Talking about Critical Mixed Race Studies in the Wake of Ferguson

In this guest post, Laura Kina, coeditor of War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art, discusses the emerging discipline of mixed race studies and what it can contribute to ongoing dialogues surrounding race, police brutality, and social justice in the wake of Ferguson.

Since the deaths this past summer of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York by white police officers, our nation has been embroiled in discussions of police brutality and racial profiling. The social unrest and racial tensions of our current moment are a stark contrast to the congratulatory “post-racial” moment in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama–the first black “biracial” president. Recent racial tensions also present stark contrast to the celebration of the multiracial “melting pot” that America celebrated following the 2000 US Census, which allowed individuals to self-identify as more than one race for the first time.

Those earlier, problematic readings of race—as something to either get beyond or as something new and worthy of celebration—coupled with the dearth of history and representations of mixed race Asian American lives inspired my coauthor Wei Ming Dariotis and I to publish War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art (University of Washington Press, 2013). Along with my DePaul colleague Camilla Fojas, we also set out to challenge these myths and establish a scholarly field of Critical Mixed Race Studies.

In November 2014, DePaul University hosted an international conference—“Global Mixed Race,” the 3rd biennial Critical Mixed Race Studies conference in Chicago. More than 600 people attended, including scholars, artists, performers, filmmakers, activists, and students from across the United States as well as Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. The conference featured two keynote speakers from Ireland: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, author of Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants and coeditor of Global Mixed Race; and Zélie Asava, author of Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed Race Identities in Irish Film and TV. Through our partnership with the nonprofit organization Mixed Roots Stories we presented live performances and film screenings across the conference. This central inclusion of the arts prioritizes the importance of storytelling, the rootedness in the texture and affect of lived experiences, the world of imagination, and visions of alternative realities.

Closing remarks at Mixed Roots Stories Live Performance at the November 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. Photo by Ken Tanabe.

Closing remarks at Mixed Roots Stories Live Performance at the November 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. Photo by Ken Tanabe.

Critical Mixed Race Studies is about recognizing the totality of one’s heritage—seeing race and systems of racism in the particular context of mixed race and talking about what this means for our lives and communities today, what it has meant historically, and what we might envision our futures to be like, and what we can do now to help in anti-racist struggles across many different communities. It reflects a turn to comparative racialization that challenges discrete categories of race and it is inherently tied to colonial and imperial histories, giving it a transnational and global focus that displaces the United States from the center of critical analysis.

The mixing of races is the result of various kinds of migration, both forced and at will, and it is the outcome of imperial expansion throughout the ages. Moreover, the idea of mixed race is not based on discrete racial categories or some cultural or ethnic similarities—e.g., food, customs, or language—or geographical location. Rather mixed race is a way of seeing that enables an examination of the comparative processes of racialization without resorting to any single defined group identity or place.

Our 2014 theme, “Global Mixed Race,” recognized this widening scope of critical mixed race studies in its comparative, transnational, and global dimensions. We are attentive to the persistence of racialized violence and the troubled history of racism in the US and the world as we explore issues of multiracial and mixed intimacies and contact along with the possibilities of global anti-racist political alliances among multiracial communities and their allies.

As the urgency of how much black lives matter fades from the headlines, it’s important for us to keep an intersectional focus on these issues. As Critical Mixed Race Studies and Mixed Roots Stories and many other multiracial community organizations collectively stated in November 2014 in support of the family of Michael Brown Jr.: “We are connected to these events and stand in solidarity with the many individuals and communities that have been harmed by the legacies of white supremacy, privilege, and racism. As community organizers, scholars, activists, writers, and artists, we remain resolute in dismantling racism through our work and actions.”

Laura Kina is an artist and Vincent de Paul 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. Her solo exhibition, “Blue Hawaiʻi,” is on view from January 27 through March 3, 2015 at the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University. Visit Kina’s website for more information.

Watch Critical Mixed Race Studies and Mixed Roots Stories videos from the November 2014 conference:

Critical Mixed Race Studies keynote address: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, “Mixed Race, Transconnectivity, and the Global Imagination”

Mixed Roots Stories keynote address : Zélie Asava, “The Black Irish Onscreen”

Mixed Roots Stories live performances

Recommended Reading

The University of Washington Press is the publisher of a number of recent and forthcoming titles that contribute to mixed race studies as well as ongoing dialogues about race, artistic expression, state violence, and black history:

Rising Tide of Color: Race, State Violence, and Radical Movements Across the Pacific
Edited by Moon-Ho Jung

Radical Theatrics: Put-Ons, Politics, and the Sixties
By Craig J. Peariso

Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora
Edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen

Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement
By Emilie Raymond

Forthcoming Fall 2015:

Portland’s Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City
By Lucas N. Burke and Judson Jeffries

Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime
By Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan: A Visual Tour

In her travels through Kyrgyzstan, photographer Margaret Morton became captivated by the haunting grandeur of the region’s remote cemeteries. Architecturally unique, Kyrgyzstan’s dramatically sited cemeteries reveal the syncretic nature of Kyrgyz religious and cultural identities. “Morton’s photographs provide evidence of how culture is a living, evolving concept,” explains Kyrgyz anthropologist Elmira Köchümkulova, who leads University of Central Asia’s Cultural Heritage and Humanities Unit and contributed the introduction to the book. “These photographs are an invaluable record of the coexistence of multiple cultures, including nomadic, Muslim and Soviet, and the construction of complex identities over time.”

Margaret’s stunning photographs of these cemeteries are collected in the new book, Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan. The Cooper Union’s Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery will host an exhibition of photos from the collection (January 27 through February 28) and a public reception on Tuesday, February 3 at 6:30. She will also sign books at the UW Press (booth 1007) in the College Art Association exhibit hall on February 12 from noon to 1:00 p.m.

Here, Margaret guides us through a visual tour of the remarkable natural and human landscapes that she so deftly captures in her book.

M_Morton_kg07-6876&6878-22.25x8.75_TITLE PAGE (2)A Kyrgyz ancestral cemetery seen from a distance is astonishing. At first it seems a mirage. The ornate domes and minarets are so completely at odds with the desolate mountain landscape.

kg08-9705-M_Morton (2)Miniature cities appear unexpectedly on the edges of inaccessible cliffs or stretch along deserted roads.

kg06-2684-M_Morton (2)My first trip to Kyrgyzstan was in July 2006, with Manhattan theater director Virlana Tkacz, who had invited me to photograph sites referenced in a Kyrgyz poem that she was developing into a theater piece. As we traveled along deserted road, a magnificent miniature city suddenly came into view.
Morton 14But when we drove passed, the majestic forms compressed and flattened. I was transfixed by the illusion. Determined to photograph additional sites, I postponed my flight and extended my stay from six to ten weeks. I returned to Kyrgyzstan the two following summers to continue the project.

kg08-2268-M_Morton (2)Kyrgyz mark their graves with a variety of structures that reflect the complex nature of the peoples’ religious and cultural traditions. Islamic beliefs are evident in the mosque style.

kg06-2771-M_Morton (2)Other monuments reflect Kyrgyz nomadic traditions, such as metal frames that reference the yurt, or boz üy, in Kyrgyz, a portable hut used by Central Asian herders.

???????????????????????????In more remote regions, horns and skulls of mountain sheep and goats combine with Islamic forms.

????????????????Although Kyrgyz people rarely visit the gravesites, the cemeteries are peopled with portraits of the deceased. These enamel-on-copper images were often attached to monuments during the Soviet period.

kg07-6934-M_Morton (2)Renovating or repairing old or damaged tombs is not a Kyrgyz custom. Most people believe that the monuments should disappear back into the earth with the passage of time.

Margaret Morton
is professor of art at The Cooper Union. She is the author of four previous photography books exploring alternative built environments: Fragile Dwelling; The Tunnel: The Underground Homeless of New York City; Transitory Gardens, Uprooted Lives (with Diana Balmori); and Glass House.

Three UW Press Books Named Choice Outstanding Academic Titles

Three University of Washington Press books representing the breadth of our publishing program were named 2014 Choice Outstanding Academic titles. This prestigious list reflects the best titles reviewed by Choice in the past year and brings with it the extraordinary recognition of the academic library community. This year’s list includes 690 titles (selected out of 7,000+ books) in 54 disciplines and subsections. They were chosen for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contributions to their fields, and their valuable treatment of the subject matter.

Congratulations to all the UW Press authors, editors, and contributors recognized by Choice!

Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora
Edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen

Pairing image and text, Troubling Borders showcases creative writing and visual artworks by sixty-one women of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Filipino ancestry. The collection features compelling storytelling that troubles the borders of categorization and reflects the multilayered experience of Southeast Asian women.

Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia
Edited by Robert T. Boyd, Kenneth M. Ames, and Tony A. Johnson

Chinookan peoples have lived on the Lower Columbia River for millennia. Today they are one of the most significant Native groups in the Pacific Northwest, although the Chinook Tribe is still unrecognized by the United States government. In Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia, scholars provide a deep and wide-ranging picture of the landscape, history, and culture of the Chinookan peoples.


Whales and Nations: Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas
By Kurkpatrick Dorsey

Before commercial whaling was outlawed in the 1980s, diplomats, scientists, bureaucrats, environmentalists, and sometimes even whalers themselves had attempted to create an international regulatory framework that would allow for a sustainable whaling industry. In Whales and Nations, Kurkpatrick Dorsey tells the story of the international negotiation, scientific research, and industrial development behind these efforts – and their ultimate failure.

Fifty Years of the Immigration and Nationality Act: Guest Post by Nalini Iyer and Amy Bhatt

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also referred to as the Hart-Cellar Act). This landmark legislation was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and abolished country based quotas as the basis for immigration. It prioritized instead skills and family reunification, opening the doors to new waves of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world that had been previously restricted. In this guest post, Nalini Iyer and Amy Bhatt, authors of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest reflect on that change and preview some of the celebrations and commemorations that will take place in the coming year.

Fifty years ago, the Immigration and Nationality Act was a major source of contention in Congress as many feared that too many foreigners would change the fabric of the American nation and create too much competition for jobs. As a way to assuage these fears, several prominent politicians of the day (including Robert Kennedy) predicted that there would be minimal impact on immigration from the Asia Pacific triangle and suggested that we might see about 5,000 immigrants from the region in the first year and not much after that.

However, the legislators of the time were way off the mark in their demographic predictions. After the bill was passed, the numbers of immigrations from South Asia rose immensely. Between 1961-1970, India only sent 31,200 immigrants to the United States and Pakistan sent 4,900, but through the 1970s, the numbers increased to 176,800 immigrants from India and 157,000 from Pakistan/Bangladesh. By the 2000s, 157,000 Pakistanis and 106,700 Bangladeshis arrived and between 2001 and 2010, 662,500 Indians acquired legal permanent resident status[1]. Without a doubt, the Immigration and Nationality Act and the waves of immigration from South Asia that followed, have transformed the racial, economic, social, and political fabric of this country. Continue reading

January 2015 News, Reviews, and Events


The University of Washington Press community was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Naomi Brenner Pascal, our longtime editor-in-chief, on December 5. Naomi’s achievements as an editor were legendary in the scholarly publishing community. A celebration of her life and work is planned for February 20. Read more about Naomi’s life and career here.


Citizen 13660 by Mine Okubo, reviewed by the International Examiner:

“This graphic memoir has a unique place in the literature for its presentation of the experience through the eyes and hands of a great artist. Get a copy and study the drawings. It will come as a revelation for the many who have never seen it.” –Chizu Omori, International Examiner, December 2014 Continue reading

Bertha Blues in a Sinking City: A Brief History of Seattle’s Shifting Landscapes

David B. Williams talks Seattle geology in front of the Exchange Building's 3.54 billion-year-old gneiss feature.

David B. Williams discusses Seattle’s surprising geological history. The marled stone behind him is 3.54 billion-year-old gneiss that can be found at the base of the Seattle Exchange Building.

In the past week, Seattle received more bad news about its ill-fated tunnel construction and Bertha, the infamous tunnel-borer that has now been stuck under the city for a year. New reports indicate that Pioneer Square has sunk an inch since Thanksgiving and that a number of historic buildings and roadways are newly compromised by the beleaguered tunnel project. In this guest post, author David B. Williams places these recent developments within the city’s complicated history of reshaping its landscape, arguing that the shifting ground should come as no surprise.

[Crossposted from]

Another day, another problem with Bertha. This time it has to do with cracks and settling and groundwater and planning and fixing and… It’s amazing how many problems that Bertha has had! I want to focus in on the newest map released by the Washington state Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Below is a zoom-in on the map, where I have added an outline of Seattle’s historic shoreline in red. You can clearly see that the areas of greatest settling correspond to where the city was filled in around what is known as Maynard Point (also known as Denny’s Island, but this is a made up name that probably didn’t come into existence till the 1960s). Maynard Point was a mound that rose perhaps 20 feet or so above sea level. It connected to the main part of Seattle by The Neck, a low spot that would periodically be covered by tides, converting the mound into an island. The Point has also been buried by fill. Continue reading

Poetry and the Politics of Chinese Immigration on Angel Island: Q&A with Judy Yung

In the early twentieth century, most Chinese immigrants coming to the United States were detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay. There, they were subject to physical exams, interrogations, and often long detentions aimed at upholding the exclusion laws that kept Chinese out of the country. Many detainees recorded their anger and frustrations, hopes and despair in poetry written and carved on the barrack walls.

Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, Second Edition tells these immigrants’ stories while underscoring their relevance to contemporary immigration issues. First published in 1980, this book is now offered in an updated, expanded edition including a new historical introduction, 150 annotated poems in Chinese and English translation, extensive profiles of immigrants gleaned through oral histories, and dozens of new photographs from public archives and family albums. In this Q & A, Judy Yung—one of the book’s three coauthors—discusses the Angel Island Chinese immigrant experience, remarkable poetry engravings on the barrack walls, and more. 

Could you give us a snapshot of a common Angel Island immigrant experience?

Judy Yung: From the beginning, the Angel Island Immigration Station has been known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” but in fact, it was very different from its counterpart in New York. Built in 1892 to welcome European immigrants to America, Ellis Island processed immigrants through within a few hours. They were given a cursory physical exam and asked 29 questions mainly to test their sound minds and ability to support themselves in America. Only 10% of the 12 million who came through Ellis Island were detained, usually for a few days, for legal or medical reasons.  In contrast, Angel Island was built in 1910 to better enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from the country. At Angel Island, Chinese immigrants were thoroughly examined and interrogated and often detained for weeks and months at a time.

Chinese men's dormitory, 1910. Courtesy of California State Parks, 2014.

Chinese men’s dormitory, 1910. Courtesy of California State Parks, 2014.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, all Chinese newcomers were taken by ferry to the Angel Island Immigration Station for the medical exam and immigration inspection. Aside from the line inspection and eye exam by medical officers, they were subjected to an invasive exam of their blood and waste products to detect parasitic diseases such as hookworms. If found with these diseases, they could seek medical treatment at the immigration hospital, but it would be at their own expense. Following the medical exam came the dreaded hearing before the Board of Special Inquiry, in which Chinese applicants were interrogated for days and asked hundreds of detailed questions about their family background, village life, and marital relations in an effort to verify their identities and right to enter the country. The same questions were asked of their witnesses, and discrepancies in their answers could mean deportation. When denied entry, 88% of the Chinese applicants chose to retain an attorney to appeal their cases to immigration authorities in D.C. and the higher courts if necessary. They usually succeeded in their appeals, but it meant staying locked up on Angel Island for an additional six months and added expenses. Continue reading