Do you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Do you love Supernatural? Did you love the X-Files, Battlestar Galactica and Farscape? Why the love for science fiction, space operas or vampires? My love of monsters, vampires, aliens, and in general science fiction comes primarily from my mom who believed every monster story was worth reading or exploring. She even picked up the National Enquirer here and there in that vein. But growing up in the South Bronx, I didn’t really know that many other people that loved science fiction in that way. For a long time, I didn’t think that other Hispanics or ethnic minorities would like science fiction. Didn’t seem to be the popular media perception. Lo and behold I slowly got to meet many science fiction fans that just so happen to be Hispanic, Black or Asian as well as gay or mixed race. That threw me for a while until a good friend of mine noted that in science fiction there is no black or white.
Science fiction provides for expanded ways of conceptualizing race. Further, sexual orientation just is or rather is not an issue. Look at Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood. He is the first openly non-heterosexual character in the history of the Doctor Who television series bringing bisexuality into the open narrative. Science fiction, space operas, monster genres tend to reflect the larger discussions we are having as a society at the time. Look at the recent incarnation of Battlestar Galactica and it’s not so veiled take on the war on terror that was being waged at that time. AT the moment we have at large discussions around immigration, gun control, terrorism and the Hispanic Sleeping Tiger. We read and hear about globalization and racial/mixed identities as immigration and census categories are being continuously debated in the public sphere.
Have you ever seen a Casta Painting? They were one of the first documented forms of racial classification that were panted for wide storytelling. They told the story of Mexicans with a focus on mixed-race families. They were popular in the 18th century and were developed to show the racial differences between people of mixed identity. Interestingly the Casta paintings included descriptions of each person’s racial background. Nowadays, in Mexico, over 80% of the population is mixed race (or Mestizo) in some way or another. While South America has traditionally, historically been a hodgepodge of mixed races, it is predicted that by 2020 the mixed-race population is expected to become Britain’s largest ethnic minority group with the highest growth rate. In the United States, from 2000 to 2010, the number of Americans who consider themselves multiracial grew faster than those who self-identify as a single race. Mixed raced individuals are a growing segment of the world’s population as migration patterns continue to diversity and widen globally. Happy Cinco De Mayo, by the way.
And science fiction novels, films and television shows (of which many great shows are produced in Britain), is mirroring this trend of globalization and multiracial growth the way most science fiction plots do. In recent vampire lore (broadly speaking) there has been the rise of the Dhampir: the human-vampire hybrid. But before delving into the dhampir’s current state of being, let’s take a step back in recent vampire lore.
Actor Benjamin Walker, otherwise known as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” observed, “The vampire craze is kind of fascinating. We’re interested in the idea of immorality and I think we’re drawn to people or creatures who can give in to those base impulses and just be bad and not feel bad about it.” Our fictional archetype for vampires has not changed significantly since the 19th Century, when that showboat Dracula stole the blood-sucking limelight. Dine on blood. Check. Immortal. Check. Seductive. Check. Aristocratic (ever seen a broke vampire?). Check. Of course, vampire personalities have varied, from the tortured, needy vampires of Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyers, to the uninhibited royalty of Stoker et al. By now we have certainly figured out how to deal with them. Wait for daylight. Stake them while they sleep. Problem solved. All the standard representation of the vampire has going for him these days is that there is always a well-intentioned tortured soul that falls in love with him. It no doubt helps that we’ve dropped the ghoulish, poorly groomed Nosferatu and replaced him with Robert Pattinson, Alexander Skarsgård, David Boreanaz, Gary Oldman, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Keifer Sutherland, but it’s hard to get past that fundamental weakness embodied in the allergy to daylight. Not so scary. No wonder vampires have morphed into romantic, troubled characters just looking for a soulmate to fix them and deflect some of their more malign impulses – the modern vampire still has hankering for plasma, but tends towards monogamy. “Sure, I suck blood, but just your blood.” But what if there were a mythological creature with all the nasty predilections of the vampire, and none of the fatal flaws? Fear not. Or maybe you should fear. Traditional Balkan vampire mythology offers just such a little creature in the Dhampir, or more specifically, the improbable offspring of a vampire and a human. The new (well, more widely talked about) vampire archetype that of the mixed race child (that rapidly grows up).
The Dhampir (sometimes dhampyre, dhamphir, or dhampyr, derived from the Albanian “Drink with Teeth”; Serbian=vampirović; Bosnian= lampijerović; Bulgarian=glog or vampirdzhiya), as the half-breed spawn of vampires have a lot of the same culinary preferences, but tend to blend in with the populace. Some of the distinctive characteristics ascribed to the Dhampir are unruly black hair, lack of a shadow, having a soft body without nails or bones (not clear how they stand up), a mark on the back like a tail, a pronounced nose, and large ears, eyes, and teeth. Sounds a little like the character of Connor- the son of Angel the vampire and Darla in her human state on the television show Angel. The character of Renesmee Cullen from The “Twilight Saga”, is a dhampir, because she is the daughter of a vampire (Edward), and a human (Bella). I don’t know what the future holds for Renesmee’s character, but I do know that for Connor his day-to-day was fraught with confusion and danger at what he was or rather he was angry for he didn’t know what he was.
In mythology, dhampirs often reject their vampire blood and become extremely successful vampire hunters due to their advanced abilities. However, despite their help to the human race, they are continually rejected nonetheless because of their vampire blood. Thus, dhampirs most always spend their life as nomads, rejected by both humans and vampires. The vampires reject the mixed race dhampir due to the strength of the dhampirs and the humans reject the dhampirs due to fear of the dhampirs’ strength. Thus, the dhampir is caught between two identities trying to figure out their true self and how to navigate the worldly terrain.
In the current public sphere we have President Obama, Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Tiger Woods just to name a few mixed race individuals who have had public discussions and “battles” with their identities. A key factor in the lives of multiracial children is how they are labeled by themselves, their families, and society in general. Many mixed race individuals when asked on a form to identity what they are oftentimes just mark “other”; at times feeling like they are chameleons, invisible or marked. A model of the identity development of multiracial children and youth proposed in the last two decades (Poston , 1990) suggests that families may foster identity choices for their children that encompass “human,” “multiracial,” and “monoracial” options. Thus, there is a complicated identity development process for multiracial youth. Something that dhampirs also go through; as we have seen with the characters of Connor, Harlan Draka, Rayne, Blade, and many others.
In the twilight saga, while a vampire’s skin sparkles when exposed to sunlight thus burning them, a dhampir’s skin has a weak glow allowing them to blend in more easily with human beings as they can walk out in the bright sun. This blending in the sunlight can be considered the equivalent of what is often referred to in the everyday lives of mixed race children as “passing.”
Dhampirs are not the first half-breed; hybrid or mixed raced mythological being. We have throughout the ages discussed the Nephilim who were the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men according to Genesis 6:4. Mixed race being have been with us throughout time and have been a part of our collective folklore as well. Let’s see where the dhampir mythology goes in the future-will there still be a fascination with hybrids and will hybrids still have to try to choose between their identities? Further, how will the upcoming national census describe our collective society?
It’s Cinco de Mayo, so grab your Corona, dance to a few mariachi performances and enjoy the sun and cultural diversity of our rapidly-shrinking world.
Just for the sake of silliness and weirdness you can take a quiz, to find out if you are more like a werewolf, vampire, human or hybrid.