Story of a Mixed-Race Teacher Recalled by the Exhibit

After seeing the Race Exhibit at Pacific Science Center, Amber Wolfe Wollam shared some of her stories and thoughts on race. She remembered that in the second grade, she was tested for a gifted program. She didn’t get it.

“My mother always thought, [since] we were living in the east coast, that the only reason I didn’t get in because I was a kid of color, and there weren’t many kids of color,” said Wollam.

However, Wollam, a 40-year-old private school teacher from Seattle, has always been optimistic. She has never felt offended when she’s been asked, “What are you?

To her, sometimes it was even fun to be “miscellaneous race.” She doesn’t mind answering the question, which many people find offensive. She laughed after she told me her favorite answer.

“I’m half black and half white, like our president,” said Wollam.

Instead of feeling offended, Wollam thought sometimes she might have made people feel uncomfortable. She was always curious to know more about others’ races. She also has a feeling that people who look mixed wouldn’t mind being asked “that question” by somebody else who is mixed. But the fact is, some of them do.

But no matter what, Wollam is very proud of being able to say that her dad is black and her mum is white. She also thinks that the exhibit has successfully challenged hers in some ways, just like what its poster says.

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Perspective of a Chinese-American Educator

Annie Zhou thinks “Race: Are We So Different?” has made her realize race is a global issue.
Photo by Ting Ting Chu.

Annie Zhou, a Chinese-American educator from International District in Seattle, thinks the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different” didn’t challenge her a lot. Instead, it has given her a deeper view of race through a scientific lens.

Zhou volunteers with the community as a facilitator for groups that are going to visit this race exhibit. She, nevertheless, didn’t visit it just because of this.

Currently Zhou is working at a high school. As a school counselor and an educator, she thinks talking about both race and equity is important. She said she saw it “played out” in school as well as the larger society.

I talked with Zhou when she was half-way through this exhibit. She didn’t think her thoughts were challenged a lot. That’s because she studied race in college, where she was a psychology major and sociology minor. She has already been engaging in this dialogue since she was in college. So, that kind of information was not new to her at all.

“Myself, I’m pretty clear what I’m racially and culturally,” said Zhou, who identified herself as a Chinese-American. However, she said lots of people, even Chinese and Asians, found it hard to believe that she was really a Chinese. “…They think I look Filipino.”

However, when it comes to friends, colleagues and strangers of other colors, they just all see her as Asian.

“But China is a big country…It’s a huge area of land, so, even people in China can’t believe, within their own country, that there are so much variation,” said Zhou.

Overall, though this race exhibit wasn’t full of surprises for Zhou, it did affect her in this ways: it has made her realize “race is an issue around the world.”

 

What is More Than a Race: A Mixed Race

                    Video by Team Mixed Show on Youtube

Throughout the week after visiting “RACE: Are We So Different?” I’ve been thinking about groups of people that would possibly have trouble identifying their races. The multiracial group, which is mixed race, then came to my mind immediately. I did some research on it and found the video above.

“So, what are you?”

Looking back to my past, I’ve never been asked this kind of offensive questions. I mean, why would I? Most people would just assume that I’m an Asian the first time they saw me, just like how they assume those “Asian-looking” mixed race people are.

Yet, there might be much more than just a race.

The Hapa Project in the exhibit says it all. The project was created by artist Kip Fullbeck, who has photographed more than 1200 people that identified themselves as “hapa.” The participants were also asked to handwrite their answers to the question “what are you?” after being photographed.

While I was looking at the photos and their responses, I realized they were all naked, without make-up and facial expressions. It’s because, “This is also about starting with as blank a slate as possible. Every way we present ourselves visually, from our style to our glasses to our jewelry to our expression, is a way of identifying ourselves culturally and socially. And I wanted people to just be who they were at their base, to be as much as possible at their essence,” as Kip stated in an interview he did with Discover Nikkei.

Even though I’ve never asked any of my mixed race friends the question above, I felt ashamed after the visit. I realized I’ve never actually spent time understanding them and their cultures. If you’ve already visited the exhibit, and took a look of the Hapa Project, did it change the way you think of the multiracial group? And if you have been asking your mixed friends that question, did you really try to understand “what” they and their cultures are before asking?