South Korea’s First Blasian Model

Han Hyun-Min is the first black model in South Korea. Hyun-Min, 16, is half Nigerian in an ethnically homogeneous country where mixed race people often experience blatant racism with difficulty getting jobs and finding spouses. Mixed race children are commonly bullied and called “tuigi”, a derogatory term meaning cross-bred animals. However, he is now appearing in top magazines.

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An African American Woman Finds Her Chinese Roots

Paula Williams Madison

Paula Williams Madison grew up in New York with a half Chinese, half Jamaican mother, Nell Vera Lowe. Her mother’s Chinese father, Samuel Lowe, went to China in 1933 when Nell was 15 and never returned to Jamaica. Nell left Jamaica for New York to start a new life, but her Asian features set her apart, which contributed to her feeling of loss and loneliness.

Nell Vera Lowe, Paula Williams Madison’s mother

When Paula retired, she decided to fulfil her childhood promise to her mother and find her grandfather. Her search into her family history took her from New York to Jamaica to China. Following a lead from a paternal cousin, who noted the significant Chinese-Jamaican community in Toronto, Paula attended a conference about the Hakka, a Chinese minority who is known for migrating overseas. There she found the first clues regarding what happened to her maternal grandfather. In just a few months, she found herself on a plane to China to meet her Chinese relatives. Once there, she found genealogical records for more than 150 generations. Her documentary and memoir, “Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem” are based on her journey to discover her roots.

Samuel Lowe, Paula Williams Madison’s grandfather

Selected sources:
The Root, A Black Woman’s Search for Her Chinese Roots“, August 14, 2014.
Los Angeles Sentinel, “Retired Black Exec Finds Her Chinese Family,” January 20, 2016.

Blasian Makes Top 10 of Miss Universe

Ariana Mamiko Miyamoto (宮本・エリアナ・磨美子) was born in Nagasaki to a Japanese mother and an African American father (Bryant Stanfield). Her father met her mother while stationed in Sasebo with the United States Navy. Her parents married but divorced when Ariana was an infant.

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Ariana as a child with her mom
 

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Ariana as a teen with her dad and half-sibling
When Ariana was 13, she moved to Arkansas with her father to attend two years of high school in the United States. As a child in Japan, she was often called “kurombo”, the Japanese equivalent to the N-word. She says she felt normal for the first time in Arkansas, although she was still treated as a foreigner. In the U.S., she came to speak of herself as black, while in Japan, she still calls herself hāfu (biracial in Japanese). As Miss Japan, she presents herself as an ethnically mixed Japanese person.

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Miss Nagasaki 2015

 

Miss Japan 2015

In 2015, Ariana won Miss Nagasaki and went on to represent her prefecture in the Miss Universe Japan pageant. She was crowned Miss Universe Japan 2015 in March. She is the first hāfu to win the pageant. Upon her selection, she faced criticism for not appearing to be Japanese. There were comments that her face was too “gaijin”, literally “outside person”. Ariana is a Japanese citizen, born and raised in Japan and fluent in the Japanese language. She identified as Japanese and even holds a 5th degree mastery of Japanese calligraphy. Ariana wants to represent the new face of Japan. “International marriages are happening. There will be [more] biracial children. I want them to be as accepted in Japan as they would be in the U.S. I want society to get used to that idea.”

Ariana went on to compete in Miss Universe 2015 in December, where she made it to the Top 10. Having represented Japan globally, reigning as the first half black Miss Japan, she serves as a role model for multiracial Japanese people and challenges the idea what it means to be Japanese.

Selected Sources: 
* CBS News, Beauty queen brings light to Japan’s racial issues“, April 13, 2015.
New York Times, Biracial Beauty Queen Challenges Japan’s Self-Image“, May 29, 2015. 
NBC NewsThe First Multiracial Miss Universe Japan Has Been Crowned“, March 17, 2015.

Blasian Wins WTA Rising Stars Invitational

Naomi Osaka is the WTA Rising Stars Invitational Champion. The WTA Rising Stars Invitational is a showcase event in Singapore that brings together four WTA Rising Stars age 23 and under through a fan vote to compete alongside the best of the best at the WTA Finals.

Born in Osaka, Japan to a Haitian father (Leonard Francois) and Japanese mother (Tamaki), Naomi was raised in the United States and speaks very little Japanese, but she has always played tennis under the Japanese flag. Her father registered Naomi with the Japanese Tennis Association, rather than the United States Tennis Association, due to her dual passport. Her diverse background and strong tennis skills could make Naomi the next big thing in tennis.

WTAtennis.com, “Osaka Wins WTA Rising Stars International“, October 25, 2015.

Two Blasian “Asias” Strive for Fame

A new show about a Blasian in search of fame aired on Lifetime in the summer of 2014. Raising Asia is a docuseries that debuted on July 29. Season 1 included 13 episodes that aired through September 9. The show follows the daily life of Asia Monet Ray, a nine year old dancer, and her family. Asia’s father, Shawn Ray (African American) is a former professional bodybuilder who was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame of professional bodybuilding in January 2007. Her mother, Kristie (Alvarado) Ray, is of Filipino and Mexican descent and was a fitness model and bodybuilder. Raising Asia is a spin-off of Dance Moms. Dance Moms, currently in its fifth season, follows the Abby Lee Dance Company’s Junior Elite Competition Team of 9-13 year old girls. Asia was discovered via YouTube and was selected to appear on the reality show, Abby Lee’s Ultimate Dance Competition, and placed third in the competition. She went on to appear in season 3 of Dance Moms, which led to her getting her own show.

Asia Monet Ray is not the first blasian Asia on reality TV.  Back in 2007, Asia Nitollano appeared on The CW’s The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll. The nine episode series followed nine finalists auditioning to join The Pussycat Dolls. The Pussycat Dolls were an American pop girl group and dance ensemble founded as a burlesque troupe. The contestants lived together during the series and were groomed by the group’s founder, Robin Antin. The girls were judged on their vocal and dancing ability. During the season finale of the show, Asia Nitollano was chosen to become the newest member of the group and performed with The Pussycat Dolls. Here’s a clip from Asia’s performance with The Pussycat Dolls. Asia is the daughter of Joe Bataan (born Bataan Nitollano), a Latin soul musician born to a Filipino father and an African American mother. “My father was Filipino, my mother was African American, and my culture was Puerto Rican,” Joe has said. Asia’s mother is Puerto Rican. Asia only performed live with The Pussycat Dolls only twice. Soon after her selection as the 7th Pussycat Doll, Asia decided to pursue a solo career and is working on her solo album, although she is unsigned. She is also a professional dancer, formerly of the New York Knicks City Dancers. Since the airing of the show, The Pussycat Dolls have disbanded.

Titi Branch, Blasian Co-Founder of Miss Jessie’s, Dead at 45

The blasian community is mourning the loss of one of its hair care inspirations.  Titi Cree Branch, one of the co-founders of the natural hair care line, Miss Jessie’s, died on December 4, 2014.  Born June 10, 1969, Titi died in what online media publication NV Magazine is calling an apparent suicide due to asphyxia.  She was 45 years old.  Titi is survived by her parents, sister, and nephew.

Titi

The daughters of an African American father and a Japanese American mother, Titi and Miko Branch launched Miss Jessie’s in 2004 with a mission to meet the needs of women with textured hair.  Miss Jessie’s products are on the shelves of Target, CVS, Duane Reade, and Walgreens.  The salon and the curly hair care products were named for their paternal grandmother, Jessie Branch.

Miko shared a moving video tribute to celebrate and honor the life of Titi.  The video includes family photos of the sisters as Stevie Wonder’s “As” plays in the background.

To learn more about the Branch sisters and Miss Jessie’s, check out Miko Branch’s book, Miss Jessie’s: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch — Naturally.

Blasian Photoshopped Across the Globe

The “Before & After” project was release by Esther Honig in June of 2014.  In this original project, Honig asked the world to define beauty by sending an un-retouched photo of her head and shoulders to 25 countries with the simple instruction – “Make me beautiful.”  The results were a peek into the idea of beauty through different cultures.  Fellow journalist Priscilla Yuki Wilson followed up on Honig’s project, replicating it with her own photo,  While Honig is of European descent, Wilson is biracial with a Japanese mother and an African American father.  Wilson received edited photos from 18 countries.  The alterations varied from lightening her skin to emphasising different aspects of her features.

Original Photo by Che Landon.

Below is the description of “Before & After Part Two” from Priscilla Yuki Wilson’s personal website.

The question of “what are you?” regularly influences how I experience the world.  It serves as a reminder that I am living in a  culture that’s still adjusting to my kind of face.  Growing up my Japanese mother would often tell me to wear sunblock and to stay out of the sun to avoid getting “top dark”.  Being that my father is black, this paradox always troubled me because I was clearly a product of a radical racial union.  In these subtle ways I was taught that my natural self did not comply with conventional standards set forth by society, saying fairer skin is better, straighter hair is more attractive, and that skinny tastes good.  For that reason I decided to carry out a reproduction of the project Before & After because I wanted to see how a face like mine would be transformed on the digital surgical table.

As in the original project I approached each photoshop aficionado with the request to “make me beautiful.”  Similarly I utilised the international freelancing platform, which has allowed me to contract nearly 30 individuals from more than 25 countries.

In contrast to Honig’s results, where her face became a canvas to express more than a dozen contrasting beauty standards, I found that my face actually challenged the application of photoshop in this instance.  As a biracial woman there is no standard of beauty or mild that can easily fit my face.

This photoshop experiment, like Honig’s, revealed the different views of beauty around the world, verifying that a universal concept of beauty does not exist.

View all of Wilson’s altered photos on her website.  For more information about the original “Before & After” project, go to Esther Honig’s personal website.