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Tori 2018 LA Thank you to everyone that has helped out, participated, and been open to me photographing them for this project. I have a lot to think about our identity in this country, how we are currently portrayed, and who are the ones doing so in an honest, genuine matter. The support has been so incredible, and I can’t wait to keep meeting and working with new people. Anyone out there that identifies as Asian American, let me know if you’d like to work together or if you just want to chat about it all. I want to hear what you’ve been feeling and how you’ve coped with your own being.
Japanese Latino photographer Ricardo Nagaoka’s Gold Mountain, his 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.”
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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