Race Relations

By Laura Kina


Installation view Laura Kina’s paintings at the Wing Luke Museum “Under My Skin” exhibition.

My 2011-12 oil paintings Issei, Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei, and Gosei are on view in “Under My Skin: Artists Explore Race in the 21st Century” at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle May 10-November 17, 2013. The Japanese language titles mark the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth generations from my father’s lineage to live in the United States.

Issei is a ghostly indigo blue portrait of my great grandmother, who came in 1919 through the “picture bride” system of arranged marriage from Okinawa, Japan to the Big Island of Hawai’i to work on a sugar cane plantation in Pi’ihonua (near Hilo). Her image flickers in front of a row of female sugar cane workers dressed in protective work clothes made from repurposed kasuri kimono fabrics. Nisei features a similarly blue tinged portrait of my grandmother in front of a steamship, the Kamakura Maru, circa 1937-39 when she was sent back to Okinawa for high school. Sansei is a sepia toned image based on my mom and dad’s engagement photo from 1968. Next to their image is a colorful patchwork quilt made from vintage Aloha shirts. Yonsei features my own black and white wedding portrait rendered on top of an auspiciously celebratory red enameled background. I wore a white kimono and constructed Japanesque identity and my husband, who is Ashkenazi Jewish, looked like a young Sean Penn in his black tuxedo. Gosei is a portrait of our daughter Midori wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt, the ubiquitous consumer sign of global Japaneseness. I painted her during the first weeks of September 2012. She is standing on the beach at once a little girl, my baby, and on the cusp of tweendom and about to enter her Hebrew school education. Midori’s expression and the formal composition directly reference the viewer back to Issei while the exaggerated blueness of her eyes and lightness of her skin signal her potential passing into whiteness.

These works thus function as a family tree of sorts. But as much as they are about my personal relations and relationships, they are also about relationships to time, to photography, and, in the racialized context that this show provides, they are about interracial relationships and mixed race. The paintings are at once about a process of becoming and looking back, willful acts of remembering, marking time and collapsing time and space. They are about distance and belonging.

I identify as hapa (half Asian), yonsei (fourth generation), Uchinanchu (Okinawan diaspora), and more generally and politically as Japanese American, Asian American, and mixed race. I’m also white but in Chicago, where I live, I am usually read as “Latina” but I have yet to embrace a Hispanic identity (I do have a Mexican American stepdaughter though). I live in an urban South Asian/Orthodox Jewish immigrant community. I’m a convert to Judaism, but no one ever guesses I’m Jewish. I don’t look the part. I’m more likely to be mistaken as Indian, vaguely reminiscent of the Bollywood movie actress Preity Zinta. My father is Okinawan and grew up on a sugar cane plantation on the Big Island of Hawai’i and my mother is from Kingston, Washington, where her family ran a roadside motel near the Kingston ferryboat landing. Her mom was a seamstress from a Basque-Spanish agricultural family and she grew up speaking Spanish in Vallejo, California. Her father was French, English, Scotch-Irish, and Dutch heritage (aka “white”) and hailed from Wacko, Texas, by way of cotton fields in Tennessee. He was a descendent of James Knox Polk, the eleventh president of the United States, as well as Major General George Pickett, whose infamous charge was the last battle of Gettysburg. Sometimes I think it’s funny that I’m simultaneously eligible to claim membership as a Daughter of the American Revolution and to throw my lot in history as a descendent of a Japanese “picture bride.”

I was born in 1973 in Riverside, California and grew up in Poulsbo, Washington. I’m part of what I like to call the “Sesame Street generation of Multiculturalism” where being mixed race was “not that big of a deal” or even held up as a sign of racial progress and the American Melting Pot idea. Of course I also got the constant “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” questions, which implied that I might not be like others (or at least the person asking the question) and that I somehow don’t fit in. One of my brothers told me he was even mistaken for a foreign exchange student at his high school by classmates who he went to elementary school with! I have also experienced a range of racialized incidents from overt violent or discriminatory acts, to more subtle micro aggressions, exotification, and misidentified racial ascription. Whether through portraiture, landscape, or text base design works, much of my art deals with Asian American and mixed race representation. But I have chosen not to react in anger or let negativity define who I am. My paintings are a space where I can control what is visible or invisible. It’s a space where I can tell stories, engage with and commune my ancestors, learn about history, and ask my own questions.

To view the series visit:

About the Author: Laura Kina is Vincent de Paul associate professor of Art, Media, & Design at DePaul University. She is the coeditor, along with Wei Ming Dariotis, of War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art (University of Washington Press, 2013); cofounder of the DePaul biennial Critical Mixed Race Studies conference; and cofounder and co-managing editor of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies. Her solo exhibitions include Sugar (2010), A Many-Splendored Thing (2010), Aloha Dreams (2007), Loving (2006), and Hapa Soap Operas (2003). She has exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center, India Habitat Centre, Nehuru Art Centre, Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum, the Rose Art Museum, and the Spertus Museum.


By Tatiana Garmendia

“Lamentation 4 (Lift Me Up Let Me Go)” is one in a series of Sumi Ink on handmade Okawara paper drawings that I began in 2011. I am still actively engaged in the series.

All the lamentations explore notions of pietà in the aftermath of 9/11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike agit prop, these drawings are not invested in proclaiming a political agenda or philosophic truth. Instead, they wrestle with the conflicting moral intuitions and intractable violence that mark our age, asking questions that do not necessarily have clear-cut answers. Traditionally, the pietà intends to inspire pity and sorrow in the viewer. Read More

By Tatiana Garmendia

In 2010 I began a series of portraits in which veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan assumed poses directly taken from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece, The Last Judgment. They posed as savior, martyr, saint, damned and demon — and I painted them. Usually they wore camo, sometimes they wore battle gear.  I titled these pieces The Prophets. Each painting portrays one or more soldiers in front of a contour line landscape that has become a pattern akin to camo. Only the fracturing is caused by an explosion.

Each soldier takes on the role of prophet not by quoting from a holy book, but from a well-known Hollywood movie or televised image. The mythologizing function of war movies and televised images reveal a kind of Eternal Return, as the sacred intrudes upon our world with its archetypes and heroes. These are narrative arcs that often define our complex attitudes towards war. Read More

By Joseph Songco

Sports has always been an important part of my life. I recall making my first friends after emigrating to the U.S from the Philippines through sports. There was a mutual respect just by playing hard and being a good teammate. It was a part of my life where I could be as good as the next person, no matter what race or ethnicity I was.

Photo Credit: (retrieved from the Wikimedia Commons)

Photo Credit: (retrieved from the Wikimedia Commons)

Jeremy Lin’s story broke out last year and like most Asian Americans, I rooted for him. I still do to this day. Just recently, 60 Minutes aired their interview with him and it talked about racism and stereotypes that he’s had to deal with since his early playing career and up to this day.

To check out the interview with Lin, visit the following link:

About the Author: Seattle photographer, Joseph Songco, has worked in the photo industry for the past 12 years. His work encompasses both fine art and commercial photography and he has exhibited in museums and galleries in both New York City and Seattle.

By Tatiana Garmendia

In 2012, I created a series of gouache on Lokta paper images in response to the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hero in these small paintings is a woman shrouded in a burqa. A burqa is a lose garment that covers a woman from head to toe, and is worn by Muslim women, especially in Afghanistan. This piece is entitled Lamentation 10 (The Burning Times).

I had been working for some time with veterans from the War on Terror in an ongoing exploration of the effects of war, when I became interested in the Muslim Other.  I use the term Other as a philosopher would, to describe someone different from the Self.  One thing that I discovered while creating the Lamentations is that the more I learn about an Other, the more I realize they are like my Self.

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By Vica G

so what do we want to do with it?  this problem of race/ skin color/ life cultures.

we neighbor next to each other. watch each other as we shop. we wonder at the food, music, languages “they” use.  and oh my gosh, they are speaking non-english right now and I do not know what the heck they are saying. I cannot muse and merge onto this language they use at will, at whim. Their word-sound is the air, sky, and water to them— BUT IN MY NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT SOUND, I CAN NOT REASON AND LOGIC WITH THEM.  the words of that other language float, whirl. and I, with open mouth and face against unknown word-speak, can not reach through it to reach them, to form me to them. so what do we do? we, living different cultural lives and cultural souls?

on the path of my mexican life, my mexican cultural soul, I accept  there will always be a level of intimacy that is unreachable with others who have not been born with the cultural soul of the culture that is mine. and I have hurt from that

About the Author: vica g, born in mexico, grew up in the usa, xicana poet/ 58 years of life/masters degree in library and information science

By Kathleen McHugh

“Who am I?” and “where do I belong?” are questions we all ask. Some of us have to think of our skin color whenever we try to answer that question, because how we perceive ourselves is always held up against how others perceive us.

The Realization of Whiteness

The first time I had a sense of self-perception was in high school when an African American friend invited me to spend the weekend at her home. Our school was mainly white with a small number of students representing various races and ethnic groups. She lived on a military base. When I got on base, I noticed an immediate reversal of skin color. Rarely did I see a white person. Her father was a military officer. In both the officers housing and enlisted areas of the base I was surrounded by shades of brown and black.

That was the first time I ever had the self-conscious thought “I’m white” inside my mind for a protracted period of time. It was a strange feeling. When we went to school the next week, I looked at her differently and wondered what it would be like to live inside brown skin that is always surrounded by white skin.

Inside Out

Recently I recalled that high school experience when I saw an African American art student paint a small brown oval surrounded by a sea of peach colored paint. She was completely engrossed in what she was doing. She transitioned from using a brush to paint a shape on the paper to using her hands to mix layers and layers of skin tones into a tertiary gray, which she then transferred to her hands and forearms.

Her experiment became the inspiration for the collaborative art project I did with Mr. Stowell’s 4th- and 5th-grade class at Northgate Elementary. I wondered how they would respond to the concept of creating self-portraits expressing their inner lives installed over a field of skin tones.

This video captures vignettes of youth considering identity and color as they situate individual images in art constructed environments:

About the Author: Kathleen McHugh is a Seattle-based artist. She has been actively exhibiting and teaching visual art since receiving her BFA from the Cornish Institute of the Arts in 1982. Themes of relation and identity are central to her work. 

This gallery contains 6 photos.

By John Armstrong I’m a photographer who has two photos in the upcoming Wing Luke show “Under My Skin.” I believe that one of the roles of contemporary photography and art in general is to educate, provoke and promote discussions about various issues. One recurring theme I’m interested in is what I’ll broadly call advertising. …

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By Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

In 2006, I wrote the poem “The Politics of Beauty” in response to a Filipino friend’s lament that her young daughter had been told she was lucky because of her light skin and hair. As a mother of Euro-Filipino children, I too was horrified that someone, even in a well-meaning way, would teach a child such a racist viewpoint. As the poem developed, however, I began to realize that the poem was really for all women of color, especially Pinays, who still believed that their bodies—short, dark, flat-nosed, slanted-eyed—marked them as less desirable, less intelligent.

Time and again, I have heard the stories of Pinays having their eyelids altered so they would appear more round-eyed. Skin-lightening creams are popular both in the US and in the Philippines. As a child, I was told never to play in the sun so my skin wouldn’t darken any further. In public women’s rooms, I overheard jealousy over taller, thinner, paler women, and I realized they were wishing to be different than who they were physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Why this self-hatred? It was easy to blame commercials and ads showing leggy blonds draped in jewels strutting catwalks while cameras flashed all around them, but not everyone wants to be a model, not everyone needs the power of attention.

As a US-born child of immigrant parents, I realized that wanting to be different was a matter of survival; the closer we can align ourselves with the dominant culture, the more likely we are to succeed socially and economically. We often feel powerless to change the systems of oppression we experience. It seems easer to change our own bodies to undo the violence of colonialism and capitalism inflicted upon our predecessors and us.

The problem, though, is that it is very difficult to see self-racism, to be brave enough to encourage each other to be proud of the bodies we have, to see the irony in the popularity of tanning booths and products to make pale skin look “sun-kissed.”

“The Politics of Beauty” was written in hay(na)ku, a form created by Eileen Tabios, a Pinay writer from California. The crisp pace of the form focuses the images as they shift from the body to the landscape. The poem wraps with a mention of Mebuyan, the Manobo Goddess of the Underworld. Mebuyan refused to live in the sky where her brother ruled. Instead, she created a place where the dead could rest before being judged by the Creator. The halls of her kingdom are polished gold so the dead can see themselves clearly. Only good and sensible things are discussed there, and when the dead speak, everyone listens. Mebuyan takes particular care of the unborn children and she is often depicted with many breasts with which she nurtures the unborn.

In my poem, Mebuyan weeps because the dead come to her altered from their true selves, broken and believing that there is nothing good or sensible about them. She weeps to heal; she weeps to mourn the loss of fulfilled lives. Part warning, part prayer, “The Politics of Beauty” is dedicated to the silent ones whose beauty shines beneath the layered pain, a pledge to work toward a world where our daughters will shine with authentic beauty inside and out.

The Politics of Beauty

your nose
tight and high.

your skin
from darkening sunrays.

your feet;
no shuffling steps.

your back
tall and lean.

your tongue
around English words,

words erasing,
taking away skin,

almond brown,
hair, midnight sky.

you’ll pass
through golden doors,

behind paddies
and plantations ripped

jungle hillsides
where kulintang sing

songs for
dark-skinned children begging,

mothers turning
tricks, sending daughters

to broken men
with violent hands,

Mebuyan weeps
the dead home.

About the Author: Publishing under the pen name Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Rebecca A. Saxton received her MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University in 2012. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Katipunan Literary Magazine and the online magazine Haruah. Her short story “Yellow is for Luck” appears in the anthology Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults, edited by Cecilia Brainard. Her poetry chapbook Pause Mid-Flight was released in 2010. She has been performing as a storyteller with the Bellingham Storyteller’s Guild for six years and specializes in stories based on Filipino folktales and Filipino-American history. Currently she is a member of the English Faculty at Northwest Indian College.   

To contact Rebecca, please email

By Mizu Sugimura

“Just Who Is Yellow?” is the title of a mixed-media collage that I made which appeared in the show “Beyond Talk: Redrawing Race” at the Wing Luke Museum in 2004. It was one of several originally made to address a particular member of the audience: my own family, and especially Mom.

Just Who Is Yellow? by Mizu Sugimura

Just Who Is Yellow? by Mizu Sugimura

You see, back in the day it was Mom and my own family who refused to be engaged about conversations about race! Oh yes. They did introduce my sibling and me to the concept — i.e. in this country there were primarily haku-jin (whites) and nihon-jin (us). Only years later I learned we actually needed to use a different word for half of that equation or “Nikkei,” which I use now.

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