PHOTO ESSAY: Ancestry in Progress
This photo essay was a runner-up of the global photo contest by the Eur-Asian Border Lab for 2023, exploring the conceptual, formal, and metaphoric implications of borders and bordering
These collages are my way of seeking to join the disparate pasts of my bi-racial heritage. They are made from photographs old enough that most of the people depicted in them have become lost to time. The photographs speak of ages more foreign than distant lands; colonialism, tycoons, plantations, samurai, the jazz age, poverty, and world war. They represent the legacy of two families pushed together on the waves of colonialism across oceans. Their borders blurred and shifted, finally coalescing in Hawaii, the crossroads of the Pacific and the tinderbox of imperialist rivals.
In many ways they reflect the racial hodgepodge that most Americans today represent. A mix of DNA and cultural cuisines, prejudices, and values, passed down from one generation to the next. As time passes it is fascinating to observe what lingers and what disappears. Often language is the first thing to go. Yet we hang on to the myths and legends of the distant past and the lands our ancestors came from.
As cultures intersect it can be violent. Wars, conflicts, and exploitation are not strangers to this process. However, there are many good things that have come from people on the move. New ideas, opportunities, empowerment and knowledge are also part of this grand tableaux.
As I look at these old photographs, I try to make sense out the faces peering at me through a sepia haze. They have become empty signs that point to people that are no longer. They are relevant to me only by the names scrawled on their backs and the albums from which they have fallen. Like the early paleontologists assembling the first dinosaur skeletons, I must use my imagination to fill in the gaps, taking liberties to build narratives coherent to me. These old photos are combined with other photos gleaned from thrift shops and garage sales, as well as my own photos to help me understand who I am in the surreal context of America. I am constructing a narrative of my ancestry that is imagined and fanciful, but it is my own.