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Allison: Within, Between, & Beyond

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Within, Between, and Beyond is a multi-layered art installation and participatory experience sharing an evolving archive of stories from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who identify as Mixed Race or Transracial or Transnational Adoptee. Interviews for the video portion of the installation were conducted by Lola Osunkoya, who here introduces our subjects and shares a few highlights from their stories.

Alison self-identifies as Hmong and Mexican and uses she/her pronouns.

Alison’s mom’s family came as refugees from the Secret War in Laos; dad’s family came from Mexico for better opportunities. Her parents met when each of them decided to go into the marine corps. They moved every 1-2 years until 5th grade when the family settled with Hmong relatives in Wisconsin. Prior to this, she had only periodic visits with either side of the family. While Alison initially identified as half and half, after exploring more of her culture and connecting with other multiracial people, she now identifies as both, as whole. Some of the first of these connecting experiences were through the MidWest Mixed Conferences.

I heard about MidWest Mixed through a friend who reached out about the conference and said, “I think this would be great for you.” But I couldn’t make it the first year, because I was living out of state. So when I finally came to the university, I reached out to see what this organization was about. I loved it!

When I went to the second conference, the topics had me shaken because there had never been a space for me before, for people with a multiracial identity. I was just speechless - I couldn’t even talk, my emotions were so high! I had never talked about my identity, I had never listened to anything. I didn’t realize there were so many people who were just like me, and different from me, in different places in their journeys, but willing to talk about it. In every other space I’ve been in, it hasn’t even been a discussion topic. It’s more just like… exoticized, like “this is so cool that they’re more than one race or more than one ethnicity.”

It’s not ever looked at as something hard to go through unless you know someone’s experiences. But with that conference and meeting those people I realized that it’s ok to struggle with my identity. It’s not all picture perfect of what society makes it out to be. It was overwhelming at first just because I was so happy and grateful. But I would hope that I would get to a point where I can speak to other people about my identity and verbalize how I feel, too.

What I love about Alison’s story is her perfect illustration of something common to a lot of mixed people: When you haven’t enculturated from birth into the parts of your identity, it can be a challenge to make your way into your heritage communities later in youth or adulthood. But something that can be so supportive is to find mixed communities of people whose stories may not exactly mirror yours, but where you can find people who navigate their worlds in similar ways as you. And it starts with a courageous first step to reach out.

Hear Alison’s full interview and see her beautiful portrait at Mia! Within, Between, and Beyond runs 7/16/21-10/31/21.

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