complex sense of who they are," said Miville,
who grew up in South Florida.

Changing ethnicity

The idea that one's ethnicity can change over time may sound strange,
but it's been documented in the children of immigrants in South
Florida and California, according at a Princeton University study
published last year. The long-term study included interviews with
more than 2,000 children who had at least one immigrant parent in
cities including Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

>From age 14 to 17, about half of the children changed the ethnicity
by which they identified themselves.

By age 24, most had developed a third, "hyphenated-American" identity
that showed more complexity, said Alejandro Portes, director of the
Center for Migration and Development at Princeton.

"They had developed a more mature understanding of their place in the
world," said Portes.

Gama, the 20-year-old Pembroke Pines student, didn't openly
acknowledge her Indian heritage until after she began college.

Before that, she said, she didn't know how to deal with her dual
identity. There weren't any Indian kids at school, and she felt
alienated from the traditional Indian values of her grandmother, who
wanted Gama to have an arranged marriage to a wealthy man. Gama
rejected the proposal outright, telling her grandmother she could
make her own money.

"She said, `You're so American!'" Gama recalled, "and I said, `Well,
Granny, I am American!"

But during Gama's freshman orientation, she discovered the Indian
Student Association, a group of young students who were like her --
born in America, modern in their way of thinking -- yet also open and
accepting of their Indian heritage.

Gama began attending the group's meetings. At first, she says, she
encountered some resistance -- some Indian students thought she
didn't look or act "Indian enough" -- but now she is accepted and
active in the club. She has also come to see her grandmother's
family-focused values as one of the best things about the Indian
culture.

"I opened my eyes more and realized, `I should be proud,'" she said.

Gardner, 19, a black Cuban-American from Boca, has never lost her
Cuban pride. But she has accepted that most Hispanics do not see her
as one of them.

Today, most of her friends are black. She has even stood up to her
parents, who have accused her of turning her back on her heritage.

"My parents thought I was trying to get away from my culture. `Oh,
you don't want to be Spanish anymore?'" she said. "[But] it was
easier to go into a black community because they were more
accepting."

A no-win situation

Michelle Sheikh, 24, of Boynton Beach, also felt pressure to choose
sides from an early age, even though her parents brought her up to
embrace both her mother's Colombian heritage and her father's
Pakistani background.

In both families, religion was an inseparable part of ethnic
identity, and she faced a no-win situation: choosing her faith.

Her father's relatives would debate why Islam was best. Yet Sheikh
saw how important the Catholic Church was to her mother. At 12, she
chose Catholicism.

"You have stereotypes. Even my mother has them, that women [in Islam]
are oppressed or that there is a lot of violence," said Sheikh,
admitting that she had them, too.

It wasn't until her 20s that Sheikh began to question that decision.
She went to her priest with her doubts, but they remained.

Then she met her future husband, a Muslim. His first gift to her was
a necklace, a Christian cross.

"It was the first time anyone from that `side' said, `I can accept
you for who you are,'" Sheikh said.

As soon as she had that unconditional acceptance, Sheikh said she had
the strength to look at choosing a religion not as choosing which
ethnicity she identified most with, or which parent she favored, but
as a personal decision.

At 22, she began exploring Islam, slowly taking on some of the
beliefs and lifestyle changes. While she continues to celebrate
Christmas and goes to church with her family, Sheikh also prays
toward Mecca, abstains from alcohol and fasts during Ramadan.

"I practice both faiths," she said. "I know that's hard for people to
understand, but it works for me."

Staff Writer Jeremy Milarsky contributed to this report.

Jamie Malernee can be reached at jmalernee at sun-sentinel.com or
954-356-4849.

Copyright C 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel





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