In searching for a set of words that represent me and feel authentic to who I am, I struggled. I read articles, considered similar agencies, and brainstormed words that are now found all over my notebooks, napkins, and phone notes. I wanted my company name to be clear to all that I was in the business of racial equity AND that I was a mixed brown woman. I also considered that this name must draw in money. What words could I capitalize on? Is there a catchy phrase that could land me those big-dollar clients? This is a battle that so many of us face as people of color. Do I choose the words that feel authentic to me; such as, love, collective, revolution, liberation, or do I choose hot words of today like racial equity, anti-racism, and DEI? The seduction of whiteness was there.
My lighter shade of skin tone, due to being a mixed Indigenous Osage, Filipina, and White woman has me at the MIDDLE of the color line. Recently, I led a training “Staying on the Color Line - keeping yourself in check and acknowledging your privilege in relation to others while still addressing your racial oppression...beyond the Black/White conversation...invisibility in the MIDDLE.” The point was to call attention to the MIDDLE of the color line and how either end of the line may deem those that live here as invisible, not “most” oppressed, not belonging in the racial conversation, or absent. This training was pivotal for me because it was my way of staking myself firmly in the MIDDLE and shouting, “I BELONG HERE!!!!”
This, lack of belonging, is the story of my life. A source of pain, that often, is triggered in racial conversations. When you are mixed, you somehow are not (fill in the blank of one of your races) enough. I was not Filipino enough to belong to the Filipino community. I was not White enough to belong to the White community. I was not Native enough to belong to the Native community. I was racially homeless. Where is home?
At the summit, where I led the above-mentioned training, facilitators were asked to use the theme of bridges. As a mixed person, I connect to bridges because I feel like a floating bridge on WATER. I am a bridge between cultures and races that is not firmly grounded to either side of these lands. I feel more grounded standing on WATER. I float around, connecting to all kinds of people, cultures, races, and lands. When I travel, I am so often mistaken as a local because of my brown hair, skin, and eyes. I have been welcomed into many homes and families and not treated as an outsider. This is the gift of not fitting into a racial box that society wants to place me in. I began to shift my beliefs away from the idea that my racial ambiguity was a source of othering to a source of connection, a floating bridge on WATER.
WATER is a source of healing, love, restoration, and power, to me. Being born and raised in Hawai’i, an island in the MIDDLE of the WATER, the ocean is a part of life. My fondest childhood memories are being at the beach with my family. I feel the most at home being near the ocean, my feet in the warm sand, listening to the sounds of crashing waves. I feel most at peace, fully submerged in a large body of WATER. When I am rowing on a canoe or a kayak, my spirit is soaring. I can go on, but you get it.
So, getting back to the journey of choosing a name. It seems funny. I did have both MIDDLE and WATER in mind but had not considered connecting the two words until I began to dig into my Osage history. First, I was looking for words in the Osage language. However, I was questioning if this was appropriate for me to use, something many people can relate to when you have not been raised in your culture. When you are the result of generations before you being forced into White assimilation, language and traditions have been stolen from you. My Indigenous language is one of these stolen traditions. In reading about the history of our tribe, my search ended. It was made clear to me as I read the name the Osage gave themselves, Ni-U-Kon-Ska or “Children of the MIDDLE WATERS”.
So there it is. MIDDLE WATERS. A name that meets my desire to find the words that represent me authentically. Not necessarily a name that clearly states my work and my race. Not necessarily a name that would be recognized by many. In the end, I chose authenticity, connecting to my roots and having it be meaningful to who I am. It feels damn good!