As the mixed race population grows, more families are faced with tough conversations about race in America, according to co-director of “Mixed” Leena Jayaswal. She spoke at a panel discussion about mixed race with a South Russell couple, Christina and Lazaro Lopez Jr., following the showing of the film at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival on Oct. 6.
The 12th annual five-day fest in Chagrin Falls ended on Oct. 10.
In “Mixed,” Ms. Jayaswal and co-director Caty Borum Chattoo explore interracial marriages, mixed race children and America’s deep cultural ambivalence. Ms. Lopez said that racism looks different now than it did in the past. It is still present, she said, and children are encountering it at a young age.
Journalists Rick Jackson, 64, and Brenda Cain Jackson, 64, of University Heights moderated the panel discussion. They have a biracial son. Ms. Jayaswal, 49, of Silver Spring, Maryland said she identifies as Indian-American and her husband is white. Ms. Lopez said she is mixed but presents as white. She said she is originally from Jamaica. Mr. Lopez is Hispanic.
“It’s so difficult starting these conversations and having these conversations especially with your kids and remaining age appropriate,” Ms. Lopez said. “How do you balance age appropriateness of things that are happening to them against the conversations that you have to have? I don’t know how to do that. I don’t think any parent knows how to do that.”
Ms. Jayaswal said she often thought about being in an interracial relationship, but did not think about having a mixed race child until her son was born. Other people ask her “Where are you from,” she said, and ask her son “What are you?” referring to his race. Interracial families talk about race often, Ms. Jayaswal said, but white families need to talk about it too. The film “Mixed” is meant to give a glimpse into things that mixed race people experience, including tough conversations between families and how mixed race people are treated by others.
“We’re just representing each person’s own mixed race experience. That may not be the same as yours or your children’s,” Ms. Jayaswal said.
Ms. Lopez said since she appears white but identifies as mixed, other people often make statements that are not consistent with how she identifies, creating “awkward” situations. People in different parts of the country have varying views, she said. Ms. Lopez added that the social construct of race is different in Jamaica, where she grew up.
“I look very white and I’m treated very white,” she said. “That is how the world sees me and that is how the world treats me and that is how they react to me. I can’t presume to enter a space of black people and relate to their experiences because I don’t have the same experiences because people don’t treat me the same way.”
Mr. Lopez said that mixed race people and families need advocates. In the film, the Houstonia Magazine in Houston, Texas received backlash after an advertisement with a mixed race family was published. The mother was white, the father was black and there were three biracial children shown in the ad. Editor Scott Vogel said that they were a real family, not actors. The magazine received several calls from angry readers about the interracial family. He said he receives calls from readers who want to cancel their subscription for various reasons from time to time, but this incident felt different.
“Why can’t we cancel a reader if they do something offensive to us?” Mr. Vogel said in the film.
He wrote an editor’s note about the debacle called “Racist readers need not apply” in 2015. Co-director Ms. Borum Chattoo said she was “moved” by Mr. Vogel’s editor’s note because he, a white man, stood up for mixed race families. At the panel discussion, Mr. Lopez agreed.
“We need advocates,” he said. “Often we come off, when we’re talking about diversity, or we’re talking about inclusion, or hot topics about whatever’s happening in our country, it’s offensive because we’re talking about it. But when we have someone who doesn’t look like us that advocates for us, like the editor in Houston, that was such a moment for me to connect with what you (the other panelists) captured.”
Amity Hoffman, 44, of Sarasota, Florida told the panelists that she produces commercials as her regular job. She said it is “advertising’s duty” to normalize what a modern family looks like. She said not all families are homogenous. Ms. Hoffman is also a filmmaker for “The Best Show in Town,” which was shown at the festival last week. She also commented on how social media influences children.
“Social media educates our children sometimes before we get the chance to educate our children,” Ms. Hoffman said. “Some of the kids are already so aware of things that we growing up would have not been aware of because we didn’t have those resources, the TikToks and the Instagrams of the world.”
The Lopez parents agreed that they are happy they moved to South Russell with their mixed race family. The community has been “amazing and welcoming,” Ms. Lopez said. They said they would like to have open, honest conversations to get to know other community members.
There is more information about the film at mixeddocumentary.com.