Why are the Children Dying? Mixed-Race Children in Chang-rae Lee’s First Five Novels By Holly E. Martin “Maybe it’s that Mitt wasn’t all white or all yellow. I go crazy thinking about it. Don’t you? Maybe the world wasn’t ready for him.” ---Chang-rae Lee (Native Speaker 129) The contemporary struggle for recognition by mixed-race people began in the wake of the civil rights movement, coming to the forefront in the late 1970s as a protest against US Census Bureau forms that had no checkbox for mixed-race people. The process of identifying oneself racially prior to the 2000 census consisted of choosing a single racial category. People of mixed race who responded were forced to choose one part of their identity over the other. The problem of overlooking people of mixed-race heritage was not limited to the census, however, but also included mandatory affirmative action forms for job applications, classification categories for school children, and, most importantly, the emphasis on choosing a single racial identity added to the difficulty for mixed-race people in developing a group identity. Some who were part white were compelled by society to identify only with the minority part of their racial make-up; some chose to identify only with a portion of their racial mix; and others, identifying as mixed, sought to create a mixed racial group identity that would encompass their racial complexity. Since 2000, the US Census Bureau has allowed respondents to check more than one racial category, an indication that US society finally recognized that race and ethnicity are not rigid, mutually-exclusive categories. In his essay “The Necessity and Impossibility of Being Mixed-Race in Asian American Literature,” literary critic Sheng-mei Ma gives a brief history of the development of the mixed-race movement and makes a strong case that the forefront of the current movement “is spearheaded by social scientists in the fields of psychology, sociology, political science, and anthropology” (Ma 176). Contemporary literature, Ma argues, has lagged behind the social sciences in representing mixed-race people in
The mixed-race children in each of Lee’s first five novels constitute an overarching set of symbols, reflecting, at first, society’s intolerance of miscegenation and its resulting mixed offspring, as demonstrated in the dysfunctional behaviors of the parent(s) (or society) and the death or disappearance of the mixed-race child. Then, later in the novel, a second mixed-race child’s birth, or its impending birth, signifies an acquired racial awareness on the part of the parent(s) and an overcoming of trauma that leads to hope for a more tolerant and understanding social environment for the mixed-race child.
Martin, Holly E.
"Why are the Children Dying?: Mixed-Race Children in Chang-rae Lee’s First Five Novels,"
Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies: Vol. 8, Article 8.
Available at: https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/aaldp/vol8/iss1/8