During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many artists have struggled with isolation, but coming up in November, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) chapter in Seattle will try to bring artists together by hosting Multiracial Artists in Conversation. This free event takes place online on November 6, and focuses on self-definition through art.
The panel will be moderated by Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor, a fifth-generation Japanese and first-generation Filipina American and dance artist, and will include several artists: Gina Ariko, a biracial first-generation American painter and mentor for other mixed-identity women; Elisabeth Vasquez Hein, a Filipina American photographer exploring what it means to come from diaspora, centuries of colonization, and mestizaje; and Anne Liu Kellor, a mixed-race Chinese American writer, editor, and author of Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging.
Each of these artists came to share their stories on this panel through personal connections. “Gabrielle had posted a comment about wanting to raise her children with an awareness of their Filipino roots,” Hein said. “Me being pregnant at the time, this really resonated with me, and I made a note of Gabrielle’s name with the intention to reach out to her and connect around this shared interest.”
Ultimately, Hein met Gainor through Hein’s husband, Paul Kikuchi, who knew Gabrielle through Seattle’s Japanese American artist community. “Paul and I recently had a baby, and we often talk about how we will raise our mixed-race child, and being mixed race ourselves,” she said. “Through my correspondence with Gabrielle about our children and our identities, Gabrielle invited me to speak on this panel.”
Kellor likewise found community with JACL. “I first learned about JACL’s offerings through my friends Sharon H. Chang and Deann Alcantara-Thompson, both of whom have organized events for them, and both of whom I was lucky to have participate in my inaugural ‘Shapeshifting: Reading and Writing the Mixed-Race Experience’ class,” she said. “Then, after I attended a JACL panel last year, they sent out a questionnaire asking folks to suggest future programming, and I volunteered myself.“
And Marioni hopes to build more community. “Gabrielle found me on Instagram!” she reported. “I was thrilled when she reached out to me because I started all of this during the pandemic, which meant I haven’t had much opportunity to connect with other local artists and community organizers here in Seattle.”
The panel will talk about their recent projects in relation to their identities, with Hein talking about her photography thesis entitled In Skin and Spirit | Sa Balat at Espiritu. “This was an exploration of my Filipino ancestry, what it means to be the daughter of an immigrant from the Philippines, and what from my lineage is carried forth in my own being,” Hein said, adding that her previous project was a series of portraits of mixed race folks with Filipino roots, entitled Only Half. “The most important things I have learned through these photography projects are how to embrace and live into myself, how bodily memory can be a guide for creativity, and how visual voice is a powerful storyteller.”
Kellor will share about her memoir, which has been a 20-year project, as well as her recent teaching. “Over the last few years, I have started offering classes specifically for mixed race folks, as well as ones for Asian Americans and for womxn of color,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about patience and persistence.”
For Marioni, the year 2020 was a time of transition. “I left my job in tech to start my own business as an artist, something I had dreamed of doing for years but kept putting off,” she recalled. “A lot of artists and creative professionals also have a mixed career. This inspired me to develop the Hyphenated Artists Club, a community and mentorship group for mixed-identity women/femme artists to show up fully and in both their personal and professional life.”
During the panel, Kellor is looking forward to highlighting the creative process. “It will be exciting to talk about it across different artistic mediums to see what parallels and differences we find,” she said. “It will also be interesting to learn how the mixed-race identity factors into each of our work, both in obvious and in subtle ways that perhaps we haven’t yet even considered.”
Marioni agrees. “I look forward to discussing what it means to be able to tell our own stories and show up fully as ourselves,” she said. “There are so many more interesting conversations to be had when we can move past measuring how much we do or don’t fit into any one box.”
Identity will be a key focus. “I hope the primary topics of conversation during this panel will center on the beauty and power that come from telling one’s story through artistic means,” Hein said. “I hope the conversation will highlight the challenges we face as mixed-race people, especially how we are sometimes reluctant to outwardly acknowledge these challenges, and how we can harness the challenges and channel that energy into lifting up our stories and claiming our identities.”
The artists have high hopes for the event’s outcome. “I would love for this panel discussion to inspire others to think about the in-between spaces they occupy, racial, cultural or otherwise, and how this unique perspective benefits them,” Marioni said. “I hope that it sparks future conversations around self-acceptance and approaching differences with curiosity rather than judgement.”
Kellor especially enjoys motivating others toward artistic creation. “I would simply love to see more mixed-race folks becoming curious about exploring their origins, rather than feeling like it’s something to minimize or hide,” she said. “I also hope that this panel will encourage the audience to honor their creativity.”
Above all, Hein sees this panel as part of JACL’s goal of building community. “I hope that people attending will come away with inspiration to share their own stories, bringing to light more voices of mixed-race folks,” she said. “I love that there is a space that exists for this type of discussion, and I hope it continues for future generations.”