Photo caption: Louie Gong and his painting “Guardian” are featured in the Wing Luke’s “War Baby / Love Child” exhibit, now on display. Photo credit: Minh Nguyen.
Growing up, Wei Ming Dariotis recalls the perpetual question, “What are you?”
“My mother is Chinese and my father is European American,” she would reply, which would often be followed with, “Did you parents meet at war?”
Hence, the inspiration for “War Baby/Love Child” book and accompanying art exhibit now showing at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing). It was in those early encounters when Dariotis, assistant professor of Asian-American studies and mixed-race heritage at San Francisco State University, began to realize people’s assumptions about mixed-race Asian Pacific Americans (APAs). The project, which Dariotis curated and edited with fellow Asian-American studies professor and mixed APA, Laura Kina, specifically explores Asian-American mixed heritage and how these identities reconfigure the way we view racial and ethnic belonging.
The 2010 U.S Census reports that 1.6 million mixed-race APAs in the U.S., and according to Dariotis, mixed-race APAs are at the second largest demographic of APAs, following the U.S. Chinese population. A recent Seattle Times report analyzing the most recent Census data noted that those in Washington state who have checked two or more races as their ethnic/racial identity between 2010 and 2012 have grown nearly 7 percent, while the APA population has grown more than 8 percent during that time period.
Through a trope that Kina calls “the Happy Hapa”, Kina explains that those of mixed-race are not only regarded as a sort of fetishized beauty, but to some even a sign of racial progress, proof that we’ve reached a post-racial, “identity-optional” time. Kina recalls her mixed-race identity regaled during her experiences growing up as a part of what she calls, “the Sesame Street generation,” when “interracial unions offer a solution to racial conflict,” notes Kina.
It is the hope that “War Baby/Love Child” enriches an oversimplified representation of mixed-race APAs that often misses context, showing that, within APA narratives are important histories of economic and political migration, war, imperialism and struggles for citizenship.
The curators selected 19 mixed-race APA artists and 11 scholars from different academic fields across the U.S.
“We wanted to map the history of individuals on top of actual history,” said Kina. “By having the historical essays, we show that mixed race Asian-Americans are not exceptional creatures, but we are part of the narrative of Asian-American history and identities.”
Louie Gong, “War Baby/Love Child” artist, is a local and internationally recognized for his work as a dual entrepreneur and artist whose commentary on mixed-race identity has aired on NBC Nightly News.
“What I want people to get out of the project is [the idea] that mixed-race people cannot be viewed through the same lens that views traditional racial categories. We all have different circumstances and experiences,” says Gong, who is of Chinese and Nooksack heritage.
Gong’s piece “Guardian,” a colossal painting that greets you upon entrance of the “War Baby/Love Child” exhibit at the Wing, nods to both his Native and Chinese roots.
“Native people see art as more ancestral, so there’s greater responsibility to understand what you’re doing — to stay in the parameters of the art form,” Gong explains. “Over time, I started to incorporate elements of my own actual experience, such as graffiti art and Chinese folk art, and now, I’m working with more themes of Chinese tradition. In ‘Guardian,’ two foo dogs are stacked like a totem pole. Within the foo dogs, there are three eagles.”
“War Baby/Love Child” includes the art and perspectives of mixed black Asians, Latino Asians, and Native American Asians, and how their mixed identities differ or compare to their mixed-white counterparts.
As curators Kina and Dariotis have noted, the increasing prevalence of multiracial people may misguide some to believe we live in a post-racial society, or that racial amalgamation is the road to racial justice. But just this May, when General Mills aired their Cheerios ad featuring an interracial family, it sparked an alarming wave of anti-interracial comments.
All the more reason to clear up that our increasingly more multiracial country should be embraced for what it authentically is. As Gong is quoted in Kina and Dariotis’s “War Baby/Love Child” book: “… [M]ixed race isn’t post-race. It’s not less race. It’s more race. Mixed race is not a dialogue to forget about issues of race.”
“War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art” is currently exhibiting at the Wing’s George Tsutakawa Art Gallery through January 19, 2014. Learn more at www.wingluke.org/exhibitions/special.htm.