the mixed race project

October 10, 2011 |  Category:   growing up half photography

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.

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  • linda October 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

    beautiful stories, photos & purpose, love the project!

  • Michelle October 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Hey Jenna,

    I LOOOOOOVE this! I am Japanese, my husband is caucasian (a mix of norwegian, german, and english) and so our little daughter is a hapa girl. I can’t get over how much our little Lily looks like Claudine. Growing up, I had a little bit of a problem with my Asian background, but I am loving how different cultures are being embraced today.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that this project is amazing. I love seeing how the mix of cultures comes into play in people’s lives. Keep up the good work!

  • Erin October 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    How wonderful!!

  • gabriela October 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    it’s the selby…in color! love it. totally see this as a book one day? i’m new mexican (mexican-american, sw american indian, spanish, french) and my fiance is half-chinese, half-chicano (mexican american from los angeles), so i’m excited to see all the interesting and beautiful permutations of living, race and culture you capture. hope you have a chance to cover a reange of socioeconomic status’ as well.

  • Lia October 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Congratulations on your new project, the pictures are so real that they almost speak for themselves! I grew up in Brazil, and my parents adopted a black boy, my brother Pedro. My parents are brunette, my biological brother and I were very blond (because all my aunts were blond) and my adopted brother is black (a mix of native Brazilian Indian with African Brazilian). So we made a very interesting family with lots of people staring at us. My brother Pedro has cerebral palsy so he does not really understand that he is from a different race than us. As for me, I am only reminded that he is from a different race than us when people stare, otherwise we are just part of the same family. In Brazil people are more open to mixed race marriages, I think that is why there are so many beautiful women in Brazil, because the mix in races creates very beautiful features. (your project reminded of a website called the glow, where they show mothers in their own environment)

  • Mary October 13, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Hello Jenna. Thank you for creating The Mixed Race Project – it was beautiful and fascinating. From a personal perspective, it was interesting to think about how my cultural identity will shape that of my first baby due in January. I am Chinese and grew up in Hong Kong and the UK. My parents are very anglicised and whilst there are ways in which I identify as Chinese, overall, I feel more ‘Western’ but not necessarily English. My husband is White Australian but having lived in the UK for many years and having some British heritage, sees himself as both English and Australian. Our child will be growing up (for the foreseeable future at least) in Sydney, Australia. I really look forward seeing the project develop. You have created a wonderful and clearly thought-provoking documentary of how many modern families live.

  • Jen October 13, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I saw this article in the NY Times this morning and it made me think of your project.

  • Jenna October 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    @Jen – I did see the article. Everyone’s been sending this to me today 🙂

  • Sands October 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    it’s such a wonderful idea and I find it very coincidental that I should click on this post today while I’ve been reading this very illuminating book by Beverly Tatum called “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” in order to better understand some of the stuff my 7 year old “brown skinned” son is going through in a predominantly white school.

  • Karen October 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I was just looking at my 16 year-old niece’s Homecoming pictures on her Facebook page – I guess a bunch of kids got together and rented a limo so there were 9 couples in the photo – Latino girl with an African-American boy, 2 white girls with African-American boys, a Latino girl with an Asian boy, an African-American girl with an Asian boy, a white girl with an Asian boy, and 3 white/white couples. When I lived in the same area as she does (Fairfax County, VA), it was almost all white. I’m happy to see that the melting pot is beginning to blend, even in such a conservative area. I sent her the link to your project and she thought it was fascinating because she didn’t realize that there was ever an issue with inter-racial relationships, and that made me so happy!

  • Kat October 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Jenna, Congrats and thank you for creating the Mixed Race Project. I love your blog because it’s a wonderful and intimate diary of urban family life. We live in Alexandria, Virginia and work and do daycare in downtown D.C. Our 2.5 year old daughter is Filipino, English, German, and Scottish. The first time I realized how she saw relationships was when she will got her Woody and Ni Hao Kai-Lan dolls and played with them as a couple.

  • Lindsay November 29, 2011 at 12:27 am

    I’m a little late here, but just wanted to let you know that I am so in love with this project. I’m mixed race (my father is Chinese and my mother is caucasian), and have lived my whole life feeling like I need to associate with one identity or the other. It’s taken me twenty-some years to finally come to this point where I feel like I can claim mixed-race as an identity in and of itself, as a distinct part of my personality and experiences that has shaped who I am. I am so glad to see you also embracing this idea of mixed-race families creating a distinct and special space in the world. Can’t wait to see what this project becomes. Sending much love your way! -Lindsay

  • Michelle December 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    what a lovely idea! i recently stumbled across your website a little while ago. i am also of mixed heritage (half korean, half british/irish). i never really had any racial identity issues or discrimination against my person (perhaps once or twice in my lifetime). but if i am to be honest with myself, i do feel like i identify more with my korean heritage, mainly because i was raised by my korean mother after my parents divorced when i was 6. it boggles my mind how close-minded people are about interracial relationships, dating, and marriages. love should not be barricaded by boundaries. it is not something that can be contained and labeled in a neat category. and to end this comment on a lighter note, one of the best things about being mixed? the food! 🙂

  • Misa February 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    What a wonderful idea! I came across your website from a blog I read quite often.

    My hertiage is Filipina/Irish. I was raised in an town with very little to no minorities. At a young age, I experinced alot of discrmination and struggled at times with racial idenity. I recall when I was to “check one” box that indicates your ethnicity my father used to to tell me I am blessed by both worlds and to “check two boxes”
    As I grew older, I learned that my hertiage was nothing short of beautiful,although my classmates would tell me otherwise- which led me to struggle with my identity.

    My partner is Cambodian and we have a 2yr old daughter. I am excited to read more about this project and would love to be involved when you are ever in the Seattle Area.

  • Caroline May 11, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Hi Jenna- I don’t usually chime in, but I have long admired your blog, you are a fantastic writer and your writing is very therapeutic for me. I’m half Japanese raised in the bay area, it was really no big deal to be 2 different nationalities. Almost common! I now live in Portland..I have 2 daughters and they look so different. The older one is freckly, blonde, & blue eyed.. the younger looks more like my Mom’s japanese side. The other day the older one came home from school and was really hurt because her friend didn’t believe that she was Japanese, and didn’t “see” any japanese qualities..UG..made me feel so bad for her. Anyhoo, I will def. share your photo’s with her, they are really great and show how beautiful and fascinating genes can be! Thank you for what you put out there, it makes me think…C

  • Denis July 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Hi Jenna,

    I am incredibly flabbergasted and taken. This is such a nice and lovely idea. My heart jumps with joy. I just stumbled across this on the internet by chance. Have you ever thought about taking it a bit further?

    I am Afro-German but I am sure that my family, who lives in Germany, would happily contribute to your project.



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