“What’s being Blasian anyway?”
That’s one question writer, performer, and Morehouse College graduate, Julian Booker asked during Blasian Narratives, a performance held Saturday, Nov. 5, by an art collaboration of the same name, at Pomona’s Rose Hills Theater. “Blasian” is a portmanteau of “Black” and “Asian,” and the Blasian Narratives Project explores the intersection of Black and Asian identities.
The project began at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, two historically Black institutions in Atlanta, Georgia.
Since then, the project has expanded to include students from Stanford University, New York University, and other schools. The project partnered with nearly a dozen on-campus groups, including Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA,) Multi-Ethnic and Racial Group Experience, and Asian Pacific Islander Sponsor Program at Mudd, as well as Trinitea & Coffee, a student-run coffeehouse at Pomona College, which served free drinks during the intermission of the show.
The performance consisted of six performers from both Black and Asian backgrounds, joining the growing number of mixed-race and multi-ethnic Americans. While the group members were all “Blasian,” their individual backgrounds and experiences varied, as did their outfits.
Shiranthi Goonathilaka, one of the performers, donned a traditional Sri Lankan dress, while fellow performer Cenisa Gavin rocked a black tee, Ghana braids, and ankle boots.
At the start of the performance, after a few words from the directors, Julian and Marlon Booker, twin black-Japanese brothers from Hawaii, leaped to the stage and invited the audience to engage in some qigong exercises. One of the twins launched into a monologue, exploring the ideas of Black masculinity and group identity – his brother then did the same.
Other performers gradually ran to the stage, with snippets that highlighted features of their own experiences. Throughout the piece, the group asked the question, “What are you?” particularly in the context of mixed Afro-Asian heritage.
Sometimes, the issues they encounter are specific to one race: when one woman goes to Stanford, she hears, “You only got in because you’re black.” Another described her experience with fetishization and questioned the terms “jungle fever” and “yellow fever.”
They reflected upon the difficulty in finding acceptance within one’s communities, with being “Black enough” or “Japanese enough” for one’s family or friends. The experience of not being exposed to one of one’s own cultures, by parents who are either absent, or by parents who prefer the idea of one culture over another. Sometimes, they began to speak in Japanese or Korean.
They found many barriers to inclusion–sometimes because of one’s appearance. Other times it’s because of their lack of cultural knowledge, or their language, or their religion. “I’m sick of dating Black women,” Marlon remarked. “I’m not Christian.”
When he explains his Buddhism, he told a former girlfriend, “You heard, ‘I’m not Christian’…not right, not saved, no good.” At the end of the piece, they asked again, “What are you?”
Overall, the performance was a mix of pointed humor and sober introspection. Canon Em, who goes by the stage name Omnes Senmo, is not Blasian, but is originally from Cambodia. He is also the director of the project, and he described the artistic goals of the performance, “I see racial works of art when done affirmatively, as invitations for personal self-reflections and opportunities for a collective healing. Thus, this project was created with this aspiration in mind.”
The group also just released a digital version of the piece, which is available on their website, blasianproject.org, as a set of 16 short films. The set includes all of the scenes in the live performance, in addition to a few online-only scenes.
Canon Em said, “If I’ve only learned one thing from the cast and crew, it is that we don’t have to live in a colorblind society when we can live in a colorful world. I hope that the messages of unity in diversity come through. Through exploring our differences, I hope we can see and feel how similar we really are.”