Creative Collaborations

T.W.A.S Zine

Lynnea Lee

Allatum Jewelry Feature





ARIANA PEARL x ALLATUM JEWELRY

PHOTOSHOOT

07.14.19










FRUIT ASSEMBLY x ALLATUM JEWELRY

PHOTOSHOOT

04.22.19





I D E N T I T Y 

12.12.2018

A creative collaboration, visual project, and conversation with bay area creatives, students, and organizers as they share their stories of identity exploration and understanding of their multiple racial, cultural, and gender complexities. 

photography and creative design by Lizbeth Ochoa


M a n d y






1. What has being mixed-heritage taught you about your identity? In what ways do you feel connection, or lack thereof, to the different cultural, racial, historical complexities of your identity?

I've come to understand my identity as multifaceted and extremely complex. Being mixed and racially ambiguous made me realize how humans rely on placing others into neatly configured categories to make themselves feel comfortable. When someone can't identify your ethnicity immediately, when they can't perfectly categorize you, their own unsureness and discomfort gets projected onto the mixed race person. We internalize this growing up, we're constantly asked "what are you?" as if we weren't human, as if we're a different species yet to be identified. Then there are numerous ways our mixed identities are devalued, diminished, and dismissed, in a framework of inadequacy: "you don't LOOK asian" or "you can't even speak Korean" or "you're not a real person of color." 

My mom was displaced from her home city of Seoul, South Korea because of economic destabilization due to years of colonialism, war, and foreign invasion. When people tell me that her and I aren't "really Korean" because we're culturally removed from our motherland, I remind them that it's due to our Korean history of removal and war (induced by America) that we are here in the United States: so actually, our experiences can be considered VERY Korean. Although I don't speak the language or know my biological Korean family who gave away my mom for adoption, I recognize and affirm an entire community of thousands of displaced Korean adoptees who have been shipped to every corner of the world--all of whose experiences are valid. 

In other words, fuck how people define you, cause 99% of the time they don't have the vaguest idea of what being "culturally authentic" even means.


2. How do you feel about the term mixed-race, what feelings does that term bring up for you, do you feel like that’s a reflection of your identity?

For a long time, the fetishization of mixed race bodies made me shy away from telling people I was mixed, since it usually came with a sexualizing connotation or numerous questions about my background. I felt outside of and apart from both racial communities that I seemingly "belonged" to, I was never entirely accepted by the Asian kids or the white kids. It took me years to reconstruct how I considered my "halfness", being half Asian and half white, by first reading a passage from a mixed writer who claimed, "I am not half-raced, I am double." It completely shook my foundational understanding of my own identity, where I could being to consider myself a bridge or a cross-connecting body who can bring together multiple communities and histories. It became a beautiful blessing, where before I was cursed with not belonging anywhere, I came to appreciate the mobility and opportunities to operate amongst various communities.  


3. How would you describe your relationship to power and privilege as someone who holds a mixed/multi-racial/multi-cultural identity?

A few summers ago, I wrote a poem about whether, as a mixed Asian woman, I actually possessed white privilege through my white father. While citing notable mixed figures like Obama, I discussed how I've been racialized my whole life as an "other" and person of color, so although I had light-skinned privilege, on the surface I didn't have white privilege. But the poem continues to recognize my father's white privilege, and the benefits he accrued from that privilege, including economic stability and a healthy, adventurous life full of travel. I was able to travel internationally with him, come into contact with his network of professional friends, and live in areas of the Bay Area that provided more opportunities to get a great education. As his daughter, I directly benefited from those manifestations of HIS, and inevitably, MY own privilege.  

Being in various social justice organizing spaces, I used to consider myself "underprivileged" that I couldn't find a community that I could fully identify with. I was so jealous of "lucky" students who could find spaces that fully accepted them, found others looking like them, sharing similar cultural practices. Now, I understand that privilege is directly related to power, so my ties to whiteness and its power implications make me more privileged than a non-mixed person of color. My identity questions and confusion doesn't compare to the oppressive forces of anti-blackness or fear of deportation. 


4. What brings you a sense of belonging and understanding in your racial/cultural/gender identity?

Food! My family celebrates every big occasion with a big Chinese dinner, usually in San Francisco's Chinatown, with hot pot and tons of big platters. Laughing, food, and sharing stories are what draw me closer to feelings of cultural belonging. 


5. What does the term safe space mean to you/what does it give you? 

Safe spaces are ones in which one's identity/authenticity are never questioned, where people's histories are considered valid. Safe spaces allow us to share the vulnerable parts of ourselves, our ancestral legacies, our generational traumas, in a community of collective support.  It is filled with primarily women of color, who give me strength and empower me to explore all aspects of my identity, my spirituality, my sexuality, my body, my ideologies. 


6. What/how did you decide to embody a safe space/ reflect on your relationship to your identity in this shoot? in both the physical and conceptual realms 

In both physical and conceptual realms, the placement of my body in or proximal to water reflected how I see my own identity as fluid and adaptable. Water comes in every physical form, it carries nutrients that nourish life and is the essential element linking all life on Earth, it's destructive and healing simultaneously. My identity is multifaceted, it is forged from the environments that have carried me for generations. I am born of water, I feel safe on coastlines and by large lakes, I am inspired by waves and the cyclical patterns of birth and rebirth. 


J e r r y





1. What has being mixed-heritage taught you about your identity? In what ways do you feel connection, or lack thereof, to the different cultural, racial, historical complexities of your identity?

Being mixed race has taught me that race doesn’t really make sense. It’s blurry and changes. Though I’m not sure that my mixed heritage has been a cohesive, informative lesson to identity. Instead it feels like the way my mixed heritage was communicated to me growing up actually left me with a lot of questions, and lack of self-awareness because processes like assimilation make it hard to place yourself in relation to peoples and places. This experience for me is also tied up with place; being physically disconnected from extended family and homelands while raised in another culture. Because of all this learning about my heritage has been a mission!

Unfortunately I haven’t always felt a lot of connection to my histories and culture. Growing up in Hawai’i I was mostly around Hawaiian culture, and white people. My family also didn’t pass on Tagalog or Spanish, or much cultural knowledge. Now that I’m living in California my family that lives here is a one of my stronger connections to my cultures and histories, and it’s been a process taking time to allow people to open up after being silent about their experiences for so long. 


2. How do you feel about the term mixed-race, what feelings does that term bring up for you, do you feel like that’s a reflection of your identity?

I have a lot of anxieties about terms like “mixed-race/multiracial.” With a term so general, supposedly including and representing so many different identities how are these terms meant to actually stand for something meaningful? How does something so expansive help us talk about the complexities of the violent histories that have resulted the “mixing” of races? The term hides a lot, and for those of us that end up using these terms to identity and move through the world we have to be careful that we’re not actively obscuring historical colonial power dynamics.

There’s not much that inherently makes mixed identities racial or liberatory. With the identity also being used to implicitly referring to part white folks most of the time it also can easily be used to really obscure power and privilege. It gives me a lot of anxiety. Going by “mixed/multiracial” should never been the end of an explanation of self when privileged people are describing their relation to power and how they move through the world.

However, I do consistently find myself falling back on these terms because trying to explain multiple racial backgrounds is often confusing and overwhelming for other people. Other terms simply don’t do enough.


3. How would you describe your relationship to power and privilege as someone who holds a mixed/multi-racial/multi-cultural identity?

My relationship with power and privilege is one that requires constant work on my part. Growing up without a strong sense of my own racial and ethnic identity, and being part white in Hawai’i, has meant that I haven’t always been aware of the way my appearance was helping me, or simply making it more difficult for people to box me in. When I have really listened to others around me and done the work to challenge myself and the way I move through the world it’s generative and I can be supportive to others around me. 

I think the hardest part about power and privilege has been learning not to center my own feelings of discomfort or sadness when my racial privilege makes other people uncomfortable or I cause harm without realizing it. Being able to check yourself is a must, and it’s ongoing. 


4. What brings you a sense of belonging and understanding in your racial/cultural/gender identity?

My family helps give me a sense of belonging. The gender parts is a bit harder, and yet to be fully tested out… but culturally, I’ve become more attentive to my extended family, and have been trying to ask more questions of elders. Trying to get them to open up, even a little, has been a bit overwhelming, but also really refreshing, and it leaves me feeling grateful that, as of now, I am still able to learn about my family and peoples. 

More recently practicing Arnis, a Pilipno martial arts, has given me a community outside of the university (UC Berkeley). It’s taught me about arts my people have used throughout the years to defend communities and land. It’s also brought amazing elders and friends from the community into my life in such a positive way. 


5. What does the term safe space mean to you/what does it give you? 

I feel a bit turned off by the term, but that could just be me being jaded. What does it mean to be safe? How do you know *when* you’re safe? I think what gets close to that is knowing you’re in a space where if shit gets out of hand you can regroup in the end and work to understand each other. -- But also, a more mysterious response: a safe space is when being, alone, or with others, feels like music.


6. What/how did you decide to embody a safe space/ reflect on your relationship to your identity in this shoot? in both the physical and conceptual realms

I included a balikbayan box because it’s one of those things that had been a part of my life, yet it wasn’t until later in my life that I realize the significance it held not only to me, but my family, and our history. The balikbayan box is usually sent from someone overseas back home to the Philippines. Growing up I saw many boxes labeled, "balikbayan box.” Mostly in my grandparent’s house, but also at my home in Hawai’i. My Lola, Lolo, and tias in California used to send my mother and us, children, balikbayan boxes in Hawai’i. It was always such a great moment when the packages arrived. Even though we weren’t in the Philippines we were out on another island in the ocean, still reaching out to loved ones with boxes stuffed with love and good intent, continuing a practice like others before us.

Being able to incorporate a balikbayan box into the shoot on the shores of the Pacific, looking West towards Hawai’i and the Philippines was beautiful, and a reminder that we send some of the most precious parts of our lives across great spaces, waiting and hoping for the return on the horizon. 


C a m i l l e







1. What has being mixed-heritage taught you about your identity? In what ways do you feel connection, or lack thereof, to the different cultural, racial, historical complexities of your identity?

I believe being of mixed race has instilled in me many things: curiosity, self-love, and independence, to name a few. I feel privileged to be made up of so many ethnic backgrounds, especially when I think of what my ancestors endured and fought for to get me here. At the same time, it can be isolating. Sometimes I feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere simultaneously – that I’m part of all these different cultures, but only partially, never fully, which in turn makes me feel like somewhat of an outsider. Sometimes I feel a lot of pressure to choose which one I identify with more, but at the end of the day I can’t choose. To do so would mean dismissing my ancestral history, and that unique blend of history is what makes me who I am. 


2. How do you feel about the term mixed-race, what feelings does that term bring up for you, do you feel like that’s a reflection of your identity?

“Mixed-race” is a term I’ve heard all my life and honestly, it has never bothered me. I am of mixed-race and I love it. It is interesting, however, to see how other people react to me being multi-racial. “What are you?” Is a question I’m often asked, and I’m still trying to process how I feel about it. Sometimes I don’t mind letting people know, but often I find myself thinking, “why do they need to know?” I’ve noticed that sometimes being ethnically ambiguous makes other people nervous. People love to be able to put other people in a box and keep them there because it feels safe. Many times, it feels as if people are trying to categorize me just so they know what to expect and how they should react towards the things I say and do. There have been times where I’ll tell someone my ethnicity and they immediately change the way they speak to me. Many times when I don’t reveal “what I am,” people try to guess before they blurt out, “I just need to know!” This response always shocks me. Again, this goes back to them needing to feel comfortable by being able to judge my character based on the stereotypes that are assigned to each ethnicity. “If you’re a, b, and c, then I’m confident that I can expect x, y, and z from you.” I understand that people are curious, but I’d encourage everyone to ask themselves why they need to know before they ask what someone’s ethnicity is.  Also, “what are you” is not the nicest way to ask. 


3. How would you describe your relationship to power and privilege as someone who holds a mixed/multi-racial/multi-cultural identity?

I think being multi-racial and looking ethnically ambiguous is a privilege partially because of what I mentioned above. Usually people can’t categorize me based on my race by just looking at me because it’s not immediately obvious. Because of this, I find that people tend to put in a little more effort to try and get to know me, even to just “figure me out.”  

Another privilege of being of mixed race is that I belong to more than just one culture. I mentioned above that it can sometimes feel isolating, but it’s two sides of the same coin: Although I may feel only partially included, I also feel as if I identify with a broader spectrum of people because I’m not of just one race. I can find a sense of community and inclusion in many different situations and amongst different cultures because of my multi-ethnic background. 


4. What brings you a sense of belonging and understanding in your racial/cultural/gender identity?

Being around my family gives me a sense of belonging that is too and hearing stories about everyone from my great-great paternal grandparents who were slaves, to my maternal grandparents who lived in communist China, to my mom and dad who experienced bigotry but were able to be together freely, a right most of my ancestors before them did not have. There are a lot of conflicting elements in my blood: One race enslaved another, another race overcame injustice, another endured war and communism, almost all were affected by colonialism. There is endurance in my DNA. There is war, there is peace. There is pain and suffering, but also love, understanding, and passion. To think of what my ancestors had to go through to get me here…words cannot express how grateful I am for their strength, their commitment, their support, and their love. I feel so lucky to have all their stories within me. 


5. What does the term safe space mean to you/what does it give you? 

To me, a safe space is an environment in which you feel the most accepted, the most at peace, and completely yourself, but only in moderation - it’s not a place to dwell in due to fear of stepping out of your comfort zone. In my opinion, a safe space should be an environment you come back to in order to re-center yourself and gain clarity, which will hopefully help propel you forward in life and encourage growth. 

My safe space (besides being with my family and loved ones) is at the beach. The ocean gives me a sense of calmness and irrelevancy, which I mean in the most freeing way possible. It’s mysterious, serene, unpredictable, and powerful. It never fails to reminds me that life is greater than myself and that we humans are part of something more. When I leave, I feel rejuvenated. 


6. What/how did you decide to embody a safe space/ reflect on your relationship to your identity in this shoot? in both the physical and conceptual realms 

For this shoot, I knew I wanted to wear my hair in its natural state. My hair journey has been an arduous one. I hated how frizzy and unruly it was; I desperately wanted straight, easy-to-manage hair like my mom. In high school, I straightened my curls every day to avoid having to deal with them, and as ridiculous as it sounds I’d often cry about my hair. I resented it for so many years, but have finally grown to love it and appreciate it as a physical representation of my ethnic background. I have neither my dad’s hair nor my moms, but a perfect blend of both, which I guess is a pretty good metaphor for being multi-racial. 

I felt inclined to include plants and tones that mimic the earth’s coloring because I have always felt close ties to nature. Similarly, there were always beautiful, luscious plants around me as a child, so having those near me gave me a sense of comfort.

Lastly, I wanted to wear red for this shoot because of what it represents in different cultures: luck, determination, blood, strength, passion, and love – everything that was required of my ancestors leading up to this point in our familial line. 


M a r c u s 






1. What has being mixed-heritage taught you about your identity? In what ways do you feel connection, or lack thereof, to the different cultural, racial, historical complexities of your identity?

I’ve always felt like being mixed allowed me to learn who I am without taking race into consideration too much. Because of the confusion growing up about which side or sides to align with, I kind of went with none of them. I had this idea growing up that I am something unique and have the opportunity to not have to act any specific way simply because of my race. 


2. How do you feel about the term mixed-race, what feelings does that term bring up for you, do you feel like that’s a reflection of your identity?

I actually love the term mixed-race it only has positive connotations in my mind. There was a time when I was younger where I resonated with the term “mutt” I guess it was the closest word I could think of to how I felt, don’t think its a bad thing necessarily but mixed-race sounds more polite. I love seeing mixed kids walking around with parents or grandparent that look completely different from them, it reminds me of my experience. 


3. How would you describe your relationship to power and privilege as someone who holds a mixed/multi-racial/multi-cultural identity?

I feel privileged as a mixed-race person to be able to enter certain spaces designated for people like myself, and to be able to relate to mixed peoples struggles and experiences. I’m excited to share a piece of my story and to be allowed to have a voice among the many colorful stories and complex backgrounds :)


4. What brings you a sense of belonging and understanding in your racial/cultural/gender identity?

I’m sure a big part of my confidence in my background and self comes from my mom and siblings. I developed a sense of security growing up in a household surrounded by people that look similar to me, and being able to piece everything together when my grandparents would visit. I am definitely lucky to have my family in my life.


5. What does the term safe space mean to you/what does it give you? 

A safe space to me is somewhere I feel comfortable to be myself. I suppose it’s that feeling of comfort that relates my space and my identity. In these spaces, I feel comfortable to continue to explore my identity and ask myself questions that I may not even know the answer to. I was extremely lucky to grow up with some level of comfort in my identity and feel very proud to be surrounded by friends and family that allow me to simply be myself.


6. What/how did you decide to embody a safe space/ reflect on your relationship to your identity in this shoot? in both the physical and conceptual realms 

I had to choose my car for this shoot because it’s been this comfortable space that’s traveled with me the last few years and allowed me to explore new places while still carrying around something familiar. Always kept little toys and objects that I enjoyed in my car which really made this space feel personal and free.