Nooksack Tribe member explores multiracial culture
By DEAN KAHN / The Bellingham Herald

Condensed by Native Village

Bellingham, Wash. -- Louie Gong grew up eating American Indian bread for breakfast and Chinese dinners cooked on a camp stove.

In the evening, his Chinese and native relatives got together for mahjongg.

Gong's mother was of French and Scottish descent. His father was half Chinese, part Nooksack and part Squamish.

Early on, Gong was raised by his grandparents, father, stepmother and scads of relatives in a rustic community north of Abbotsford, B.C. Later, his family moved into Nooksack Indian Tribe housing near Deming.

Growing up in Whatcom County and graduated from Nooksack Valley High in 1992. He learned to navigate in a world where mixed-race people often struggle to define themselves while others prefer to sort them into categories.

"I couldn't quite figure out what I was," he said, "but I knew I wasn't part of the mainstream."

Today, Gong, 35, is a rising young figure in the world of multiracial culture and advocacy. An educator and activist, he uses art and modern media to help multiracial people respect their mixed heritage.

"The way that people respond to us really creates the mixed-race experience," he said.

After high school, was the first family member to attend college. He graduated from Western Washington University with a master's degree in school counseling. Then he became a school counselor and therapist for American Indian kids, an English teacher in South Korea and an advisor to students at the University of Washington.

Today Louie is an administrator at Muckleshoot Tribal College. He's also board president of the MAVIN Foundation, a Seattle nonprofit that sponsors a magazine, community events and online resource library for people of mixed race.

 Last year Louie posted a video on YouTube inviting multiracial people to create videos answering the question, "What are you?" It has inspired many video postings ranging from sweet to serious to funny.

More recently, Gong has become a shoe artist. A fan of Vans shoes, he bought a plain pair and decorated it with a Coast Salish design. The shoes won many compliments each time he wore them, so Gong now makes a dozen or so a month to sell. He has posted a video at YouTube explaining how he decorates the shoes.

Some of Loius' shoes were exhibited with a short film about his life and work during November's American Indian Film Festival at Bellevue College.

 While issues of race haven't disappeared, Gong said his multiracial life has been less challenging than what his parents' generation faced, and he expects his children will be even more readily accepted.

"We're making progress," he said, "but we have a long way to go."

What are YouTube?: multiracial and mixed heritage folks:
Custom Shoes: Basic Tips for Vans and Chucks by Louie Gong:

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