Pearl Fuyo Gaskins, the daughter of a Japanese mother and a European-American man, has gathered the thoughts of over 40 mixed-race young people to create an empowering tool with something to say about navigating the racial waters of contemporary American culture. The complexities of being a multi-racial person in contemporary America are eloquently and fairly discussed in poetry, essays, and interviews.
What Are You? is divided into eight major sections (Are You This? Are You That?, Check One Box, Who's That White Lady?, Sticks and Stones, My So-Called Identity, Are You Dating Me or My Hair?, Double Breed, and Resources). Some issues will not be new to readers. In Check One Box, for example, contributors discuss their concerns over being labeled, both officially and informally. Questions such as "If a child is of black and Asian parentage, do they call themselves Black or Asian?" are continually being addressed by the larger society.
Readers may not find such topics as powerful as Are You Dating Me or My Hair?, in which contributors discuss the stereotypes and racially based expectations placed on them in their most intimate relationships. For example, 20-year-old Monina Diaz, who is of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage, says, ". . . unless I marry a Black or Puerto Rican man, there will always be tensions and pressures from society or just issues of not understanding each other." It is this kind of honesty that makes What Are You? a valuable tool hard questions are being asked and answered.
Even more admirable is the comprehensive list of advocacy groups, books, magazines, videos, and organizations listed, which young people can use to empower themselves. Additionally, Gaskins has included photographs of most contributors, which adds to the value of What Are You?
For young people constantly having to navigate the often cruel waters of race ethnicity in America, knowing that there are other people in the world who are not only asking difficult questions of themselves, their peers, and their elders, but who also have physical similarities, will no doubt be invaluable.
Crystal Williams is a poet pursuing her MFA at Cornell.