Saturday night I went to an event called Blasian Narratives, featuring students from Stanford, including Whitney Francis, joining a group from Morehouse and Spelman, two historically black colleges. I'd seen them two years ago and many of the original performers were there along with some new ones. Earlier this month I had seen a film about Blasians, Rising Sun, Rising Soul. And I had also done a talk with Whitney about Blasians and other mixed heritage Asians.
The students presented both monologues and interactive storytelling. Their diversity was stunning, Asian being Korean, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Japanese, and Vietnamese, with diverse forms of Black as well, from the Caribbean to Ghana. The purpose of the project by Canon Empire, a Cambodian American filmmaker and storyteller, is to unite Asian and Black communities through “Blasian” narratives and intimate and critical dialogues about race. He seeks to illuminate the reality that two communities historically socialized to see each other as polarized opposites and as competition and comparisons actually have much in common.
The presentations showed the complexity of lives that cross borders and enter liminal and marginal spaces, where creativity can flourish. Each person, in their own unique way, expressed their identities-in-flux, as if they were re-creating it right there on stage. As I watched them perform I was reminded of the wisdom of the identity scholar Erikson, who reminded us that: “Identity consciousness is overcome by a sense of identity won in action.”
These “Blasians” are creating something new, testing how much unity there is in such diverse experiences of Blackness, Asian-ness, and Blasian-ness. While acknowledging the critical concern with how they are perceived by others, they also proclaim the right and ability to self-define and assert themselves. Though others may try to define by exclusion, these youth are defining by inclusion. They are connecting to the diverse parts of themselves and in so doing, connecting with wider communities of people, cultures, and histories. This process of creation is healing and empowering for both individuals and communities.
Blasian for some is Grits and Sushi. This is the name of a blog by Mitzi Uehara Carter, whose story I have told in blogs and in When Half is Whole. For her, “Black” is African American, and “Asian” is Japanese, so “Blackanese.” Going further, “Japanese” is Okinawan, so she’s “Blackinawan.” Mitzi writes:
“Our bodies, our presence, our reality are a nuisance to some because we defy a definite and demarcated set of boundaries. We confuse those who try to organize ethnic groups by highlighting these boundaries because they don’t know how to include us or exclude us. We are Blackanese, Hapa, Eurasian, Multiracial.”
Here, Mitzi’s “we” includes a wider range of people, the rapidly expanding multiracial population that still faces challenges. To some people, “we” are offensive and a nuisance. Offensive because we raise disturbing thoughts of interracial sex? Offensive because our very bodies destroy the neat boundaries cherished by so many people trying to control and order their world into rigid racial boxes of White, Black, and Yellow? A nuisance because we threaten the authority of established political interest groups and those heavily invested in maintaining distinctions and barriers to membership?
Being offensive and a nuisance is a role that ethnic artists and writers can take to a higher level where they provide insights and conceptions of how we might heal ourselves from what most deeply divides and threatens us. I feel that Mitzi and the young Blasians I saw on stage are creating a revolutionary consciousness by actively connecting to all their parts and engaging in activities that bring others together. Those in the audience reflect on their own identities, feel empowered to look deeper into their own history, and reclaim the power of the resilience of their people and ancestors. In oneness, we cross borders and connect to ourselves and others, healing the hurts of human suffering caused by the illusion of our separateness.