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 17 years ago '04        #1
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Mar 23 - Mya Speaks on growing up BI-Racial In DC


"I grew up just outside Washington and, with my dad being African American and my mother being Caucasian, I was teased about my ethnic background. I'd avoid going anywhere with them because I knew I'd get stared at all the time. When we all went shopping together the kids used to call me 'zebra' or 'newspaper'. I tried to laugh with them, but it still really hurt. When I was seven I transferred to a predominantly black school, and then I really noticed the problem. I was skinny, shy, mixed race and had very curly hair, and people used to call me 'Afro puff'' or 'Hairy Harrison' and no-one stood up for me 'cause everyone wanted to be accepted. I stopped letting my mom do my hair ' cause she used to make it even more bushy.

In America, everything is black or white: people used to ask me which one I would rather be. I got teased for so many things I began to accept it. I thought this was just how life would be from now on. I started to write in a journal almost every night. Months later I would read it again and found I was repeating the same things over and over: how I wished I could be famous so that everyone would like me, how I longed for straight hair. I spoke to my parents about the problems I was having and they'd always tell me I was beautiful, but because I was hearing something different from the kids I felt my parents were lying to me to get me to shut up. I stopped going to them for help 'cause I just didn't believe them.

The worst moment came when I was about 11. This guy was making fun of me on the bus after school, saying 'Hairy Harrison, you afro puff, your hair's too curly'. He started messing with my hair and pulling it really hard, and when we got off the bus, I turned around and hit him. We started f*ghting with everyone watching us! Funnily enough the f*ght kind of helped, 'cause people said I really kicked his behind! Violence is never the answer, but being teased can drive you to do crazy things, and if you're not careful you can wind up in jail. You have to find positive outlets like sport, so your energy is dedicated into hitting a ball instead of someone else's face. That's why I'm so good at tap dancing: I'm thinking of all those people when I'm stomping the floor!

By the age of 12 I was dancing with TWA (Tappers With Attitude). We were multi-cultural kids performing for major audiences, even studying in New York with tap legends. At 14 I developed a solo tap career, teaching kids. I also made money from drawing portraits of kids in my class, and I grew to be accepted-I wasn't the teen queen or anything, but I was a little more popular. It wasn't until I got into high school that I appreciated who I was. All the things I'd done to isolate myself- draw or sing to myself, or dance in the basement- developed into talent.

I'm now involved with Secret To Self Esteem, an organization dedicated to helping young girls become strong women, where we give tips on dealing with stress and developing a positive body image. There's a symposium every year of around 300 girls, and I'll even read to them from my journal. They totally relate to how I never had a boyfriend, and how on Valentine's Day I hated going to school 'cause I'd see all the girls walking around with flowers and teddy bears. We all come in different shapes, colors and sizes, and you can't define beauty from the outside. As I always say, you can only get to where you want to go if you remember where you came from."