Monday, December 05, 2011

The year of mixed-race TV stars

Half of the posts I've written so far this year are lists of multiracial actors and actresses on TV shows. But four decades before any of those shows hit the airwaves, one mixed actress and one mixed actor made history in 1966.

The first mixed-race person to star in a TV show was Marlo Thomas, who played the title role in the series That Girl, which first aired on September 8, 1966 on ABC. (1966 is pretty early, I assume I'm correct in saying she was the first, but correct me if you know an earlier person).

She is mixed Arab and European. Her dad was the son of Christian immigrants from Lebanon (I mention they were Christian because everybody assumes all Arabs are Muslim, and I love to challenge stereotypes), and her mom was Italian-American.
That's Marlo with her dad, and her with the whole family (she's the oldest kid).

After the debut of That Girl, ABC premiered a show with a mixed-race male in one of the lead roles—on the very next day after That Girl debuted. As though they wanted to prevent anyone from saying they're sexist against mixed guys.

That series was The Green Hornet on September 9, 1966. One of the main characters was played by Bruce Lee. He wasn't the main star, but decades later the DVD release said he was (above), as if ABC regretted not giving the lead to a mixed actor, like they did to a mixed actress.

Most people have heard of him, but very few know he was mixed race. His dad was Chinese and his mom was biracial Chinese/German.
In both photos, he's in the middle and his biracial mother is on the left.

As if they were addicted to being pioneers, Marlo and Bruce went further and became the first mixed woman and man on the cover of the biggest TV magazine, in the same year their two programs premiered.

It's like the TV industry was proclaiming the arrival of multiracials.

(Correct me if you know an earlier mixed person who was on TV Guide's cover)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

French colonial Vietnamese-Africans

This is my English translation of this French article.

War and Race Mixing: "I was born from a Vietnamese mother and a Senegalese father."
by Florence Lame

The bloody war in Indochina caused more than 500,000 deaths, 15,000 of which were African servicemen. The surviving servicemen fled Vietnam along with their women and children. What followed was a melting pot lineage, which today still retains the features of a love that transcended time and war.

The war began in the 1940s, following the Japanese invasion of Lang Son, a border town between Vietnam and China. It was the beginning of what's commonly called the "Indochina War", referring to a large peninsula which at the time consisted of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, a part of Malaysia, and Vietnam. Seeing their sovereignty (dating from colonialism) threatened by Japanese attacks, the French army decided to call in servicemen from Africa as reinforcements for the army already there, they were the "Senegalese colonial infantrymen". With nationalist movements following WWII in 1945, the fighting lasted until 1954. At the end of this war, the servicemen who survived left Vietnam by boat, with some of them bringing along women and children: "My father took us all in his arms and we crossed the Pacific Ocean for months in boats that were constantly in danger of capsizing", recalls Jean Nguyen, son of a Vietnamese mother and Senegalese father. For most Vietnamese, Chinese, and Laotian women who had affairs with African servicemen, such escape was the only hope of surviving a massacre. Thus appeared in Africa a melting pot lineage: Senegalese-Vietnamese, Ivorian-Vietnamese, Morroccan-Vietnamese, etc.

Since their arrival in Senegal, very few Asian women returned to their homeland. Some lost everything and saw no reason to come back, others simply couldn't afford it. Today they're largely recognized and respected for having protected their families during the war, and having adapted to a world and customs that were previously completely unknown to them. They perfectly mastered the language, the cuisine, and the customs of their host country. But the integration of children from these unions was no easy task. "At first, our relationship with the Senegalese population was somewhat difficult. In the street, at school, we got called 'chinks'. There were many fights in the schoolyard because of that!" recalls Jean. But the Viet-Senegalese who live in Senegal today are considered to be Senegalese themselves.

Vietnam is known for being very conservative and it's sometimes hard for mixed-race people to make a life for themselves there. Nicole Hoang, a young woman of Senegalese and Vietnamese descent who speaks Vietnamese fluently, tells us about one of her visits to Vietnam: "It's harder for 'Black' mixed people. When they saw me speaking Vietnamese, having never seen Blacks, they couldn't fathom it. Yet the people who fought in the Indochina War were much nicer!" This racial mixing is for some an openness to the world, a rich culture, while for others it's the opposite: it's a disgrace. "I am the symbol high treason with the enemy, of a forbidden collaboration," confided Kim Lefèbvre, a Eurasian who grew up in Vietnam, in an interview for

Over time, most children of this generation migrated all over the world. Some have chosen to come settle in France, where notably they set up an organization for mixed-race Senegalese-Vietnamese people, The Lai-Den ("mixed race" in Vietnamese) in Paris. The same thing exists in the United States, such as the father of famous golfer Tiger Woods, for example, who fought in the Vietnam War, during which he married a Thai woman. This racial mixing, which was seen before as something incomprehensible, has thus become a distinguishing trait of African/Asian mixed people, but most of all, an identity in it's own right.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

French Native Americans

This is my English translation of this French article.

Those American Indians who speak French
by Jean-Michel Selva

Father Roch Naquin, Houma Catholic priest

The Houma tribe of Louisiana speak French the way it was used in the 18th century. But the destruction of their environment by oil companies threatens the harmony of this ethnolinguistic community.

They are the cousins of the Apaches and the Sioux. Their skin is red and they speak our language, or rather, that of Montesquieu. Houma Indians are the forgotten ones in the history of Louisiana, where they had to seek refuge from advancing white settlers from England in 1765, following the Expulsion of the Acadians. Already 30 km (18.6 mi) out from Houma, a little town south of New Orleans, and still nothing in sight except a narrow strip of land jutting out into the water. The huge 4x4 Chevrolet Silverado of Thomas Dardar Jr (below), community leader of the Houma Indians, speeds ahead of us and guides us across Isle de Jean Charles. Destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the road, which sinks into the bayous towards the Gulf of Mexico, has just been rebuilt.

Finally, rising in the distance are Pointe-aux-Chenes and breathtaking houses on pilotis, a sort of mobile homes erected on wooden stilts, overlooking the lagoon. "Watch Pipeline", warn signs stuck in the middle of the waters, extending out from either side of the road. A few dead trees, eaten away by salt, are the only ones accompanying us on this road. In this abandoned setting live the majority of the French-speaking Houma Indians.

Black pants, turquoise shirt, and a vest with Indian designs on which his braid sways back and forth, stretching down his back, the leader Dardar stops between the pilotis under a huge yellow dwelling. Father Roch Naquin comes to welcome him, they greet each other with open arms, very French indeed.

Allies of the French

"At the end of the 17th century, before the strained relations between French and English settlers, our community naturally formed an alliance with the former, because the explorers Cavelier de La Salle and Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville had always been supportive of it," explains Thomas Dardar. "As a result, our ancestors learned the French language, and passed it down to us orally. The vast majority of the Houma can neither read it nor write it, but they always speak it."

Banned from schools for being Indians, the Houma were eventually allowed to enroll in public education starting in 1964. But until 1975, they were punished whenever they dared to say a sentence in French. For this tribe of American Indians, a three-century-old form of French was able to endure, because of the cultural importance of oral tradition and their practice of it without contact with the outside world.

The Houma thus saved from oblivion expressions like: catin (harlot/whore/prostitute) for poupée (doll); char (chariot/tank/ wagon) for automobile (car); espérer (hoping) for attendre (waiting); s'épailler (removing dirt from badly forged gold) for s'étendre (stretching/spreading/expanding); and even "icitte" for "ici" (here), "au boutte" for "au bout" (at the end)...They mix as many words with Choctaw, their ancestors' language.

"The State of Louisiana granted us Indian nation status only in 1979," notes Thomas Dardar, "but we're still waiting for federal recognition, already rejected in 1994." "We here are the roughly 17,000 Houma Indians, divided into three clans, united by the use of the French tongue." Father Roch Naquin like to say he considers himself French and Indian. "My ancestor Charles came from the Bordeaux region and married an Indian. Here on Isle de Jean Charles, my father and those of his age spoke and wrote French. He then learned English, unlike my mother who never wanted to. Today only the eldest of my neighbors refuse to. The youngest became English speakers. It will be hard to preserve our language." At 55 years old, even the chief Thomas Dardar who's mastered French perfectly uses the American language more often. This generation of Houmas in their fifties may be the last to express themselves in the language of Molière. The last surviving link to a way of life that's already no more.

A Difficult Life

"Forests with tall trees used to grow here," recalls Chief Dardar. "Over there, my grandfather raised cattle in the meadows where muskrats would run," points Roch. "We had horses to plow the land, which produced enough to feed us. With the intensive oil drilling, salt water has leaked everywhere, it continues to eat our land and destroy all the vegetation."

To survive, the Houma community, scorned by everyone for centuries, turned to fishing. Some of them have managed to become lawyers and doctors, others have left to work in the shipyards. But for one year now, because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Houma can no longer fish like before. Skin diseases and respiratory problems have emerged. "They seem to be linked to BP spreading solvents to get rid of the oil slick floating in the gulf."

This fragile community is plagued and weakened even more: "very few among us have access to adequate social welfare," laments chief Dardar. "We've also suffered from the last four hurricanes. My house has been raised higher above ground on three occasions in twenty years, the roofing replaced a number of times. Leave and go elsewhere? No, no, this here is my house, this is the land of our ancestors," protests Father Roch Naquin.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Mixed-race people on "Prison Break"

The TV show "Prison Break" is one of the few series that stars a mixed-race person.

After watching every episode, I realized the lead actor wasn't the only one who's mixed.

Wentworth Miller

He plays the main character Michael Scofield. Miller was born in England and grew up in the US. His dad is mixed Black/White and his mother is mixed White & Middle Eastern (Syrian and Lebanese).

"My father is black and my mother is white. Therefore, I could answer to either, which kind of makes me a racial Lone Ranger, caught between two communities."

Callie Thorne

She is mixed British, Assyrian, Italian, Armenian, and Portuguese. She portrays the ex-wife of federal agent Alex Mahone.

Demi Lovato

Before she was popular as a singer, she was in the season 2 episode "First Down". Her heritage is mixed Irish, Mexican, and Italian.

Reggie Lee

He was born in the Philippines, grew up in Ohio, and is mixed Chinese and Filipino. His character is agent Bill Kim in season 2.

Holly Valance

She portrays a Czech immigrant (who gets mistaken for Russian) in seasons 1 & 2. Her mother is from England, her dad is from Yugoslavia, and she was born and raised in Australia.

James Hiroyuki Liao

Like his name suggests, he's half Japanese and half Taiwanese. Like his accent on the show suggests, he's from New York. He plays the hacker guy Roland Glenn in season 4.

Camille Guaty

Her role is Sucre's girlfriend Maricruz. Her family is from the Canary Islands, which is off the coast of Morocco but is owned by Spain. She's mixed Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Spanish.

This is the second time I made a list of multiracials on a TV series. Maybe I should watch more TV and write more lists like this.

Though most of the shows I've watched don't have enough mixed people for me to make a list. Do you know any shows with mixed people?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mixed-race women on "Lost"

The characters of "Lost" and the people who play them are multilingual and multinational. They speak at least nine languages and come from more than a dozen countries. There's also interracial marriages/relationships among them.

Despite this diversity, the mixed-race people on the show are never talked about; "mixed-race people" meaning individuals who are mixed race, not a group that's mixed.

I was going to call this "mixed-race people on Lost", then I noticed everyone here is female. I changed it to "women" to be more specific.

Andrea Gabriel

Her character, Nadia Jaseem, is Arab Iraqi but she is mixed Italian, Iranian, Romanian, and Russian. BTW, Iranians aren't Arabs because they don't speak Arabic, however they're Middle Eastern, and Arabs are too.

Reiko Aylesworth

Her first name is a hint of her quarter-Japanese heritage, which also includes Welsh and Dutch. She's in three episodes in season 5.

Tamara Taylor

She was born and raised in Canada and is mixed Black and White. She plays Walt Lloyd's mom and Michael's ex, and appears in two episodes, one in season 1 and one in season 2.

Rachel Ticotin

She portrays the police captain and mother of Ana Lucia Cortez, who's played by Michelle Rodriguez, who is also on this list. Ticotin is mixed Puerto Rican and Russian Jewish.

Kimberly Estrada

The only episode she's in is "Not in Portland" in season 3, where she plays the girlfriend of one of the main character's ex-husband. She is mixed Chinese and Spanish.

Zuleikha Robinson

Her role is Ilana Verdansky, who first appears in season 5 and becomes part of the main cast in season 6. Robinson was born in England, grew up in Thailand and Malaysia, and is mixed English, Burmese, Indian, Iranian, and Scottish.

Marsha Thomason

Like her character, Naomi Dorrit, she's from Manchester, England. She is mixed English and Jamaican (White and Black, respectively).

Kiele Sanchez

Her role is Nikki Fernandez, one of the main characters in season 3. Her heritage is mixed French and Puerto Rican.

Yvonne Midkiff

She plays a receptionist in a lawyer's office in the season 6 episode "The Last Recruit". She was born in the Philippines, grew up in Oklahoma, and now lives in Hawaii.

Hawaii is where the show was made and is also the US state with the highest percentage of mixed-race people.

Maybe Hawaii's multiracial vibe rubbed off on the producers when they casted the actresses (they chose an unusually high number of multiethnic ladies...).


The following actresses are mixed in a different way; they each have multiple ethnicities in one racial group. This is sometimes called intra-ethnic or intra-racial.

Like somebody who's mixed Indonesian and Filipino (Asian), or someone who's mixed Puerto Rican and Mexican (Latino), or a Polish / German / Italian / Russian / Swedish person (White).

Something worth mentioning is all of the below play a mother or a daughter of another woman on this list. Maybe this means Hollywood is starting to portray mixed descent more accurately.

Michelle Rodriguez

Not only is she mixed Dominican and Puerto Rican but she grew up in both of the countries too. She was a regular cast member in season 2 and made cameos in seasons 5 and 6.

Melissa Farman

Her mother is White American and her dad is French (White from France), and she was raised bilingual in English and French, both of which she speaks on the show.

She plays a younger Danielle Rousseau, whose daughter is Alex Rousseau, who is portrayed by the next girl on this list.

Tania Raymonde

Like her character Alex Rousseau, she's of French descent, but she's also Russian and she might be Jewish too, since her real last name is Katz.

How come there's many mixed girls but not mixed guys?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Four years later

This is my first post since 2007. I had abandoned this blog because I became busy with my senior year in college, and because few people were reading it anyway.

Since then, I've gotten a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies, specializing in the stuff that this blog is about. I've resurrected it temporarily because I got a good idea for a new post (see the post above).