An exhibit at the Japanese American Nation Museum in Los Angeles is focusing on the history of mixed-race Asian Americans. Paintings, photographs, artifacts, prose and video are all included in the exhibit Visible and Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History. The artwork and interpretive information trace the history of immigration from Japan, while also chronicling the racial segregation and anti-miscegenation laws faced by Japanese Americans.
One of the most compelling parts of the exhibits consists of a series of old doors. It displaying a series of documents and photos from the early 1900s, when a federal law known as the Cable Act stripped a white American woman of her U.S. citizenship if she married an Asian man. Various states also had anti-miscegenation laws, which were not fully struck down until the 1967 Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia.
Visible and Invisible also includes more recent aspects of the mixed-race Japanese American experience, such as the experience of hapas in popular cultural and social activities, such as beauty pageants and basketball leagues. An exhibit of sports jerseys emblazoned with names like Kimura, Asklipiadis and Wong show the diversity within the players on these teams. Behind that display is a wall full of glossy headshots featuring winners of the Nisei Queen contest. Yet multiracials weren’t always accepted into the Japanese American community. According to USC Professor Duncan Williams, who is one of the curators of the exhibit, “For basketball, most Japanese American teams permit a quota of only two hapa players everyone else needs to be a ‘pure’ Japanese American.” Another display shows a column from the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, decrying mixed-race winners of the pageant as a symbol of the decline of the Japanese American community.
Another part of the exhibit gives visitors a chance to express their own identity through drawing or writing in blank journals with a variety of colored pencils. Some of the sketches in these journals are every bit as powerful as the curated artwork.
This exhibit gives people a way to see real examples of what it’s like to be a mixed-race. This is a great time to focus on these experiences now because multiracials are projected to become the majority of the 1.3 million Japanese Americans.
The Visible and Invisible exhibit will be on display at the Japanese American National Museum through August 25, 2013. For more information, visit their website.