Interview with “Intermarriage” photographer Yael Ben-Zion
January 12th, 2014
Q. In what ways is your own marriage an intermarriage?
A. The obvious thing would be that I’m Jewish and he’s not. He does not define himself as Christian, but we celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday. We had a Christmas tree. If you’d asked me before the boys were born if I’d ever have a Christmas tree in my home, as a good Jew I’d have said no.
On paper, we cannot be more different. We come from different countries, religions and professional backgrounds, but there are many things that connect us. This is something that was repeated in my conversations with a lot of couples: When you have a relationship with someone not from your own group or where you expect there might be difficulties, you think of the difficult questions in advance. If there weren’t values that were important to us both, we wouldn’t have been together to begin with.
I speak to my kids only in Hebrew and Ugo speaks to them only in French. I understand that they’re not going to be Israelis unless they grow up in Israel, the same way they’re not going to be French. They are probably going to be New Yorkers. But it’s still important to me not only that they speak Hebrew but that they read and write it.
In both Israel and France, if they aren’t completely proficient in the language, they will be treated as outsiders and will have difficulties talking to families and friends. It’s another challenge to deal with.
Read entire interview and see photo gallery by clicking here.
[all photographs by Yael Ben-Zion]
Black, White, Other Flashback: Nya Patrinos
December 19th, 2013
Here’s an excerpt from Nya Patrinos’s original 1992 interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity (now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):
“I really never found a community of people in college. I lived in a group house off-campus for a while, with eight people. I guess I knew all the fringe elements, the people who were writing, the painters, the acting people, the people in the philosophy department—all the people sort of falling off the edge of the mainstream. But I still don’t know what frat house was which, which you’re supposed to know at Penn [University of Pennsylvania]. I failed. I failed.
The African-American community at Penn is pretty militant, and they don’t want you to hang out with white people. There was a W.E.B. Du Bois House where you lived if you were a ‘progressive’ African-American. I could never find out when black student union meetings there were because I lived in High Rise North and they didn’t want to put signs there because they were afraid that white people were going to come. I know because I asked the guy who was the president of the African-American student union, and he said, ‘We can’t get anything done with those people crashing the meeting. You know how those people are.’
I feel like I can never be a very militant African-American person who hates white people because I’d hate fifty percent of myself. So I couldn’t really participate in that world at Penn because I’m not going to hate white people; it’s just not what’s going to happen. I can’t accept that, being mixed.
I think the black students just wrote me off. I’m sure people knew who I was, because African-American men on the campus kind of know who the African-American women are. I’m not overweight, I’m okay-looking, so sometimes I would walk home from the library and some guy would come and talk to me and say, ‘Are you a graduate student?’ And maybe I’m making this up, but I think they saw me a lot of times with white people and I got blacklisted. Maybe it wasn’t as intentional as that, but nobody talked to me besides the one guy I asked about the meetings.”
Nya’s 20-year update will be posted in the next week or two. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of her original oral history in the BWO ebook.
Black, White, Other Flashback: Jacqueline Djanikian
December 4th, 2013
Here are two excerpts from Jacqueline Djanikian’s original 1992 interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity (now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):
“When I was thirteen, I went to the grocery store with my dad in a predominantly black neighborhood, and we went up to the checkout stand and my dad picked up Jet magazine, because he always got that. And the woman at the counter said, ‘Excuse me sir, that’s not a TV Guide.’ And he looked at her and said, ‘I know what it is. Thank you.’
And I just died. The look on his face, ‘Do you think I’m stupid? I know what this magazine is.’ I will never forget that. I just died when he said that, you know? It was so funny, and she was so embarrassed because she thought, well, what would a white guy be doing with a black magazine?
I thought it was great. I thought it was great! Because he’s very upfront, and it was like, ‘Don’t give me any shit. I’m not an idiot.’”
“I’m black because my mother is black, and, technically, you are whatever your mother is. This is according to documents, paper, the hospital, everybody. Somebody was telling me about this. It’s actually the law. You are whatever your mother is, so if your father’s Jewish and your mother’s Catholic, you’re Catholic. You can’t be half-Jewish or whatever. My brother could pass for white, but he is black because that’s what his mother is. The mother dominates. So I consider myself black. I am closer to my mom, also, and to her family because they’re here, and my dad actually lives half the year here and half the year in France. And he’s over there now, and I don’t see his family except when they visit.
And it’s not only the law; it’s just my choice, actually. That’s the way I want to live my life—as a black African-American, not as a Caucasian. I could never pass for Caucasian if I wanted to. And regardless of whether it was legal or not, it’s sort of like my mom and I have a very close bond, and because she happens to be black, that’s who I feel I am. I’m a black woman.
When you grow up you just make that choice. You either decide you want to be African-American, or you want to be Caucasian. And it might have to do with your skin color, it might have to do with how people perceive you. I’m obviously African-American. You could never look at me and say, ‘Oh, she’s white.’
I don’t think it’s possible for people to identify as both. Take my brother, for instance. If someone were to come up to him and say, ‘What’s your race?’ he would say black. It’s just a choice you’ve made yourself. You can identify with both races, but you are one or the other. You are not both. I identify with both, but I am one.
Between black people, when we see each other on the street, there is acknowledgment that takes place. We don’t have to say anything, it’s just eye contact that no other race really does. I notice that. My friend and I actually talked about it. There’s an acknowledgment and it’s really interesting. You don’t even have to know the person; you can just look at them and there’s something between you, like a togetherness, I guess.
It’s a good kind of unity thing because life’s rough out there. And compared to other black people and black women, I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been sheltered from the things that a lot of other black families and black children and adults have to deal with. I’ve got a really great job; I went to a great school; I’ve been all over the world; I’ve gone to French schools and speak the language fluently. Not too many black people actually can say they’ve done a lot of that stuff.”
Jacqueline’s 20-year update will be posted in the near future. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of her original oral history—in which she talks about Andy Gibb, lunchroom politics, and diversity in the advertising world, among other topics—in the BWO ebook.