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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  • Tiffany October 10, 2011 at 3:55 am

    I already told you on twitter, but I am really DIGGING this project. I can’t wait to see more families! 🙂

  • Stephanie L October 10, 2011 at 4:19 am

    Super like! This is great! I love the quotes on how each family instill and teach their children about their cultural background. It can easily be lost through a generation. I know that when I have kids I will definitely be as Chinese to them as I can so that they won’t be missing out on an awesome culture and history. They will always pick up the American ways as long as they live here. And I love hearing that families are accepting. You are doing some amazing documentary! 🙂

  • Tamsin Allen October 10, 2011 at 4:23 am

    Hi Jenna,
    I’ve already tweeted you about this, but I just wanted to reiterate that I think this is such a good idea. It’s personal and real and I love it. Sometimes in life we just have to create things that really mean something to us – that passion and emotion really shows through in your photographs. We all want a better world, a more integrated world and I think this is definitely a positive piece in the complex jigsaw puzzle.

    I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while, but never commented – props to you and Mark for all that you have achieved so far and all that you will go on to achieve.

    🙂

  • Magda October 10, 2011 at 5:34 am

    I love this project idea. It will be such an interesting set of photos.
    I’m glad you decided to do this after all and I’m looking forward to more photos. This one is beautiful.

  • JL October 10, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Amazing project.

  • carmen October 10, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Jenna,

    I loved reading the stories of the three families at the Project website. The photos of the families together were beautiful and really helped me identify with them. It gives me great joy to see mixed families together, as one day my husband and I will start our own little multi racial family (I’m 100 p/c Salvadoran and he’s an ethnically Indian Malaysian).

    All the best,

  • pemora October 10, 2011 at 8:06 am

    this is amazing…great job + gift to us! i have already shared it via twitter.

    ~p

  • tina October 10, 2011 at 8:28 am

    I love this new project. I will be following it. Being myself an immigrant in the US -from Venezuela- but born and raised in an Italian family I identified a lot with the stories you shared. I will be reading since we are kind of a mixed race family as well and I feel I need to learn a few stuff to pass them to my kid who is American 1st. generation. Thanks, I always enjoy reading you.

  • Niina October 10, 2011 at 8:36 am

    I LOVE this idea so much! I’m Japanese/Finnish myself and I’ve had to overcome a lot being biracial. I often wonder what it will be like for my children (when I have them) as my partner is Welsh so they would only be 1/4 asian. I’d like them to be proud of all their heritage. I was interesting reading about the other families and how they integrate culture into their every day life, it’s quite inspiring! I look forward to seeing more families.

  • RebeccaNYC October 10, 2011 at 8:46 am

    So interesting, and brave. Thanks!

  • jen October 10, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Love the project, Jenna! You will learn something with each shoot, about the families, yourself, and your photo skills. By the way, the photo you posted here is beautiful!

  • Yasmeen October 10, 2011 at 9:03 am

    This is a wonderful project.It’s personal, and as you add to the collection I’m sure we’ll see that each person handles race and ethnicity differently. It’s interesting to see how individuals who are not themselves mixed handle this once they are raising children who are interracial.

  • Kelly October 10, 2011 at 9:25 am

    this is such a wonderful idea! as the future parent of a mixed race child, i cannot wait to sit down and look through these.

  • Erica October 10, 2011 at 9:55 am

    You’re amazing. I love reading about you and your family every day and this new project is is just as wonderful!

  • april October 10, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Jenna, your storytelling through pictures literally gave me chills. What an awesome idea that you are executing so well!!!

  • Gaia October 10, 2011 at 10:07 am

    What a wonderful project! I meant to only look through quickly and then come back later, but I ended up pouring over every picture and story. I can’t wait to see more.

  • Mary October 10, 2011 at 10:20 am

    The photos are gorgeous and I can’t wait to sit down with my kids and show them pictures of other families who look much the way they do.
    Thank you for taking the time to do this, it is such a valuable project!

  • Rebecca October 10, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Fantastic! I just read through the entire thing and can’t wait for more stories. Beautiful photography too!

  • Sue October 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

    What a wonderful project! I’m Asian and my husband in Caucasian so I have a soft spot in my heart for this project.

  • Ines Anchondo October 10, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Our family is racially mixed too. I am Mexican-American and my husband is Caucasian (but a few years back we learned his paternal grandmother was black). This is a wonderful project!

  • Sherry October 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I love this project! I’m Korean (adopted when I was six months) and my husband is Caucasian (half German/half Swedish). We have a three and half year old son. I grew up in an all white small town Minnesota farming community. There were only white kids in my class and the classes above & below me. It wasn’t until I was in high school that another Caucasian family adopted two Korean babies in our community. This is project is very interesting to me on so many levels. I can relate to the family with V about my son. When we are in restaurants or play grounds with other Asian kids, he looks very Caucasian but when we’re with Caucasian kids, he looks Asian. I know he already knows that he looks different but it’s more of everyone is different colors different. He thinks that we look brown and his friends & cousins are white. He has not encountered anymore with that as we live in a suburb of a fairly large city. I do worry about what his ethnicity will play in his life. Thank you for sharing this project and starting it. I really like the home family aspect of it. Our joke between me and my husband is “we have the only Asian kid that doesn’t eat rice”. He can use chopsticks pretty well and loves chicken with noodles. But no rice for him.

  • Cecilia Madden October 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

    As usual, your photos and beautifully crafted words tell so much. Way to go with your gut and put this bold project out there.

  • Clara October 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Jenna- I love this project. I love seeing all the work you do, but it’s so interesting to see something totally different than Whimsey and Spice or your other design projects. Your depth of talent is incredible, and reading about how you dove into this project head first is so inspiring!

  • Kelly October 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

    this is an amazing, fantastic project.

  • marlene October 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Bravo Jenna. This is an awesome project. I love it. I love the quotes, the pictures and peeking into their lives. Can’t wait to “meet” the next family 🙂

  • DCA October 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I am so excited for this project. My husband (white) and I (Venezuelan-American) are thinking about starting a family, but this has always scared me. While we live in NYC now, we grew up in the South and know what it’s like to hear off-hand comments or feel the stare of strangers just because we’re together – I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into that. Living in NYC has made the decision easier and I think it will be great to start out family here.

  • R @ Learning As I Chop October 10, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Wow, I love this site. I’m not mixed race, but I’m mixed cultures (dad was born here while mom was not) and it’s always interesting. The photographs are absolutely beautiful. Email me if you’re interested in learning about how you can fundraise to expand this site.

  • silvia October 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

    hi jenna! i read your blog because you tell stories about your family through your photos beautifully, but also because i can assimilate with your experiences growing up as a first generation korean american. I’m a brazillian born, korean, first generation american (does that make sense? i don’t even know anymore…) and my baby who is due in november will be half korean/half white (from a father that i have recently separated from (shortly after any news of a baby) who comes from a strictly conservative southern background.) i seem to have a handful to deal with at the moment but i am definitely looking forward to reading about the stories of other families with multiracial experiences. 🙂

  • sorah October 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

    What a wonderful project and thank you for sharing this with us! It’s so interesting to see how two sometimes very different cultures come together to raise a family.

    Can’t wait to see and read more!

  • ECA October 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Wonderful idea! This really interests me. I am from the heartland, middle America, and am married to a Costa Rican. We have had some challenges resulting from our backgrounds, but it helps to have been raised in such a hispanic city (Miami) where we met. I love that our children have opened their eyes to other nationalities because of this.

  • Renita October 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Interesting … I wish this project was around when I was growing up (filipino/black) … I remember as a child I was constantly looking around for someone from my planet, outside our economic status (working poor). And now I see ‘flavor’ everywhere … what a relief

  • sarah-overthinking mama October 10, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    i love this idea!! if you ever need families outside of NY please let me know.. i would love to do it.. I am caucasian and so is my son.. my daughter is bi-racial- half caucasian and half african american. I am also a single mom..

    this is awesome! thank you for doing this and i can’t wait to see more!

  • katie October 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    i love the idea of this project – especially since if i have children with my current boyfriend, they will be biracial [he’s a second generation asian american and i’m your typical european mutt of sorts].

  • Tracy October 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Jenna,

    What a lovely photography project! I read your blog from Singapore, and your photos hit close to home. My husband (Japan born, American-Argentine) and I (Singapore born, Chinese-Filipino) are also raising two multi-racial girls. I hope your photos continue to touch many people, and show everyone that we really are all family in the end!

    Cheers!

  • Nadia October 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Jenna, this is wonderful. I just went through all the photos that you’ve featured and all I can say is Yes. As a product of mixed race and culture, I always thought the “normalcy” factor was lacking in photos about mixed kids. I’m now married to someone who is a different race from my mixed race and we often talk about how our kids would be extra mixed. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but thank you for this project! Keep it up.

  • Michele October 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    So wonderful! You might like this book: http://www.amazon.com/Part-Asian-100%25-Hapa-Fulbeck/dp/0811849597/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1318265455&sr=8-3

  • Danielle October 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    This is a great idea, and the photos are stunning. I love these kinds of projects that do so much just by giving a glimpse of what other lives are like.

  • Audrie October 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    I just spent the last few minutes looking through pictures with my husband. He’s Caucasian and I’m Chinese, so this is very close to our hearts. Thanks for a starting such a wonderful project 🙂

  • Aya October 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Jenna–This is GREAT! I love it. As with everything you share with us, this project is filled with grace, thoughtfulness and intelligence. Your photographs are so natural. I feel like a fly on the wall. As a mixed-race gal (Japanese-Sicilian American) with a Polish-Welsh-Irish partner, I get so excited seeing mixed families and the lovely children they produce. It makes me hopeful for the world my future children will live in.

  • Shreya October 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    What a wonderful project – waiting to see and read more.

  • siri October 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Just spent the past 30 min. looking through your project (could have, and really should have spent another 30+) It’s wonderful. Really wonderful. It becomes more and more clear that your photographic talent goes far beyond food and family. Looking forward to seeing more!

  • Jessica October 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    a simply beautiful idea.

  • Damaris @KitchenCorners October 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Love this new project. It’s an important one and I’m glad you’d documenting important things, not just because bi-racial should be celebrated but because LIFE needs to be celebrated more, period.

    I just wrote a LONG comment over at Design Mom, so I won’t do it all over here but basically I would love to sit down with you at your husband’s pastry shop (yes, that would be perfect actually) and talk to you about my experience.

    If you want to document a Bi-Racial family (I’m Brazilian, my husband is white and grew up in Hawaii) then you’re welcome to visit us. We’ll be in Brazil for a year. Brazil is a really good place to document race. Hope you have the chance of coming down here some day.

  • nan October 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    It’s wonderful — great idea, great photography, great text. Would love to see different generations of mixed families too, like families with college-age kids for example.

  • Elena October 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Maybe we could combine our projects? I see great minds think alike!

    http://www.elenajatia.com/theotherproject.jpg

  • michelle October 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    <3 this. beautiful idea, beautiful portraits.

  • Karen October 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Very cool project. I was interested that each family talked about living in NY because of the diversity. I live in a little town in CO, and on my block are a gay caucasion couple with black children, a Latino man married to a black woman, an Asian man married to a caucasion woman (2 children), a man from India married to an Asian woman (1 child), a caucasion man married to a Latino woman (5 children), a lesbian couple (one white./ one Latino) with one white, one black and one Latino child, a single white widow (me), an older couple (both Latino, 6 children all grown), an Indian man and woman (2 children) and a Native American man married to a black woman, with 3 children. I didn’t even strike me that we are a little melting pot on our street, because it seems so normal. Maybe CO is more diverse than I give it credit for. When I move here 16 year ago, I was living in Boulder, and at the time, it was the whitest, highest-educated and wealthy city of it’s size in America. It’s still very white, but it’s good to see that things are changing in the burbs.

  • joya October 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    since reading your tweet about this project, i have been thinking about the photos from when i was growing up, and about photographing my family now.

    in addition to photos of mixed race families focusing on the face, i think they also tend to focus on the moments when they are in the middle of a cultural celebration or tradition. the every day moments in their home will be wonderful to capture.

    growing up my parents decorated our living room with indian sculptures, fine art, books, photography and textiles. they don’t live there anymore, and i wish i had more photos of that space, or of us in that space together from when i was a child.

    excited to see more!
    joya

  • joya October 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    and to add to that, without the literal meaning of space or home, is that i wish there were more photos of my family from when i was a child -together “living” instead of only at the holidays, celebrations. guess that would be like having a photographer in the home! lucky you!

  • Joy October 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Jenna!

    I love this project. Being Chinese married to an Italian-Irish, I always wondered what my children would look like. I find myself staring at mixed raced children because of this. For years I followed your blog, seeing how you incorporate your bi-racial traditions and how adorable your mixed kids are. Now I have a 6 month old of my own and his face is constantly changing. My mother would say in taiwanese about the baby: “How peculiar…with his eyes closed he looks white but with his eyes open he looks asian. How can that be?!?” LOL. I have friends and family who are mixed race and their siblings will look completely different but related. One more asian or more white than the other but still a common characteristic that ties them all together. If you need more families to document, please let me know. I love your photography!

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