|War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian Art at the Wing Luke [image from warbabylovechild.com]|
by Sharon H Chang
Cold, rain. Gray-stained morning. Husband and I are sitting in the car at 5 till, draining coffee dregs, waiting for Seattle's Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience to open. We're about to visit War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian Art before it closes in a week. We just dropped the kid off at preschool. It's taken us a full month to get here and many thwarted attempts. And now we finally made it, we're thrilled and stunned-awkward-silent at the same time. This is the unique challenge I think parents face in trying to raise their race-consciousness and by association, the race-savvy of their parenting (something our children desperately need). How in the world do you find: time to read books, childcare to get to places/events, opportunities to meet and converse with like-minded people/parents?? The truth is so often -- you just don't. Your kid is sick, abort mission. The babysitter cancelled or you can't find one at all, abort mission. You feel like you're gonna die from exhaustion, abort mission. The roof is leaking and your basement flooded, abort mission. So needless to say, this was a glorious triumphant morning for me and my partner. 2 Hapas with a Hapa son about to experience the art of 19 Hapa artists. That's a whole lot of kickbutt Hapa-ness.
So you would suppose we'd have rushed in gushing and gooing all over the place right? And it's true, we did giggle gleefully like kids about to eat cupcakes climbing the stairs to the George Tsutakawa Gallery where the art is housed. But once we walked in those doors, heavy silence descended upon us. We instantly separated, quiet and thoughtful for the better part of an hour, and probably spoke no more than 20 words to each other. It was at once something we could share but also something we needed to process internally and privately. I finally asked my husband which pieces called to him the most. We were surprised, or maybe not so surprised, to find ourselves in total agreement on 2 in particular:
|Forever, 2008, by Cristina Lei Rodriguez [image from War Baby / Love Child book]|
|I've Always Wanted Your Nose, Dad, 2008, by Samia Mirza [image from War Baby / Love Child book]|
I'll say it. The exhibit was a profound experience for us. We are 2 mixed race Asians who were raised in predominantly white communities in the 80s/90s when (a) assimilative messages were still very strong and (b) not much if any attention was being paid to the multiracial American experience. That's a pretty empty, cavernous, vacuum sort-of-a-place to be trying to construct an ethnic/racial identity. In fact I think we'd both agree we basically didn't construct identities until much later in life, our mid-20s. And at that stage constructing an identity meant building around already 2 decades of invisibility, confusion, hurt and aimless wandering. Not exactly the healthiest starting point. But maybe a non-issue now that things are so different? I don't know. A lot of times I don't think so. For instance, many of the same conflicts are powerfully echoed by the artists of War Baby / Love Child:
Everything for me is always the experience of insider and outsider at the same time.
-- Adrienne Pao
I am a mix, and my identity is complex and exists with contradictions .
-- Cristina Lei Rodriguez
When I was younger, I would say...I'm half and half. I don't use that term anymore because...[blood quantum] is such a huge issue. Who is to say how much of a person you are?
-- Debra Yepa-Pappan
What I think this exhibit really points out is how important discussions about multiraciality are and continue to be. While War Baby / Love Child is a celebration, I felt also much (maybe more) pain and need; something edgy and uncomfortable. There's a lot we still don't know and are trying to figure out about being mixed race peoples. Case in point, after our hour was up (time to pick up kiddo) we were walking back down the stairs when my husband suddenly threw up his hands and said, "I don't even know how I identify anymore. I'm just confused." Then later, "Maybe that's an okay way to feel?" I realized for us the visit wasn't about getting answers, but allowing ourselves to keep asking the questions -- and you know I'm all about questioning because it keeps us sharp! This is something my husband and I needed, something we have needed for so long. But also something we know without a shadow of a doubt our son needs too and perhaps something that will never cease being needed: a multiracial space of mixed race peoples in which to wander, wonder, and continually ponder.