Naia Kete, age 26
WHAT MIX ARE YOU?
My Mama is Jewish, my dad African American. Both sides of the family also have Native-American blood. Included in the ancestry on my Mom’s side are people of Hungary, Germany, etc. As I understand it from my Dad’s Mother, a lot of her side of the family is Ethiopian. I wish I had more info! Going to have to do a family tree one day.
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born and raised in Western, MA. More specifically Northampton and the surrounding towns. My Step-Father is from Senegal, West Africa, and I grew up around all types of music including reggae, jazz, West-African drum and dance and more. Be raised in that creative and multi-cultural family, I was blessed with a community that was mixed as well. While in school it wasn’t nearly as diverse, at home I grew up hearing many different languages and accents, and seeing many different beautiful colors in the people I was blessed enough to call family and friends.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
You know, they had obstacles in relationship just like anyone else, but they didn’t seem to be related to their background. At least not that I knew about. They both have a lot of love for diversity and I think it’s partly what brought them together. I never thought much about the color of their skin or difference in background except to celebrate it.
HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING MULTIRACIAL?
My extended family is very mixed as well. My cousin’s wife (on my dad’s side) and my boyfriend immediately bonded because they both have Filipino blood. We are all very accepting and loving towards one another. I’m very lucky in that respect.
DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?
Hmm...I don’t know if celebrated “traditions” as much as “ceremony.” From our study of West-African drum and dance, to nyabhingi in reggae, lighting candles at dinner, to Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas...we love it all! Music was a common thread.
WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
As I mentioned there were! Through my Step-Dad. He speaks Wolof (native to Senegal), French, Creole and English. When he and his would get together it would be a blend of all those languages, along with some Patois, as a lot of his friends were Jamaican. I only picked up a few phrases here and there, though I’ve always wanted to learn more.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
You know it’s interesting, some say that mixed kids have the hardest time finding and really owning an identity. Wondering where we fit in. For me though, while I went through that a little bit, I was always so proud of my blended heritage. It helped me to really let all the colors WITHIN me shine, vs. focusing on the color of my skin. I was taught to be myself, unapologetically. That’s what I loved the most.
WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
They had an openness about them. We talked a lot about everything, and I always felt welcome to come to them with any questions. I was also lucky enough to have 6 grandparents! (Both my grandfathers re-married, so I had 4 grandmothers and 2 grandfathers). I was close to a number of my grandparents as well and learned a lot from them. Granted I don’t remember everything! But their values are what stuck with me. In addition to learning about my own ancestry, I was taught about MLK, Malcom X, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, etc. Pioneers of Freedom and equality for all.
DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP? Yes. Race was definitely a topic of conversation. All of us being musicians and songwriters, and writing revolutionary-based music, bringing people together was at the forefront of our minds. Race and culture, inevitably, became a part of those discussions.
DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
Yes, I identify in that way...although a part of me also just feels like I just AM.
DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?
No it never has been a conscious choice for me that I would or would not date somebody based on race. As more of a spark develops though, I have found myself thinking how beautiful someone is because of who there are, and race may be involved in that. My man, whom I’ve been with for 8 years, I love in part because of his multi-racial background, and outlook and openness to life as a result. If that makes sense.
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?
Being mixed is being human at this point. We are all blended. Whether you know it or not, or chose to accept it or not, it is a simple truth. How many “white” people hand found they have more black people in their backgrounds, and vise versa? The U.S. is called the melting pot for a reason. So many different people from all different parts of the world have come here and raised families and communities here. I’m really a believer that we are all of one people, one race. That we are stronger together than we are a part, and that our differences our to be loved and celebrated. Am I mixed? Yes, because I am a human being.
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?
Well if you go by my above answer, all of my friends are mixed :). I learn how to be loving and accepting. How to be kind and give unconditionally, while also being willing and able to ask for and receive support. I’ve learned how to be patient. How to be kind. How to teach what I know and know what I teach. How to trust myself and trust those around me. I’ve got an incredibly beautiful and diverse group of friends who are wise, and funny, and inspiring.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
I think the most difficult thing is when I get told in many different ways, that I’m not “black enough” to, essentially, speak my truth. As an artist my truth is embodied by my lyrics and melodies as well as my style through how I wear my hair (in long dreads that have never been cut). The core of my truth is freedom, revolution, love and togetherness. I will often reference those who have inspired me as a way of conveying this truth including Frederick Douglass, Maya Angelou, Harriet Tubman, etc.
When I’m told I’m not “enough” of anything to be and do me, especially from a group of people who I’m fighting for, it hurts. But it also gives fuel to my fire, as there is so much work to be done, and that’s what I’m here for.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
That we stop dividing one another. That we come together with love and acceptance. That these feelings ripple out and touch world citizens and world leaders alike. That’s my dream.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
Just wanted to shout out my band, SayReal. Our latest single is called “Frederick’s Song (Freedom)” off of our “Unarmed and Ready” album.