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Interview with Kim Wayans

One of my favorite parts (and there are many) of serving as Teen Project RACE President is the awesome people I get to talk with about our work.

This week I had the privilege of interviewing actress and writer Kim Wayans who along with her husband Kevin Knotts have authored a beautiful series of children's books called Amy Hodgepodge (www.amyhodgepodge.com) about a young Multiracial girl and her diverse group of friends.

I have been following Kim on Twitter and really appreciate how active she is in our cause. Currently you can see Kim (and some of those hilarious Wayans Brothers) in the new film Dance Flick. It was great talking with her and here's some of our conversation...

Kim Wayans
Amy Hodgepodge

Kayci: Thanks so much for agreeing to let me interview you! I was so excited to learn about your strong support of the growing Multiracial population. With the election of President Obama, Multiracial America seems to be a hotter topic than ever before. Let's start by talking about your books. What was the inspiration for the Amy Hodgepodge book series?

Kim: My husband and I have 38 nieces and nephews, many of whom are Multiracial. We created Amy Hodgepodge because we felt it was really important that they see themselves reflected positively in children's literature. They were our main source of inspiration, but looking around we see that the world has become increasingly multiracial. It's just the way things are.

Kayci: What's the main message you're trying to get across to kids through your books?

Kim: We really want to use the books to promote tolerance and encourage kids to feel good about themselves. We want to help young people embrace diversity because diversity is a beautiful thing.

Kayci: So, your 6th book is due out in May... will there be more after that?

Kim: We've written 7 books so far. The 6th will come out in May and the 7th will follow the next season.

Kayci: Do you plan to branch out beyond books, like maybe an Amy Hodgepodge TV show or movie?

Kim: Sure! We would love to do a movie, a cartoon. The whole thing. It would be great to build an entire Amy Hodgepodge Empire. But for right now, we're focusing on promoting the books.

Kayci: I'm African American and Irish American like your Amy Hodgepodge character, Lola, and I self-identify as Multiracial. Why do you think some people identify with one part of their heritage and not another, while others identify themselves as all that they are?

Kim: I think some Multiracial people choose to identify with just one race because of the societal limits that have been placed on them but that's changing. People now feel like society is giving them the ok to be more than one thing. You're 2 or 4 or 5 races and that's cool. That's ok. There's a whole new sense of pride. So people are steppin' up. Another part of how people identify depends on how you socialize. Some people are only exposed to one aspect of their culture. You may only know one side and so you naturally identify with that side. If you spent all your time with your Black relatives and had no exposure to the other side of your family, you're probably going to identify as Black.

Kayci: I read that you started writing stories in 4th grade. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Kim: I actually began writing stories in 5th grade. I would write these stories and then read them to my fellow students. I loved it. I'd tell aspiring writers to write as much as possible and to share their writing with others. See if your teacher will let you share with other students and classes. To get that live feedback is very encouraging. I'd also tell them to carry a little notebook, an idea book. Because you never know when inspiration's gonna hit.

Kayci: You've been involved in so many things – you're an actress, comedian, writer, producer... what is your passion?

Kim: That's a hard question because I love them all. My passion is being creative in all its many forms. I love apples, oranges and pears! I can't choose which I love the best. I love it all. I just really love being creative. That's what I love. Creativity is my passion.

Kayci: Those careers are so glamorous and a lot of teens dream of pursuing them, but do you see a downside to working in the entertainment industry?

Kim: Well, sure. If you get swept up in it. If you're not a person who's rooted and if you don't understand that your self worth is not about what you do but rather who you are, then it can be a tough business. You gotta know that that's not who I am. My work doesn't define me. If you're dependent on that recognition. If that's you're food and without it you don't feel worthy, then it's a dark place.

Kayci: What race is your husband, Kevin? And were your families accepting of your marriage?

Kim: My husband is white. Our families were really very accepting. We didn't have any problems. His family loved me and my family loved him. They were just glad we found someone who made us happy. And like I said, my family's all mixed anyhow. We're all over the place racially. So it's really, really fine for both of us.

Kayci: Do you plan to have children of your own?

Kim: I don't think so. We're pretty cool with our life the way it is. We have lots of kids in our lives, and we're happy with that. We've got those 38 nieces and nephews and all the children we meet when we go to schools and libraries to promote Amy Hodgepodge. That's a lot of fun and they've all become a part of our lives. And we love that.

Kayci: I always wanted a big brother... What was it like growing up in your family?

Kim: It was so much fun! I had 5 brothers, one passed away 7 years ago, and 4 sisters. So with 10 kids you know it was crazy. We always had somebody to make up a basketball team. We were very lively, acting out skits, laughing, and always having a good time.

Kayci: What excites or encourages you about young people today?

Kim: It excites me the fact that multiculturalism is something that the younger generation has thrown their arms around and embraced fully. Race doesn't have the kind of importance to the younger generation that it did to previous generations. Young people today don't really care about labeling people and fitting someone into a certain box. I love how the younger generation is so motivated to try to change the world. With all they did to help nominate Barack, with getting involved in environmental issues... We haven't seen this kind of involvement in a long time and it's very exciting.

Kayci: What most concerns you about young people?

Kim: Well, I'm a little concerned about the impact of the over-usage of technology. Sure there are many wonderful aspects to it, but there's a danger of it taking over. Whenever I talk to my nieces and nephews it's always text this, text that. Text, text. Technology is taking over interpersonal communication. And that's a problem. I think about e-books. I hope they never replace actual books that you can hold in your hand and turn the pages. I can't imagine a world without books. Don't want to. I hate the thought of kids growing up without knowing the magic of curling up in bed with a good book.

Kayci: Do you have concerns about Multiracial identification diluting the political power of other minority groups or being seen as an effort by people who wish to distance their selves from the minority group?

Kim: No. I don't have that concern at all. One day I hope there will be no boxes. We're all part of the human race. That's the race that everyone falls into and all that other stuff won't matter. But, this is the world we live in now. So while it's necessary we will embrace the diversity that we have. But it's definitely my hope that one day we'll evolve beyond race.

Kayci: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the members and readers of TPR?

Kim: Beyond that, I just want people to know that I'm really excited about the Amy Hodgepodge series. I think it's an important one. There's just nothing else like that out there where Multiracial kids can see characters that look like them. And I'd love people to talk to their schools and libraries about it.

Kayci: Well, we really appreciate your books and all you're doing to support Multiracial legislation in California and to increase awareness of Multiracial issues everywhere!

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