SYLVESTER GASKIN, AGE 35
WHAT MIX ARE YOU?
My mother is White. Her family is from Sweden and Ireland and immigrated to the US in the 1920’s. My father is Black, but his family is unsure where they originally came from. We think my paternal grandmother is from the Dominican Republic but I’m hoping I can do some more research on my father’s family so I can know for sure.
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?
It has a large number of Black and White families, but little else from other communities.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I am a military kid so I grew up all over the place. Some areas were very diverse and others were entirely White. When I lived on military bases, there were plenty of other mixed kids, so I felt incredibly normal.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?
They met in the military. Both were pretty young.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
From what they told me, there were tensions in the beginning. My mother’s family was not supportive of the relationship (they lived in a very conservative part of the Midwest), but my father’s family warmed up to my mom really quick. It wasn’t until after I was born that my mother’s family became somewhat more accepting of my Dad.
HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING MULTIRACIAL?
My father’s family has always been supportive. There was a lot of warmth from them, probably because they respected my mother and treated her like part of the family. My mother’s family was not as supportive, but as I grew older and went to college they did their best to keep their opinions to themselves.
DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?
Most of the celebrations were connected to my father’s background, like eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Most of our family traditions were created by my mom and dad.
WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
Our household was strictly English, though I studied Spanish in high school and Russian in college.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
Probably food. I was able to eat wonderful meals from both sides of my family. Grits, greens, kringla, Swedish meatballs...it’s those meal times that really connected me to my family.
WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
My family took summer vacations to both sets of grandparents each year to see extended relatives and learn more about cultures and norms. My family encouraged me to ask questions about our ancestors and to take part in whatever customs they practiced (not many to be honest).
DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
It wasn’t a major topic of discussion until I was in high school and learning how to drive. My father gave me “the talk” about dealing with the police and what to do in a traffic stop. The important thing I remembered was that I wouldn’t be seen as a kid with a White mother, but as a Black man that could be a threat.
DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
I do identify as Multiracial. I did identify as Black when I was younger, but I no longer wanted to deny both sides of my family. I feel very comfortable identifying as Multiracial.
DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?
Race had no factor in who I chose to date. I was looking for a partner who treated me like an equal and could respect my background. In fact, I’ve been married to my partner for almost 7 years. Her family immigrated from Mexico to the US several years ago, so it’s been a joy to be a part of her family and for us to both explore what it means to be in a mixed-race marriage.
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?
It means that I’m proud of who I am and have the unique ability to understand what it’s like to be different.
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?
I have a small number of friends who identify as mixed, and we always share stories on how people try to racially identify us or people who are confused when we tell them our parents are of different races. What I’ve learned is that I’m not the only one and there are others who are trying to navigate a world that still struggles to respect mixed people like myself.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
I’m tired of hearing that we are “mutts”, or we’re “confused” and have to choose an identity.
I also hate when people when they try to determine what race we are or tell us “you look like (insert ethnic group here)”.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
I hope we can get to a point where we can respect everyone’s racial identity and understand that one race isn’t superior to others. We should be able to cherish everyone’s racial differences and respect the customs and traditions everyone brings to our country.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
It’s taken me a long time to understand my identity is a strength and not a weakness. I’m proud to identify as a mixed kid and nobody will ever be able to take that away from me.