The Rise of the Mutts

This article in the Times UK reminded me of the big step forward that Barack Obama being elected president of the United States symbolizes. As anyone who heard his speech last Tuesday night knows, he promised to get his daughters a puppy to take with them to the White House. He said, when asked about what breed they would take, that they would consider a shelter-dog, and that “a lot of shelter-dogs are mutts like me”.

It’s amazing to me that miscegenation laws — legislation that prohibits interracial marriages — existed in 16 states in the United States well into the latter half of the 20th century. We still have a tendency to identify any mixed race child — when one parent is white — with the minority, almost as if the minority blood tainted the white blood. Of course, only the most hardcore inbred racists would openly espouse such views, but I think even amid the jubilation of Obama being elected “the first African American president”, a lot of people overlooked the fact that he was mixed race, with a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas. Obama has stated over and over the importance of his mixed race heritage in shaping his world view.

The fact that a guy with a decidedly un-Anglo name like Barack Hussein Obama was elected president of the United States is fantastic. It means so much to me personally, as a person of mixed race, with an un-Anglo-sounding name. I’m a mutt too, with Swiss-German-Italian-Vietnamese blood, and I grew up in America. But, unlike Obama, whose mix with the dominant African gene makes him appear “more black” to most people, I have a weird mix that actually makes me look Latino. I grew up with people thinking I was Mexican, Brazilian, Columbian, Arabic, you name it — but mostly they thought I was Mexican. Growing up in California you are surrounded by Mexican culture, so this was inevitable for someone who looked like me. I never got offended, but it always reinforced my gut feeling that I was different, that I didn’t have a place anywhere. But there are certain advantages to this Zelig-like existence.

I used to valet park cars, for example, and the vatos driving their lowriders would only park with me because I was folk —they obviously thought I was Mexican and could handle their cars. It was pretty damn cool to drive those lowriders around! Being a weird mix also allows me to blend-in in a lot of places. One time in Budapest, of all places, I was stopped on the street and asked for directions in Hungarian; and here in Spain, people take it for granted that I am from here. I’ve had conversations with people who, upon finding out that I am not from here, were convinced that I was from somewhere in South America. When I told them no, I’m American, they looked at me as if I was some kind of Uncle Tom denying his true roots. I just let them think that, because I am really tired of explaining my life story to people. I have even worked with Americans who had a hard time believing that I really was American, and not Spanish.

The most dubious honor of all, though, is when I fill out census forms. When asked for your race, the options are usually Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and, best of all, Other. Since I can’t pick two, which would do justice to both of my parents, and because I can’t completely identify with either of the broad rubrics of Caucasian and Asian, I always pick Other. My entire life can, in a way, be defined by my choice of picking Other. I could never identify with anything else.

Obama is a mutt, and so am I. This is really about the rise of the mutts. We shelter-dogs haven’t been adequately represented in this crazy world that fetishizes purebreds. Purebreds aren’t better, and sometimes they can get snappy. Just look at Barney, Bush’s Scottish Terrier, who cruelly snapped at a reporter and drew blood the day after Obama’s election.

It made me wonder. Could Barney’s shockingly un-presidential behavior really be symbolic of the end of purebred fetishizers? Could it be their last lashing out?

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7 Responses to “The Rise of the Mutts”

  1. 1 Tom

    Nice post.

    I was thinking of starting my post about Obama’s election by noting that he is the 44th at-least-50%-white American President. But I couldn’t get it to sound right, so I went for claiming that I’d won it for him instead.

    Is there such a thing as a pure breed anyway? Race is, after all, more of a construct than anything else. It began in Africa, didn’t it? Only about 5000 generations ago.

  2. 2 Unnatural Habitat

    Yeah, you’re obviously right about the common ancestry – that’s enough to debunk the fetishists. But I was also trying to get at another point – that a lot of race fetishizing only has to do with superficial qualities whose roots are often very surprising.

  3. 3 RayTibbitts

    Your post handled this tricky subject beautifully.
    Long live us mutts. gives ‘chucho’ as a translation?

  4. 4 Unnatural Habitat

    Somos chuchos chulos comiendo cucuruchos.

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