The picture above is one of Sonia Kang’s beautiful creations. She is the owner of Mixed Up Clothing, and I met her at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival in Los Angeles. I asked her to tell me the story behind her clothing. Her response is below. Enjoy!
I was born to an African-American father and a Mexican-American mother on an Air Force Base in Puerto Rico. We were relocated to Hawaii before finally settling in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Growing up mixed was not easy for me. I confused people, especially kids in my junior high school. I looked Latin, but had the last name of Smith. They wanted answers and so did I. I couldn’t speak fluent Spanish so I wasn’t Mexican enough. I was half black but wasn’t black enough.
My fight for understanding and belonging got worse in college. I wanted to do what most freshman college students were doing by joining a club. I thought to join the Black Student Union but didn’t understand the cultures of the other students because my parents had divorced early on and I was only involved with my Mexican side. I couldn’t wear dashikis nor kente cloths because it didn’t feel authentic. I decided to join the Mexican student union on campus, but they encouraged Spanish speaking and mine was broken Spanish. They were wearing traditional Mexican garb and, again, I was left out. Years after college I would further confuse matters worse by marrying a Korean-American!
“What are they?”
“Excuse me,” I’d say.
“Oh, your children, they’re beautiful. “Are they …?” Sometimes I’d answer quickly, other times I’d let the question linger so as to make them uncomfortable for asking. People want to know. Most people want you to fit into their idea of you. They want to understand. I would say 1/2 Korean, 1/4 African American and 1/4 Mexican-American.
“Oh, but they look Korean,” they’d respond. I give up!
As my kids got older I would think back on my younger days when I wished I could wear an item of my cultures without feeling foreign in it. I knew then that I wanted to make something for my children that they could celebrate their cultures by finding fun prints and pairing them with cool styles. Mixed Up Clothing was born!
I was mixed up in so many ways growing up, literally in the gene-pool kinda way and figuratively.
I pair a fun African print with a kimono-style wrap dress. I will use an Asian-inspired fabric with a twirly skirt reminiscent of a ballet folklorico skirt. The clothes are designed to encourage dialogue. I want someone to see one of the fabrics I use and ask about the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) print that’s on it. I want to tell them about the Latin culture. Or the calabash African print. Or the popular kokeshi Asian doll.
I figure, those asking what I am or what my kids are, might as well learn something while they are trying to figure us out.