I am a big fan of Mexican-American singer Lila Downs and her music. So naturally, I was quite inspired by a recent video of her (above) where she was interviewed not only about her music, but also about her life experiences growing up as a bi-cultural individual between the U.S. and Mexico. As someone who also grew up influenced by both Caucasian and Mexican-American backgrounds, Downs’ interview delivered some resonance for me. Even though I cannot equate my own experiences with those of Downs, many of her reflections did ring with a certain amount of familiarity. This motivated me to consider the many multiracial and multicultural individuals in our communities and what they mean for us as a nation. Results from the 2010 Census have revealed that the multiracial populations increased by 50% (to 4.2 million) over the last decade. This has made multiracial individuals the fastest growing youth group in the U.S. Are we on the verge of a change in the way people view themselves within the context of race and culture?
One reflection Downs makes in her interview is the discomfort people felt when confronted with her dual backgrounds. She expressed how she felt the need to choose one culture or the other in order to make her acceptance by others easier. Growing up, I recall this difficulty as well and how some preferred to have individuals fit into familiar ethnic niches. This had puzzled me for many years until I realized that people were simply responding to their own life experiences as well – experiences that predetermined their view of race and culture. Within the historical context of our traditional society, a certain degree homogeneous stability has been the norm. It has typically been easy to differentiate by race or culture and the lines have not been all that blurred. However, now we appear to be faced with a new multicultural reality that is quickly growing.
Although I anticipate multiracial and multicultural individuals may face similar challenges, I do wonder if they will begin forge their own “meta tribes” based on their unique perspectives. Chantilly Patiño, owner of the blog Bicultural Mom, has dedicated her efforts to producing relevant content for parents and individuals of biracial and bicultural backgrounds. Patiño blogs honestly about the challenges of raising children between two cultures and provides valuable information to help assist multicultural families. Over time, Patiño has built a following of like-minded advocates and has augmented her efforts through the hosting of twitter parties and adding an online magazine of contributing guest writers called Multicultural Familia.
What Patiño and those like her are doing is not letting the perspectives of others define their existence but rather are building upon their own identities and defining what it means to be biracial and bicultural on their own terms. Like Downs, who found her own voice (literally) within music, will today’s growing multicultural communities also have their own voices and ultimately their own brand experiences? In his marketing book Multicultural Intelligence, author David R. Morse suggests we may now be moving toward a “post-ethnic” America where multicultural individuals have the power to pursue the ethnic identities of their choice. Gone may be the days of “racial absolutism”, where people are siloed into one of five racial or ethnic categories (Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native-American). We should recognize the future of race and ethnicity will most likely be defined fluidly and by self-definition.
In the video interview with Lila Downs, she relates how once as an adolescent in the U.S., she rejected the “indian-ness” of her mother’s side that hailed from Oaxaca, Mexico. In a new multicultural reality, biracial and bicultural individuals will no longer reject any part of their background. They will, in fact, holistically embrace, celebrate and define all they embody. Brands and marketers will be wise to take the lead.