Raised in Canada with an Indian-British father and English-Irish mother, Avan Jogia is definitely what you could call “mixed.” At the core of his poetry reading at the Storrs Center Barnes and Noble last night was a message of acceptance and discussion about people of mixed racial identity. Providing for an intimate venue, the bookstore was packed last night with students who were lucky enough to hear the actor, director and writer excerpt stylings from his new book, “Mixed Feelings.” The event was hosted in part by MIXED, a collaborative program between the Asian-American Cultural Center (AsACC) and Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) that embraces those with mixed heritage and “trans-racial adoptee experiences.”
“I find it hard to write about my race … Choose a side. I can’t. I’m unable … I won’t let them make us pick a side. I’d rather be a mixed being with mixed feelings,” Jogia read from the titular poem of his book, then discussed the core idea behind his work. “I think that’s more of the central thrust of the book, this idea of division and how we’ve set up labels that divide us, even self-imposed labels. I feel like as soon as you label something, it loses an element of itself … that’s the sort of thing I want to stress.”
“Mixed Feelings” features a powerful and profound collection of poems, stories, photos and art centered around race, identity, religion and family, gleaned from Jogia’s personal experience as someone of mixed race as well as inspired by friends’ and strangers’ unique experiences. With accompanying thematic music, Jogia, who students may know from his role as Beck Oliver in Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” and ABC’s “Twisted,” was able to convey the complicated emotions that come with the subject matter. With poems like “Flowerboy” and “My First Friend, My Brother,” he brings in themes of family. Even his brother Ketan was present.
“Do you have the ‘good mix? ’They ask. (Insert lighter skin) I have the good mix, I say to myself,” Jogia read from the poem titled and inspired by “Priya Peña,” which demonstrates the theme of the difficulty of defining identity that he discusses throughout his book. “I have my father’s grace and my mother’s fire and wit. I have my father’s eyes and my mother’s smile.”
During the reading, Jogia also touched upon the oppression and double-bind that people of color experience in America.
“I am the coloured child, not allowed to run wild, can’t get angry, ‘cause that anger just might get me profiled,” Jogia read from the poem “Coloured Child.”
During a pre-show interview with Jogia, he talked about his exploration of the concept of multiracial identity.
“Before, I let others dictate my identity to me rather than finding my own identity,” Jogia said. “As I got older, I was like OK, maybe being mixed race is a thing, [but] what is that culture like? I realized that it doesn’t matter what your racial background is or what experiences you may or may not have had. Being mixed is almost a community unto itself.”
Jogia paid homage to women in both his interview as he spoke about their motivational characteristics and during his reading as he read his poem, “My Matriarchy Mantra.”
“I was raised on the rhetoric of women who seemed like gods to me,” he read. “These women raised me.”
“Women have their shit together way more than men do,” Jogia said during the interview. “I’m not just saying that because it’s popular, but because it’s totally true … women are succeeding in all industries that they’re not actively being suppressed in because there’s this constant desire to work on yourself and talk to one another and share their emotions. I want men to be able to do that for themselves as well. I think we would benefit from that.”
He also credited black female activism as a driving force in creating spaces for themselves and other minorities, especially in America.
“I think that without that fight, many of the conversations when it comes to racial nuance wouldn’t be talked about,” Jogia said. “The Asian revolution that’s going on in television right now, creating and making their own stories, is a direct result of the ground that was forged by black people in this country, especially in media.”
Jogia included experiences that he knows people of mixed heritage and color have often faced in society.
“We aren’t asking you to keep yourself from thinking, ‘I wonder where that person is from,’” Jogia read from the poem “Observed and inferred” inspired by Sarinah Pond. “We get that …We are asking you to stop making your curiosity our problem … I just want to exist.”
Representation in the media is also an equally important issue for Jogia, and he mentions the show “Mixed-ish” as an important piece of media with diverse writers and roles.
“The ability to communicate through writing and create ideas is so important,” Jogia said about content creators needing to write diverse roles. “I would love to be able to act in parts and pursue work that reflects my actual person but nobody is out here writing that.”
Students enjoyed Jogia’s work and the atmosphere of the reading. They felt like the content of his book touched upon many relevant topics that should be discussed more.
“I liked that he incorporated music into [the reading],” Karla Rivadeneira, a fifth-semester Spanish and Spanish education double-major, said. “I think he does a good job with the book and with the use of music, it made it more intense and more intimate.”
When talking about his fans that have grown up to college-age, Jogia expressed excitement at being able to connect with them on these deeper topics.
“They’re in college being faced with concepts that are interesting to me to talk about,” Jogia said. “It’s cool to be able to talk to people, communicate what I have been going through and what I think they’re going through right now as young people.”
MIXED hopes to host more events in the future that highlight intersectionality and allow students of mixed heritage to feel acknowledged.
“MIXED is very open to anyone we embrace any race, ethnicity, sexuality, pretty much anything that’s outside of the box of what society usually considers is normal,” Sydney White, a seventh-semester pre-veterinary major and a leader of MIXED, said. “It was beautiful to see that the poems in this book are exactly how many people who identify as mixed feel. This event meant not only a lot to our program, but with the huge turnout we had, we can see that a lot of people can relate.”
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.