Blurring Borders: A New Racial Majority in America

Mixed Blood - Valter Family, 2010

Valter Family 2010 © CYJO

A NEW STUDY recently conducted by the Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, no single racial group will make up a majority in the United States.

It also points out that the number of people who identify with multiple races is growing, and will eventually outweigh the number of people who relate to a single racial identity. Being of mixed race myself, the article hit a note close to home with me. Now I’m at a place in my life where I’m very comfortable with who I am, but growing up was a bit more complex and oftentimes confusing. I was born in South Korea to a Filipino mother and a Caucasian father. My name, Kamala, is Sanskrit (my dad lived in India for several years and was inspired to give me a unique name which I now appreciate but initially caused me lots of stress as a child), and by the time I was five years old, I had lived in four different countries and also spoke Chinese as a second language.

There is no question to the struggles I endured when we moved back to the United States for my high school years and to seek long-term stability. Filling out the racial category section on the Scantron when I took tests like the Golden State Exam or the SAT was an ordeal. More than one applied to me so I would always select at least two to three, but it never failed to feel completely strange to me. It was almost as if I didn’t feel like a whole person, having to select multiple categories while most of my classmates would only pick one.

The Census Bureau study suggests that there are more people than ever who can relate to what I went through during my teenage years. It’s comforting to know that my experience is no longer the minority experience, and it’s comforting to have role models in the beauty industry who I and other mixed-race people can relate to: models like Chrissy Teigen (who is Norwegian and Thai), Bond Girl Berenice Marlohe (half French, one quarter Cambodian, one quarter Chinese) and  Game of Thrones heartthrob Jason Momoa (Native Hawaiian, German, Irish, and Native American).

We can attribute the growing number of mixed-race individuals to the more accepting nature of our times, where mixed-race couples are seen as more socially acceptable and having children with someone of another racial background is no longer seen as taboo (although racial discrimination still exists). Thanks to court cases like 1967s Loving v. Virginia, outdated ideas about preventing racial mixing are on the way to being a permanent part of the past.

Recently, CYJO, an American artist of Korean ethnicity, did a series of photographic and narrative portraits where she depicted mixed-race families living in New York and Beijing. Her “Mixed Blood” series was inspired by a previous project of hers, “KYOPO,” which features mostly Korean Americans. After interviewing the subjects used in “KYOPO,” some of whom identified with multiple ethnicities, CYJO realized that the topic of multiple ethnic identities needed to be explored in a separate project — that the people she was interviewing were presenting her with additional layers to be examined. She also picked up on a trend in China where modernization and access to travel has led to increased interaction between different cultures and races.

She told the Huffington Post, “[W]hat I find intriguing about these families is that they defy the border and racial conflicts that we read about or may have experienced. Although there can be some complexities that hint at the tensions and differences from the power of heritage, these portraits and narratives illustrate how their love naturally crosses boundaries.”

As a person from a family that has crossed a number of borders — geographic, racial, and ideological — I can definitely attest to that.

Mixed Blood launched as a traveling exhibition at Today Art Museum in Beijing and is currently being exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chengdu. It is sponsored by the US Embassy and its Consulates in China, curated by Nik Apostolides and designed by Timothy Archambault. Mixed Blood and more of CYJO’s work can be viewed on her website.

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