Saturday, March 20, 2010

Race: Are We So Different?

I was pleased to see a new exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures, entitled Race: Are We So Different? The exhibit began with a short video explaining that race is a socially created category, and exploring the meaning of race at different times in American history. That socially constructed categorization of race was well-illustrated by the photo above, showing which words for race the U.S. Census has used over time. One of the most peculiar – the Asian woman on the far right, who would have had to answer Japanese in 1890, and Korean in 1970, and Asian in 1990.

Next was a microscope and an invitation to examine your skin, which was shown on a large screen.

Maya and I eventually put both our hands under the scope, and she declared our skin very different – but not in color! I have to say that old skin looks VERY different from young skin under that microscope! Yech!

The exhibit also talked about being hapa – of mixed racial heritage, especially mixed Asian heritage. There were index cards and instructions to share your experiences of being hapa. Zoe had to contribute a card:

Can you read it? She wrote: "My name is Zoe. I am half Chinese and half American. My mom is American and I am from China." Hmmm. Not quite the hapa they were talking about, but they won’t figure it out from her card. Though not racially hapa, one could make an argument that Zoe, and other transracial adoptees, are culturally hapa.

The most enjoyable part for the girls and the most interesting part for me were books and puppets in the center of the exhibit. Zoe picked a book to read:

Looks like one to add to our library!

Maya gravitated to the puppets. There were 6 – an Asian pair, an African-American pair, and a Hispanic pair. They each represented a different profession, and Maya picked the teacher, declaring she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. The teacher happened to be Asian – or maybe she picked the teacher because the puppet was Asian? I don’t know for sure, but it certainly wasn't the first time Maya said she wants to be a teacher.

Zoe was more interested in reading than in playing with puppets, so Maya asked me to play. I sat down, and she gave me an African-American police woman puppet. She then picked an African-American doctor and said he was married to the teacher. I picked an Asian-American chef, and said he was married to the police woman (very hetero-centric of us, huh?).

Zoe suddenly put down her book to join in our play. First she insisted that my African-American police woman needed to be matched with the African-American male puppet Maya was playing with. My puppets refused to cooperate, with the Asian chef saying in a very bad French accent, “Non, I will not leave her, I loooooove her,” accompanied by lots of kissy noises that cracked Maya up. Zoe then proceeded to match all the other puppets up according to race, and eventually did the same to my and Maya’s puppets. Then Zoe decided to match them by gender instead.

Maya let Zoe have her way, and then when Zoe picked up her book again, Maya went back to playing with her Asian teacher and her African-American husband. I reclaimed my couple as well. We played some more, and Zoe finished her book. Then Zoe said, “You don’t have to match to be a family.” Nothing in the book she was reading said that, so it was old lessons kicking in, I suppose. I agreed, and my romantic French chef kissed his African-American wife’s arm up to her shoulder, while Zoe giggled. Zoe said, “They should have a baby,” and picked one of the Hispanic puppets to be their baby. No, the kissing didn’t suggest traditional baby-making to Zoe – she told me they adopted the baby!

What an interesting exploration of race (and gender). We might have to invest in a set of puppets – I’d love to see the girls interact with them again. . . . I'm sure we'll have lots and lots of discussions of race inspired by this wonderful exhibit.


lisa said...

Oh, I'm so taking the kids to this in June-thanks for the heads up. Interestingly, though S (3 1/2) is very aware of being Chinese, she seems to have no awareness of race-perhaps because she was in a majority Latin daycare. M (2 1/2) however, is very conscious of race and even ran away from me one day last fall to follow an AfAm mother and son to their classroom. We read The Colors of Us, and S won't engage at all, but M is very interested. Of course, the daycare has gentrified a lot since he started there, less Latin, lots of Anglo. But I think it's just who he is.

Maia said...

Very cool and sweet little vignette.

Tina said...

Great post!

JBH said...

I LOVED this exhibit, too. Saw it in Philadelphia this summer. A MUST-SEE for anyone:-)