I have a new project to share with you today, something that I’ve been working on for a few months that finally launched on Friday. I got the idea for The Mixed Race Project earlier this year and I swear, sometimes I’m surprised that I managed to put it out there at all. Have you ever worked on a project where you over think the concept and idea to the point that you start doubting yourself? There have been so many doubts and reservations with this project from the start. I wasn’t confident in my photography skills and was afraid I wouldn’t do these families justice. I didn’t necessarily want to focus on the politics of race because it’s such a sensitive topic, however I didn’t want to completely ignore it either. I didn’t know where the balance should lie. I was concerned, because of the logistics of travel, that the families I would be photographing would only be representing a small segment of the multiracial experience, that the project would risk not telling the stories of those who have had a hard time being accepted by their communities. I knew that the project would be richer if it were more geographically diverse and I worried about the criticism of that.
But sometimes you just have to hold your breath and push through. I knew I believed in this project, partly because of the many positive comments and emails from you, dear readers, whenever I shared photographs or wrote about the girls in the context of their mixed race background. I also realized that in my research, I wasn’t finding images of multiracial families that I was curious to see. In many cases, photos of mixed race people always seemed to focus on the face. I was more interested in seeing the family in the context of their homes. I thought it was more revealing of how we lived as multiracial households to see glimpses into their everyday lives.
The online response to the project so far, has been overwhelming. It validated the idea despite all the reservations I had. I think I was too focused on whether the photos were good or worthy enough – this is a photo project after all, and one that I’m using to focus on improving my skills. This was certainly true when in San Francisco I panicked because I didn’t anticipate the foggy and cloudy lighting conditions, so I ran out and bought an expensive flash that saved the shoot, but that I still don’t really know how to use. I am learning all the time and with each shoot. It wasn’t until I received my first set of interview questions back from my gracious volunteer families that I realized none of that stuff mattered. I just needed to put it out there. The photos will improve with time, but I do hope the heart in this project shows through.
Posted by Jenna | 117 Comments
Families are an ever evolving, often complex set of relationships, aren’t they? I look at my parents and my kids, particularly my dad who my brother and I had an uneasy relationship with growing up at times, and see how easy it is between him and the girls. It’s not something that you could ever know until it happens, much like how you don’t really know what kind of parent you will be until you become one. But this…seems so natural (uncooperative family photo poses and all).
And then there is this:
I can tell you that it took my dad a while to accept the fact that my brother was having a baby 2 years ago, mostly because it was a surprise to all of us. It didn’t happen the way that maybe he envisioned it might happen. There was a time when my dad and my brother did not speak for a few months. At one point my brother resigned to the possibility that his kids might not have the same kind of relationship that my kids have with their grandfather. I think as first generation Asian Americans and kids who grow up identifying mostly with American culture, we expect our immigrant parents to accept our decisions no questions asked. I just told my brother to give him some time.
He is right in one sense. My dad doesn’t have quite the same relationship with my brother’s kids as he does with mine, but this is because of distance and nothing more. My brother and his family live in California and we only see them once or twice a year. They were in town to celebrate my nephew’s 2nd birthday and his new daughter’s traditional 100 day celebration.
So it would come as a bit of a surprise to hear my dad make a speech during the party with our whole extended family. That he would be the one to say that despite the fact that maybe the additions to his family might not have been what he envisioned when he thought about it abstractly years ago before any of this ever happened, when he looks at his children’s spouses and his 4 grandchildren, what he sees is family.
Posted by Jenna | 23 Comments
I’ve referred to my mom quite often in recent posts about childhood and parental role models, but not much about my dad. If you’ve been here for while, you may know that my relationship with my dad has been complicated and I keep it generally vague, partially because he started reading the blog about a year and a half ago (you think it’s awkward to get a Facebook request from your parents? Try having your parents read your blog!! Awkward x 10!). But as I’ve written before, the kids have been a great “buffer” in our relationship and he adores them. We see my parents quite often, every 3-4 weeks, and summers are particularly fun because my dad teaches the girls how to harvest lettuce and cucumbers from the backyard garden. We often eat outside, grilling Korean barbeque from a tabletop grill on the patio and Mia’s love of Korean food never ceases to be a source of pleasure and pride for my dad. I often look at the girls and my dad together, when they are out in the garden or taking the dog for a walk, and imagine an image of myself with my dad at that age in their place. While I see snapshots of moments through old photographs, I don’t have a whole lot of early memories of he and I together. I guess that’s not so important anymore. Instead, I’m building new memories.
btw, don’t the girls look like 2 little ajumas? If you’re Korean, you’ll understand.
Posted by Jenna | 43 Comments
I always wonder if mixed race people identify more with one side of their racial makeup than the other. I also wonder if you become influenced by how you identify yourself based on how you look, mostly because that’s what other people see first – your outward appearance. I’ve written about my identity confusion growing up, but my struggle wasn’t about race or ethnicity, but rather, nationality. My girls are undoubtedly American (as I am too), but I wonder if they’ll ever feel confused about what race or ethnicity they “belong” to. Will it matter by then? Does it matter now? They have stronger ties to their Korean heritage than their Russian, Norwegian or Italian side and that mostly comes from being around my side of the family more. Like many families, this centers mostly around food. We always joke that while Mia may be the whitest looking half-Asian kid ever, you can tell she has Korean in her strictly by her love of Korean food (I mean do you know any other kid that can snack on those tiny dried anchovies, right out of the bag, fish head and all, like potato chips? Yeah, thought so). Claudine, who looks more Asian than her sister, doesn’t stray at all from her typical kid diet of Mac & Cheese and other carbs.
But I’m reminded every time we do go up to visit Mark’s uncle and father upstate, that the girls have another ethnic side that we don’t really address here at home, except for these trips to visit family (we don’t really ever learn much about Mark’s Norwegian side of the family in Washington). When we do go upstate, we hear stories about how Mark’s grandmother had a pot of mushroom soup and pierogies waiting every time any grandchildren came to visit.
Mark’s uncle’s house is full of family treasures like the Russsian eggs. The girls like to try and spot Mark, as a child, in all the old family photos hanging up around the house. I’m realizing how important it is to show the girls this side of their family history too. It’s nice to think that they will have fond memories of driving up to Uncle Mike’s house, where a bowl of soup and a plate of pierogies, always await them.
Posted by Jenna | 24 Comments