Today, on the way to school this morning, my daughter said, “I know what a world potluck is.”
“What’s a world potluck?” I asked. “Is it like the potluck we just had?”
“No. It’s a potluck where all the kids bring food, but they don’t bring regular food,” she explained. “They bring food from the places that they’re half from.”
“What do you mean, half from?”
“Well, I’m half Korean, so I’m half from Korea.” Actually, she’s a quarter Korean, but you’d never know that she wasn’t half. “So the food I’d bring to the potluck would be from Japan. I mean, Korea. And all the other kids would bring food from the places that they’re half from.”
Of course, this is a girl who made a menorah in the shape of a turtle (after hearing about Native American iconology in which the turtle symbolizes the world), and whose school is aggressively inclusive when it comes to religion. Still, I thought it was significant that she assumes her friends are all “half from” somewhere. (She can’t actually describe many of her friends’ backgrounds; she just knows they’re all half from somewhere. That’s how people are.)
Years ago, when I was a child, the question I probably hated most of all was, “So what are you?” It tended to be asked– so I perceived– in a tone that suggested two things. First, a complex answer was not acceptable– I had to fit into one or another easily-understood category. Second, it was a test of just how human I was (rarely did the “what” get softened into the more humane “who”). And I don’t think this was entirely a matter of oversensitivity: after all, I was living in a state that, during my childhood, took to the Supreme Court its defense of its right to prevent interracial marriage.
The Old Math of American race, which I grew up with, was all integers: fractions violated the logic of the system. The New Math, that my daughter and her friends are learning, is Venn diagrams and fuzzy logic: all intersections, combinations, and approximation.
Now that my daughter assumes that it’s perfectly normal to have some complicated lineage, I can say to everyone who asked that question: I win.
Living in a world in which people have multiple backgrounds is… actually, neither a fantasy nor some utopia. It’s the real world.
*The reference is to Gregg Zachary’s excellent 2000 book, The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge: Picking Globalism’s Winners and Losers (which has since been republished as The Diversity Advantage).
[To the tune of Pink Floyd, “Any Colour You Like,” from the album “Pulse (Disc 2)”.]