As a first generation Japanese-American, I am deeply curious about portraying the diverse individuals who claim this country as home. My culture and heritage are vital to my identity, and photography became a means to portray the disconnect I felt between the so-called “melting pot” of the U.S. and the roots of my ethnic identity. In this project, I wanted to embody the out of placeness of each model through their traditional cultural garments in an environment that creates a jarring juxtaposition. These portraits of young people of color reveal experiences that bridge their own cultures and heritage with living in America. They represent the celebration of multiculturalism and rejection of assimilation.
“My name is Anissa P., and I am Thai. I am wearing a Joang kra bain and the Sabai. The Joang kra bain are the pants I wore, but is an adapted version which did not exist before Western settlement. The Sabai is the wrap which was not pleated until iron appliances became popular in Thailand. During the photoshoot, I felt out of place at first but then eventually felt more comfortable walking casually around in my neighborhood. I wouldn't have years ago, but now I'm aware of my cultural pride. As I've gotten older, I have become very distant from my Thai culture due to my focus on school, immersion of American culture and the English language. Going back to my culture and understanding its significance for myself makes me feel proud of who I am and where my family came from. I think if I had lived somewhere else besides NYC or any city area, I would mistaken my ethnicity as something that only defines who I am. I would be proud of being Thai, but I wouldn't understand that being Thai is just a portion of my identity as a whole.”
“My name is Mahwish A., and I am Bengali, Indian, and Pakistani. I am wearing a lehenga, which are usually worn at weddings and other special occasions. The photo shoot made me feel very self conscious, as wearing something very flashy and having my pictures taken made most people want to look. I did get a compliment or two. Growing up in the United States, especially somewhere like New York, if I wanted to wear my traditional clothing, it wouldn't be a problem. As for my cultural ties, people ask me sometimes of my religion and culture and I do my best to explain that I'm Muslim; and Islam is different from the three places that make up my family and I've tried to understand that through reading and re-reading the Quran. Although it's easier to throw on a shirt and pair of jeans, it's much more exciting to wear your culture and to be able to learn about it.”
"My name is Isabel S., and I am Korean. I am wearing a Hanbok, which we is worn during special events such as weddings and post-marriage ceremonies. Hanbok is especially known to be part of a Korean New Years tradition where we bow down to our elders for them to have a blessed year. When taking pictures, I felt a little self conscious at first, but later on, I felt more empowered and didn't care what others thought because I thought I looked beautiful and I felt beautiful. I suppose just shooting in places where everyone and anyone can see what I’m wearing this beautiful piece that my mother wore made me feel empowered. As a Korean American, Korean culture has just melted into my own culture. I don't really express that much cultural pride but I see it being expressed (by people from Korean culture and other cultures as well) -- whether it's K-pop or learning the Korean language or eating Korean food and I feel joy in sharing that with people."
“My name is Miyu S, and I am half-Japanese and half-Korean, but I would consider myself more Japanese as I was born in Japan. For this shoot I wore a yukata, which is commonly mistaken as the kimono. A yukata is not as sophisticated as a kimono and is worn more casually than a kimono. When I was younger I was ashamed to be Japanese/Korean, or being Asian in general, but as I grew up I came to love and accept my own culture. I was not doubtful at all wearing a yukata in public, but instead I was I was extremely excited. Six years ago I never would have imagined myself posing in a yukata on the streets, but doing it had brought out a confidence in my own culture and myself that I wish I had embraced a long time ago.
Asian stereotypes were the main cause of my insecurities when I was in middle school. I would try to be as far from "Asian" as possible and be more Americanized and try to speak with the most "perfect American accent". I drowned myself in how people had perceived me when it came to stereotypes. In the end, stereotypes do not make up my character; ignoring stereotypes was one of the hardest things I've had to overcome, but it had made me a better person in the end.”
“My name is Rebecca and I am Korean. When wearing my Mom’s hanbok, I am reminded of my split identity as a daughter of Korean immigrants and as the Canadian-born New Yorker. This dress represents the relationship I have with my parents; the cultural clashes that we experience and struggle with, as a result of being people who have lived in different places at different times. To me, the blue of the top represents the serenity and humility that can be associated with Korean culture. The red of the dress resounds with a curiosity and boldness, traits that I find to be representative of the American in me. The two colors stand out against each other and I think that is what makes the combination so beautiful. My parents and I are so different, but because of this, we are both exposed to different ways of thinking. This has definitely made me more open-minded and more willing to learn about contrasting perspectives.
Visiting Korea allowed me to learn about the Korean culture and about my family. It made me feel alienated, but it also made me recognize the sacrifices my parents made by coming to America by themselves. Although I feel conflicted at times due to the cultural differences, I thank them for teaching me how to speak, read, and write Korean. I have been given the opportunity to experience and be a part of both worlds. It can be a struggle, but I accept the challenge.”