I used to be the only biracial kid in the room. Now, my exponentially expanding cohort promises a future where everyone is mixed.
Last fall, I was in Amsterdam with my parents and sister on a family trip, our first in more than a decade. Because travelling with your family as an adult can be taxing on everyone involved, we had agreed we would split up in galleries, culturally enrich ourselves independently, and then reconvene later to resume fighting about how to read the map. I was in a dimly lit hall looking at a painting of yet another apple-cheeked peasant when my younger sister, Julia, tugged at my sleeve. “Mixie,” she whispered, gesturing down the hall.
“Mixie” is a sibling word, a term my sister and I adopted to describe people like ourselves—those indeterminately ethnic people whom, if you have an expert eye and a particular interest in these things, you can spot from across a crowded room. We used the word because as kids we didn’t know another one. By high school, it was a badge of honour, a term we would insist on when asked the unavoidable “Where are you from?” question that every mixed-race person is subjected to the moment a conversation with a new acquaintance reaches the very minimum level of familiarity. For the record, my current answer, at 30 years old, is: “My mom’s Chinese, but born in Canada, and my dad’s a white guy from England.” If I’m peeved for some reason—if the question comes too early or with too much “I have to ask” eagerness—the answer is “Toronto” followed by a dull stare.
At some point, spotting mixies became a kind of sport for us. “Mixie baby,” Julia would hiss, chin-nodding toward some racially ambiguous kid in a stroller at Christie Pits Park. “Mixie,” I’d say, the moment Kristin Kreuk—the super-attractive but heartbreakingly boring Canadian star of Smallville—appeared on the television.
We pointed out others because…well, it’s hard to say why, exactly. Because we secretly longed to make a silent connection with people with vaguely comparable racial experiences? Because of some ingrained tribalism that made us seek out the genetically similar? Or maybe because, back in early-1990s Toronto, mixed-race people were rare enough that they were worth pointing out, the same way you might point out a cardinal flickering through the trees or an original Volkswagen Beetle.
My sister and I have mostly stopped whispering “mixie” at one another in crowded areas. It’s dawned on us that pointing out the race of passersby might be offensive. And in 2013, mixed-race Torontonians have become almost commonplace. At Lord Lansdowne, my elementary school at College and Spadina, I was the only mixed-race kid in my grade. Today, the school is thick with mixies bearing features from all over the map.
According to the 2006 census, 7.1 per cent of GTA marriages were interracial. In a city of immigrants, that number will rise exponentially over the coming years. In less than two decades, Statistics Canada predicts that 63 per cent of Torontonians will belong to racialized minorities, the current term for those of us who are a shade other than white. More than half of second-generation visible minority immigrants who are married have partners outside their race; by the third generation, it’s 69 per cent. Those couples are having kids and those kids will one day have kids of their own, marrying across racial lines and producing a myriad of mixie babies.
In the gallery in Amsterdam, I followed my sister across the room to a painting of some 17th-century merchant and his family. I looked closely at the wife. Dark hair, pursed lips, and something unmistakable around the eyes. The plaque explained it: Pieter Cnoll with his Eurasian wife, Cornelia van Nieuwenrode, the daughter of a Dutch merchant and his Japanese concubine. A mixie. Perhaps the earliest one I’d ever seen.