HomeBad Ass AsiansJapanese Latino Photographer Explores Asian America

Japanese Latino Photographer Explores Asian America

Japanese Latino photographer Ricardo Nagaoka’s Gold Mountainhis project with the British Journal of Photography (BJP), explores the spectrum of Asian American identities across the U.S.

Raised in Paraguay until the age of 12 when he moved to Canada, and now based in Portland, OR, Nagaoka struggled with his Asian identity growing up.

He shared with BJP that, lacking Asian role models, he would assimilate to whatever culture was dominant.  “There was not anything else so you start to accept that being Asian, and the stereotypes that come with it, begin to define you,” he told BJP. 

Individuals he photographed and interviewed in the U.S. expressed their own struggles with their identities. For example, Vietnamese American Tracy who grew up in Pennsylvania with “friends [who] were mostly white” stated: “I guess because I was born in the U.S. and only had American friends I didn’t feel Asian American. I was always hanging around American people so I saw them, I didn’t see myself.” Filipino American Dylan adds that “At school you get told that you are the Asian kid so you kind of accept that you are the Asian kid…You begin to make all the stereotypes and jokes part of your identity but, once you reflect, you realize how messed up that is.”

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Celia for @bjp1854 Oakland, CA 2018

A post shared by Ricardo Nagaoka (@hisnameisricardo) on

Nagaoka calls the spectrum of identity that Asian Americans float around in “the in between space.” In this space, individuals are trying to figure out their hyphenated identities. Some, as Tracy points out, opt for only one branch of the multi-pronged identity. Others internalize the racism they face, embedding the stereotypes and jokes into their identities.

Nagaoka and those he photographed and interviewed believe that more Asian representation in mainstream media without the stereotypical tropes will help Asian Americans find themselves in the in between space. 

According to The South China Morning Post, Nagaoka said “[In the media] Asian Americans are rarely depicted…And when we are, we are often forced into these clichéd tropes: the nerdy Asian, the submissive Asian, the exotic Asian. I am looking to create a genuine representation.” 

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