Mixed Asian creators and stories on center stage

With the demographic of mixed and multiracial Asians growing, and the push to see ever-greater diversity and inclusion in the media, mixed Asians have finally begun making their way onto the screen. But in what way? As what kind of characters?

All too often, the limited roles for mixed Asians have consisted of the pretty boy, the jock or the token sexual interest of the white leads. They have been exoticized not as foreign, but foreign-ish. All too often, this limiting typecasting is present when an ethnic group is cast in roles but never in the writer’s room or the director’s chair.

The goal for mixed Asians thus turns not only to inclusion of their faces, but their voices in media. And they are hoping to tell their stories through events like Mixed Asian Media magazine’s Mixed Asian Media Fest.

Held virtually via the Bizzabo platform this Sept. 15-19, the festival consisted of a wide array of artwork, from film to dance to fine art. At least one person of mixed Asian descent had to be a member of the production team. “Our festival will feature a variety of mixed APIs within their respective art forms,” said MAM Editor-in-Chief Alex Chester, a third-generation Japanese American of mixed descent. “We are the first to create something like this, and I hope the festival brings our ever-growing community together.”

Created by Mixed Asian Media, a mixed Asian-focused magazine founded in 2017, the festival was born out of a surplus of non-print content being produced by mixed Asians without a venue to show it in. “We kept getting so many submissions from creators,” Chester said.

The festival had more than 200 registrants and 100 speakers promoted their artwork and discussed issues relevant to the mixed Asian community.

“When I saw the MAMF put together, and I saw all of these stories that were so diverse and interesting and reflecting experiences similar to what I had growing up and people that I knew, I started crying several times,” said “The Next Unicorn” creator Elizabeth Chang. “I think we’re going to see larger numbers of mixed Asian people going forward, and it’s going to become more normal in our society and more common. But I think they’ll still have unique issues that come up just being not part of the mainstream.”

Participants had the opportunity to meet on the Gather platform as tiny pixelated avatars, there were performances by mixed Asian comedians, ramen bowls, trivia, workshops, narrative and documentary screenings, Q-and-A format sessions, exhibition performances and more.

Across the board, the theme of how much Asian and non-Asian ethnicity a person presents comes up.

In casting for performers, roles ask for monolithic ethnicities, with casting notices’ requests for explicitly multiracial Asians being incredibly few and far between, a stark contrast against the multitudes of multiracial people that exist in reality. In content, the stories that are told often feel forced into the same categories. Either way, identity issues can arise and force mixed Asians to ask themselves if they can speak or act on behalf of their cultural experience.

“As a storyteller,” said “Ara, Untamed” creator Amy Marquis, “I think it’s just so important right now that we question these narratives and really start to bring our own experiences unapologetically to the table.”

The festival’s creative producer Michaela Ternasky-Holland hopes to evolve the MAMF into something beyond the “traditional” festival model, with pop-ups and other ways to engage and include mixed voices in a broader and more dynamic way. “For us as mixed … people, we are constantly, always hybrid and fluid, and we are constantly moving and growing and expanding because we have two very different type of cellular energy within us.”

The mixed Asian community is a widely disparate and complicated one, where everyone is coming in with at least two varied cultural backgrounds, and a spectrum of identities beyond that. But despite this, the participants and organizers of the MAMF overwhelmingly had commonalities — difficulties with identity, and an instant sense of community, connection, and almost a sense of family at meeting another mixed Asian artist. And at the end of the day, seeing other human beings practicing their craft.

“We try and learn from the people that came before us and the people next to us,” Ternasky-Holland said. “And that learning is that it’s not about who’s in and who’s out, but about making sure everyone feels in.”

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