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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  • Manja October 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    WELL DONE!!!

  • Danielle October 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Way cool! I’m still a teenager, but I found the comments of the parents fascinating. It would be great if the project grew to include the comments of the multiracial children as well. I think that there’s often a case where the concerns of the parents are not consciously brought up at all in the minds of the children, and vice versa. Both my parents are immigrants from Vietnam, so I am a first generation Vietnamese-American. Unfortunately, I did not pick up the language growing up, but I do pay attention to the history and food culture in hopes of carrying it to my children some day. I know that growing up, the household of culture my parents maintained was a unique place to be that I couldn’t find if I went to any of my other friends. But thinking of the future, of the possibility of lost cultures and dying identities, those didn’t occur to me. This project makes me really think about my future, and I’m excited to see the project grow towards more locations and socio-economic backgrounds when the resources are there!

  • yen (lunchstudio) October 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    So funny, my sister just the other day asked me if I had heard of the mixed-race project and was going to send you our info to participate but now I see it’s you! This is a fantastic project. When we were younger I felt exactly the same, always straddling two worlds and never belonging properly to either. And I always felt so alone, I’m happy to see that the internet is letting our kids know they are not and will not be alone.

  • tracy October 10, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    i saw you post about it on twitter and immediately shared your link on facebook (hope that’s okay). i LOVE the intention behind your project.
    my husband is of mixed race (mexican/caucasian) and i’m chinese (1st gen too); we’re expecting a little one this april ๐Ÿ™‚ i’ve asked him before what his childhood was like, and he felt like he didn’t belong among the mexican kids or the white kids. he eventually found a group of friends that made him feel like he belonged, but it breaks my heart to think of him as a little lost child.
    i’ve had my own concerns about how we’ll raise our children (i wish our area was more culturally diverse)…and we’ve been discussing it in more earnest with an actual baby on the way.
    thank you for starting this project. i can only imagine wonderful things coming out of it.

  • Zoe - SlowMama October 10, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    So glad to find your blog and read of this project (via Design Mom).

    My husband and I are caucasian of European/Eastern European/Russian descent and preparing to adopt two children from Ethiopia. I didn’t grow up in the US and my experience and views on race and culture are influenced by that. As we prepare to be a transracial, multi-cultural family I find myself thinking through issues and forming opinions in a brand new way. I look forward to following your project — congrats on putting it out there!

  • Stina October 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Amazing project and stories that need to be shared. It’s funny– I had just reread all your posts tagged “family” this past week because I had been craving more writing about growing up as an immigrant and how families evolve over time in America as we become more multicultural in our relationships. I love your storytelling. And your insights. Thank you for all you have shared with the world.

  • Valerie October 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Jenna,

    I recently stumbled upon your blog and I absolutely love it. Normally, i don’t bother with reading anything on blogs–i just scroll through all the pictures. But Sweet Fine Day is definitely the exception. You write about things that most people only think about and never commit to words–and you do it all with such honesty. It’s refreshing and inspiring. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself!

  • jen October 10, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    this is awesome, congrats!

  • Alexis October 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    I love this idea. I am caucasian (Irish/French/Italian) and my husband is East Indian. We have 2 kids – 4 and 6. The older one looks much like her father and the younger one looks more like me. They have noticed their skin color differences (and ours) from an early age. We in Toronto, Canada, where biracial families are increasingly common, but our urban neighborhood is predominately white. The differences all seem fairly normal to them now, but I wonder how this will change as they get older and have more exposure to popular culture. While both our families are fairly “north americanized” we are trying to give them exposure to various aspects of their background (and funnily enough the girl who looks “white” loves Indian food, while the one who looks “Indian” will do anything for a plate of pasta ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  • Amanda @ willfuljoyful October 10, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I love this project! My background is as boring Northern European descended American as they come and my boys are blond haired and blue eyed. Yet I can identify with the struggle to help my kids find their place in a world that doesn’t always celebrate the different. My husband and I are atheists and live in a fairly homogenous, conservative community. I enjoyed reading the comments from parents who have put thought into what they are teaching their children about diversity. My greatest joy comes from experiencing new foods, learning about something I’ve never even dreamed of, and being challenged to think in new ways by someone with a different point of view than my own. Diversity makes life interesting. Looking forward to seeing this project grow!

  • A. Jarrett October 10, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Absolutely *love* this photography project. Great job, Jenna – I can’t wait for more!

  • Chantale October 10, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Ooh yes! I can’t wait to start reading this. I’m always curious to see how other multi-ethnic families go about daily life and what they encounter. Very cool Jenna!

  • Lara October 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    I love your blog, and have loved following your family’s life through the incredible lens of your photos & writing. I love your new Mixed Race Project, and am bound to become addicted! I’m Arab, and my Australian/American (Caucasian) partner and I have a 5 month old baby daughter, and I often think about how different her identity is bound to be from my own. Your project also made me think again about the subtlety of race, ethnicity, and culture, since we don’t necessarily look that racially different, but race is nuanced and sometimes fraught, and that’s why projects like yours are so valuable, as tough as they can be!

  • Mefi October 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Great idea. Even within the same race, there is a difference. Looking forward to seeing more. And how do you do it all? Your photos are awesome as always.

  • chai ling October 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    dear jenna,

    like many others who have left their sweet words, they wrote my thoughts and shared the compliments i have for you (in fact, they wrote it even better than i did : ). but today, i really wanna say this – you are the amazing woman who i admire alot. really. even my husband knows you are my role model : ) hihih… thank you for sharing all your beautiful works here, jenna. i owe you a good cup of coffee!

  • Theresa October 10, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Jenna,
    I found you by way of the guest post you did on Cup of Jo a few months back re: mom/work/life balance and have been a fan ever since (first time commenting). This project is absolutely beautiful. The concept and execution is brilliant and stunning (as always). As a half Japanese / half Caucasian (by way of the deep South) and raised in a Latino/Mexican community, I grappled a lot with race identity issues growing up. The voice you give this issue is what keeps me coming back to your site (among other things). This project is like taking two of the things I love most about your site (mixed race and photojournalism at its finest) and supersizes it. Keep up the amazing work! As you can see, it’s much appreciated.

  • Misha October 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Incredible!!

  • Caroline October 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Digging this new project of yours! Love the little details that bring the families to life.

  • kate October 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    I finally had time to sit down and read through every page and wow, this is so beautiful, Jenna. I can’t wait to see who you add next.

  • Leslie October 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Congrats on your launch! What a fabulous project! And your photos are mesmerizing!

    My three young kids are:
    Japanese, African American, Native American, English, Irish, French. . . a fabulous mix!

    Even though they are sibs, each has his/her own distinct look. One looks more asian, another more caucasian, and the oldest more African American. My oldest was actually a participant in Kip Fulbeck’s MIXED photo/book project.

    On the day of the shoot, my husband and I stood in line with other multiracial families. It was such an empowering moment because for the first time we were surrounded by families who looked like us. MIXED. Even though the book features just the child (and only a portrait), I found myself more intrigued by the background story. Who are the parents? What do they look like? What’s their story?

    Your series is exactly what I’ve been curious about all this time. . . .

    Thank you for this. It means more to me than you may ever know.

  • Diane October 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    So beautiful how you have woven your amazing photos with the family’s story. We are so fortunate that you had the courage to persevere and share your work with us.

  • amanda October 11, 2011 at 12:17 am

    Jenna,

    I absolutely LOVE what you are doing. Amazing. Just beautiful.

  • AK October 11, 2011 at 12:55 am

    A lovely project. Where on the site are the quotes from the subjects? Several commenters have mentioned them, but I can’t see them.

  • C October 11, 2011 at 1:19 am

    this is a gorgeous project. I found myself reading the pieces on the side more than paying super close attention to the pictures. This is not to say that the pictures aren’t gorgeous as well, they are. The words of the families just add so much to the meaning. Each picture can stand alone great, but together they create a story.

    You’re doing a great, great job!

  • Jennifer October 11, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Thank you so much for this. I am a mixed race person and I love seeing discussion and attention being brought to the subject.
    Growing up I was always either “too white” to hang out with the black kids or “too black” to hang out with the white kids. It always left me feeling like I was in some sort of racial limbo.
    How can I get my family involved? I am in my freshman year of college and my younger sister is 15, so we are older than the families featured, but my parents are the best people ever and have done an amazing job raising us and helping us find our cultural identity and forming it at home. I feel we could contribute something to your wonderful project ๐Ÿ™‚

  • terren October 11, 2011 at 1:30 am

    I think this is really important work that obviously means a lot to so many of us. Being mixed race, multicultural, whatever is becoming more the norm these days and i’m glad that my (future) kids hopefully will go through less of an identity crisis than i did (chinese, russian-jewish, irish-catholic) growing up because being mixed won’t be such a big surprise to anyone anymore.

  • sky October 11, 2011 at 5:37 am

    i love the way you have captured the soul of these families. thanks for sharing this with us.

  • Jenna October 11, 2011 at 9:45 am

    WOW wow you guys. Thank you so much for your kind words of support. Wish I can thank you all individually, but the response is tremendous.
    @AK, are you using IE 7 or older? The quotes won’t come up if you are using an older browser. Please try with a different or updated browser. Thanks!

  • elle October 11, 2011 at 10:10 am

    what a beautiful project, jenna. as a 3rd/4th+ generation person of mixed heritage this is a topic very near to my heart as it is a large part of my daily experience & regular conversations. many have a difficult time accepting or understanding that I simply identify as ‘mixed’ & what that even means, but ours is a steadily growing community in this diverse country & world of ours. I know many beautiful families, though none with young children per say, who would make amazing subjects for your project ♥

  • michi October 11, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Love the project. Beautiful pictures.

  • Tiare October 11, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Aloha!

    Being from Hawai’i where “mixed-race” is a non-issue because nearly everyone is a collage of cultures anyway, I find it rather fascinating that the topic of interracial marriages and children is only now becoming accepted amongst modern mainstream society.

    I, myself, am a melting pot of Hawaiian, Filipino, Portuguese, Irish, German, Tahitian and Chinese (though the later is unfounded and was listed only on my birth certificate because of family rumor, ha ha). My husband, who is Samoan, German, Scottish, Irish and Hawaiian, helped me to create some of the most “hapa/poi mutt” babies…and that’s completely the norm here! But apparently it’s still odd to many others.

    Each of our ethnic heritages help weave the very fabric of who we are. We simply could not imagine being even one ethnicity less. (Think of all the good home cooking we’d be missing out on!)

    Mahalo for contributing positively to the conversation of mixed-race families.

  • Tiare October 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

    * My husband is also Japanese. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    So many races, it can be hard to keep track. ;-P

  • Sandy October 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

    This is a great idea. We are a mixture of Chinese and French in our household. We will have fun following this new adventure of yours!

  • hyzen October 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Lovely project. We are a mixed race family, too (Korean/Caucasian), and we live in a smaller, more midwestern feeling city than NYC, but I’ve been pleased so far that there hasn’t seemed to be any negativity about our family–I mean, I honestly didn’t expect it to be an issue, but you never know. It seems that there are a ton of mixed race kids around us, though–often 2 or more in each small nursery/preschool class, so I don’t think our kids will ever really feel too odd or different. I think it’s mostly a non-issue inside our house, too, except maybe for some different dietary preferences, and sometimes different ways of communicating, which in this case is attributable to race/culture, but could just as well arise in a non-mixed family. Anyway, our baby’s Dol is next weekend, and he’s wearing my husband’s hanbok from when he was a baby–we’re looking forward to it!

  • valerie October 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    this looks to be a neat venture! Please do some families with older kids, and families where the parents are of mixed-race. It would be so interesting to read their insights. I’m Thai/Czech,Irish (American), and my husband is Caucasian American—our kids have a lot of the fair coloring genes in their hair, skin, and eyes….which is confusing to a lot of people that meet us! Usually people conclude that I’m the nanny since they can’t conceive of little blondies having a dark mom. It would be neat to hear what people do with that eternal question to mixed kids: “what ARE you?”

  • PatW October 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Will try to keep up with your project…I’m a 68 yr old caucasian married to a 68 yr old caucasian…we have four children( ages from 41 to 32)…two home grown and two adopted from Korea..Our oldest home grown son married a woman from the Phillipines…and they have two sons and live in Pittsburgh….our adopted korean daughter married a black (adopted and raised by a caucasian family) man and they live in New Orleans…our younger home grown son is married to his caucasian high school sweet heart…and our youngest adopted son is not married……all just family to us!….

  • HaeWon October 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Jenna, you’re so inspiring!

  • theresa October 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Wow. Great job. Being 1/2 Swedish and 1/2 African-American it has always been a topic of interest for me too. I did a similar project to yours a few years back but it was only portraits (22 in total). Good luck with this project, I will absolutely check back and if I lived in the U.S. then I’d even want to be part of it but alas I am still living in Sweden.

  • jessica October 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    i love this. it’s refreshing to see how similar and different we all are. giving our children the tools to help them identify themselves in a positive way is maybe the biggest challenge for a parent. it’s nice to see how others are stepping up to that challenge. my baby is only 6 months, but this is something my husband and i discuss frequently as we are of different races. thank you for doing and sharing this project.

  • luckybeans October 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    This is a wonderful project, thank you so much for doing this. What a simple, beautiful reminder that we are all part of one family– the human family.

  • paula October 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    beautiful idea. your photos are gorgeous

  • Alex Huttinger October 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    So very cool, Jenna! I have been following your blog for about a year and have really, really enjoyed it–both your words and photographs (I have 2 young girls as well–1.5 and 4.5; am an artist (except it is not my day job); and can relate to many of the issues you write about). Having seen this post and the Mixed Race Project site, I felt compelled to comment (in part because I am mixed). I live in DC and recently visited the interactive “Race: Are We So Different” exhibit at the Smithsonian (http://www.mnh.si.edu/exhibits/race/). While it didn’t focus exclusively on mixed race, it did have a few displays that caught my attention. One had beautiful and simple portraits of individuals of all ages writing about what it meant to them (good and unfortunately bad) to be mixed. Another was a photograph of people wearing t-shirts printed with what race “category” they would have been placed in during past census (e.g., 1800s, 1900s, 2000)–really eye opening. Thanks!

  • Amanda October 11, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I think this project is AMAZING! I am a Korean adoptee so I hope that you will consider photographing families like mine too! Its not quite “mixed race.” However, growing up with my sister (who is also adopted from Korea) and our white parents in a small, homogeneous Midwestern town, being a mixed race family definitely was a blessing and a challenge.

  • Mrs D October 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Wow, this is fantastic Jenna. Bravo! As part of a couple who will (eventually) have biracial kiddos I am so excited to see such an important topic covered in this sensitive and artistic way. That you get to showcase your wonderful burgeoning photographic talents is the icing on the cake. Go lady!

  • kimia kline October 12, 2011 at 7:25 am

    i love this. and i totally agree–generally these photographs focus on the faces. i think its awesome you’re focusing more on the environment as a whole…stepping back to see the entire picture. this series is inspired for sure–cant wait to see more.

  • Silvia October 12, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Hi, there’s a book that reminded me of your project, I thought you might be interested in it. It’s called Mixed Portraits of Multiracial Kids by Kip Fulbeck. Just in case you didn’t know about it, you might find it inspirational. Good luck with your project!

  • jennifer October 12, 2011 at 8:27 am

    I love this Jenna! Beautiful photos, beautiful families.

  • Nerissa October 12, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I love your photos on this website, so I am really looking forward to this project, especially as I am the mother of a biracial kid. What’s funny is that my husband knows your website because I made him cook your quinoa cake recipes a few times, and he commented that our daughter sort of resembles your gorgeous two daughters. But my daughter is 1/2 Northern European mutt and 1/2 Indian. So who knows.

  • Amy October 12, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Beyond amazing. So glad the project is up and running–you should be very proud! Can’t wait to see what’s next. Bravo!

  • Katie October 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I love this!! I don’t have kids so maybe I’m not the target audience, but I still thought it was so interesting! I think everyone likes to peak inside other’s lives, but the race issue makes it all the more interesting. Thanks for sharing this – and I can’t wait for more.

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