Saturday, August 9, 2014

Zonkies: The Cool Kids of the Animal Kingdom

When I went to college I was in one of the first classes to have a significant number of multiracial students.  In an effort to be as transparent as possible I will take this opportunity to admit I actually had to look up the proper term.  A multiracial American is someone who belongs to two or more races.  This is different from being multiethnic.  Most Americans are multiethnic by default.  If you say you are an American whose ancestors are from Ireland and Germany you are multiethnic.  But someone who is multiracial is from two (or more) different races: black and white, or Asian and white, or Native American and Asian, etc.  Again, please keep in mind, I am a professor of tourism, not a race or ethnicity specialist.

But as I was saying, when I went to college I had a lot of classmates who were multiracial.  This made a lot of sense because kids born in the late 70s/early 80s had parents who were the first to consider and accept interracial marriages in the U.S. And all these kids were very open about this; they really embraced and were proud of the fact that they were a little bit different.  A lot of my friends had dads who were former U.S. military and met their wives overseas during either the Korean or Vietnam wars.  And then I had a lot of other friends who had one black and one white parent.  There were so many of these interracial kids at Hopkins they actually formed a club: the Happy Halfies.  They would introduce one another as, “This is my friend Chris.  He’s a Happy Halfy, just like me!”   To be completely honest, those of us who weren’t halfies were almost a little jealous because they were definitely the epitome of cool kids.  And they were all good looking.  I’m not sure if there is a biological explanation, but there wasn’t a single bad looking guy or girl in the group.

A few years after I graduated I moved to Galena, Alaska to work in a boarding high school.  All of my students were native Alaskans.  Some were Inuit, others Yupik Eskimos, Athabaskans, Aleuts and a few Inupiaqs.  Each year Galena would host a huge basketball tournament in which teams from around the state would fly in and compete.  I always looked forward to this event because there was a huge cultural component, and it gave me a real opportunity to learn more about the differences between the various native groups.  The team from Aniak always amazed me.  Their mascot was the halfbreed.  In the 1970s the Aniak high school students selected the mascot because “it made sense.”  There was a large population of white settlers who intermarried with Yupik Eskimos, resulting in mixed-race kids.  When I was in Galena almost 15 years ago, the mascot was shown as a face cut in half: one side of the face looked like a white settler, the other half of the face had native features and a long braid.  The portrayal has since been changed:
The reason I am writing about my friends the Happy Halfies and the Aniak Halfbreeds is because a story about a zonkey in Crimea recently went viral.  (At least something positive is coming out of poor Ukraine.)  I was looking at CNN this morning and there was a zonkey born in a Crimean zoo recently.  When I was in Botswana I used to see zonkeys from time to time.  They aren’t terribly common, but when a zebra and a donkey fall in love, or have the opportunity, a zonkey is what results.  I am certainly not equating my friends to animals, but anytime I see a zonkey I was always reminded of the Happy Halfies and the Halfbreeds.  In case you are unfamiliar with a zonkey here is a picture from Botswana.  We used to have donkeys wander around town all the time, but here is one of the zonkeys not far from UB:

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