Not only is the world becoming more ethnically diverse, but Hollywood is as well. Ask any young American who the most famous Asians are, and they’ll list off the same individuals: television heartthrob Dean Cain, golf legend Tiger Woods, movie star Keanu Reeves, news anchor Ann Curry, rock star Doug Robb. What do all these stars have in common? Besides being popular in the public eye, they are all multiracial.
Being multiracial in today’s world is not necessarily becoming more popular, but there is a definite feeling of not being alone. Instead of the desperate feeling of being stuck between two cultures, many young people have looked up to new organizations celebrating mixed diversity.
The Mavin Foundation is a nonprofit organization that is redefining diversity by celebrating multiracial and transracially-adopted youth. In 2001, Mavin founded MatchMaker, the only national program dedicated to mixed race bone marrow donor recruitment and education, because of the chronic shortage of multiracial donors on the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).
Tens of thousands of people a year are diagnosed with diseases that are treatable with a marrow or blood stem transplant. A marrow match is usually found with someone of the same racial or ethnic background. A program like MatchMaker is desperately needed because of the 7 million donors worldwide, registered with the NMDP Registry, only 25% are racial minorities –and only 2% are multiracial. MatchMaker works at diversifying the pool of potential donors with registration drives and public education on this subject.
This spring, MatchMaker launched 65 marrow drives with 35 student organizations across the nation. A press conference was held at San Jose State University to help kick-off the bone marrow drive. A search to find a life-saving bone marrow match for two-year-old leukemia patient, Chloe Chang, is the focus of the nationwide effort highlighted by 11 Bay Area drives.
Gordon Chang, Ph.D., Chloe’s father and professor of Asian American Studies at Stanford University, says his wife and he are touched by the community response.
“In our experience, many, many people, biracial and other minority communities, have responded energetically, once they have heard about the plight of biracial children and the difficulty of matching,” Dr. Chang says. “But of course that is the challenge: getting the word out.”
Chloe’s leukemia was in remission, but she relapsed last fall and needs a bone marrow transplant, the only known cure. The search is made more difficult because she is multiracial. As mentioned, only 2% of registered donors are multiracial.
Sharon Sugiyama, Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) Director, brings up the point that until recently, donors could only designate one racial or ethnic group, so there are a number of registrants who are multiracial but not identified that way. Based solely on what she has heard, Sugiyama says, “…multi-racial patients fare almost as well as Caucasians and better than other minorities in their search for matching donors.”
Regardless, Sugiyama believes that people need to be educated to register as a potential bone marrow donor. She speaks from personal experience about the need for organizations like A3M. It’s about life and death.
“A3M began in response to patients’ needing matching donors for bone marrow transplant to have a chance to live,” Sugiyama says. “My nephew was a patient in 1990-91 when there were only a few thousand Asian donors in the NMDP.”
The number of donors going up will not help everyone. “Since ethnicity is a factor, minority donors do not fare as well as Caucasians in searching the donor databases which are made up largely of Caucasians,” Sugiyama explains. “Tissue types, used for matching, are inherited and can be traced to geographic origin.”
“The brother of a searching patient once told us that ‘every donor counts,’” Sugiyama says. “A few months later a registrant from one of our drives became his brother’s donor. That is a miracle and we believe in miracles!”