Representation is a huge part of self worth. When you don’t see yourself reflected in media or academics, you can feel extremely isolated. Berkeley High School’s (BHS) Multi-Cultural Student Association (MCSA) is fighting against this feeling by bringing representation to students who identify with intersectionality. On March 3, the MCSA hosted a panel discussing the hardships and unique experiences that mixed people face.
Guest speaker Gen Slosberg is a mixed race immigrant. Slosberg spent her life in China up until her teenage years, and experienced eastern culture through the lens of a biracial, self-identified, white-passing individual. These experiences isolated her in many ways. Slosberg discussed how in China she was idolized and othered, always treated like a foreigner even though she was born and raised there. “In China, being white was being tokenized and constantly treated as a novelty subject,” Slosberg said. She mentioned how classmates would gawk at her, and how she was often the only mixed kid she knew.
When Slosberg came to America, she still felt different, but for other reasons. Confronting her white privilege was something she hadn’t often considered before, as her experiences with being white in China felt so isolating. However, in college she tried to join multi-racial inclusive clubs and found that her own privilege was something she needed to learn about. “It was hard to think about it because those experiences I associated with being white were the weird and ostracizing ones in China,” she explained.
Once Slosberg was able to acknowledge this part of her identity, she went on to connect even more to her mixed heritage. She wrote a series of articles about her mixed identity and was a columnist for the Daily Californian student newspaper, learning a lot more about what it meant to be multi-cultural.
After Slosberg spoke, a panel of both teachers and students from BHS shared their own experiences with being mixed race. One panelist, Ava Murakami, a BHS sophomore in Academic Choice (AC), spoke on her perspective as a Jewish mixed person. She felt similarly to Slosberg in the sense that at first glance, people often think of her as white, and how invalidating that can be. She stated, “Especially when I tell people I’m Jewish, that somehow lowers the chance of others seeing me as a possibly mixed person.” Murakami explained how it can be difficult to navigate her Jewish identity while maintaining a relationship with her mixed race identity: “I sometimes feel like I have to choose one group or the other because that’s what society tells me to do.”
Another panelist who talked about his experiences as a mixed race individual was Spencer Pritchard, an African American studies teacher at BHS. Pritchard grew up in Santa Barbara, and he said that there weren’t many Black folks there when he was growing up. He hung out with primarily Latinx and white people during his childhood and teen years. In Pritchard’s experience, these two different communities were distinctly separated. “For the most part you stayed in your racial group of friends. You knew where the folks of color lived and the white folks lived in other places,” he explained.
Pritchard mentioned how he felt out of place most of the time because of his mixed identity, but wasn’t able to articulate that for a long time. However, Pritchard also appreciated the unique perspective his identity gave him. “It allowed me to navigate multiple communities in a way that sometimes made me feel like an outsider, but also made me feel like I didn’t need to be one or the other,” he said. Belonging to both his Black family in Tennessee and his white family in Southern California gave him a unique outlook on life. “For the most part it was really empowering to have that perspective,” said Pritchard.
Desiree Solis, a senior in AC and member of the MCSA, was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the panel went. “I was very shocked with how many people showed up to the panel this year. I haven’t hosted an event that big, so it was incredible seeing that many people showing their interest in what BHS mixed students and staff members have to say,” she said.
Solis joined the MCSA in her sophomore year. Although she does not identify as mixed, she has gotten a lot out of being a part of the organization. “The MCSA is a great space for students to meet new friends, learn about different religions and cultures, and to have those hard conversations about racism and oppression. … Regardless of your background, the MCSA at BHS is here to welcome everyone.”
Learning about different cultural backgrounds and identities is vital to moral existence in America. Although representation for mixed individuals has a long way to go, the Multi-Cultural Student Association at BHS is an inspiring start.