America today is more diverse than it’s ever been, yet for many minorities, growing up with a hyphenated notion of identity is to grapple with a sense of belonging that is constantly challenged both internally and externally — “where are you really from?”
Straddling cultures, some of us choose to dial up parts of our heritage, while others dial them down; some of us reject one side altogether, while others move freely between various social behaviors, traditions and languages with ease.
The use of a hyphen to denote our dual or multi identities is in itself controversial. The trend in recent years to remove it from writing style manuals, acknowledges that the symbol can denote bias or be otherizing.
But whether it’s Chinese-American or just Chinese American, for example, the suggestion that we’re different doesn’t go away. We’re not one or the other, we’re both. The compound is our lived experience and for that, we should be proud.
Right now, Asian Americans are facing a horrific wave of hate crimes across the country. But as devastating as they are, our communities are meeting the moment — marching out on streets, demanding more from the media, more from politicians and calling out the racism that we’ve long internalized.
And in the creative space, filmmakers, photographers, artists and designers are shaping a more inclusive culture, representative of what America really looks like. Their work, often powerfully affirming, says we do belong here, this is who we are, these are our dreams. And that’s what the new CNN Style series “Hyphenated” intends to explore.
From the use of ‘chop suey’ fonts that have perpetuated problematic stereotypes to Miss Chinatown beauty pageants and their Cold War origins, this first raft of stories is focused on Asian Americans, and there are more to follow. Eventually, we’ll be expanding the series to cover other dual identity groups in America and their unique perspectives.
Countering racism is an urgent task. And in our small way, through this project, we hope to contribute to building a better understanding of what it means to be American in all its beautiful complexity.