A conversation between Sophia Remolde and AE on identity, community, art, empathy and learning to exist between and beyond binaries. Part one is centered around perceptions and challenges of art-making. Part two continues here.
Humans have a deep evolutionary habit of labeling things so that they can feel safe and survive. What happens when we break down those categories and question the nature of the familiar?
AE and Sophia Remolde have been collaborators through four years of great personal and artistic transformation. Breaking out of their usual dance / photography work, they use the following cross-person journalistic approach to explore the nature of self—through the lens of each Other.
AE: In what ways have you felt othered or indigestible by communities that were supposed to offer you acceptance on the basis of identity?
Sophia: I grew up as the only “Asian” person in what was then a nearly homogeneously White part of the east coast. The irony was that I am half-Asian, half-White dude, as I like to call it. It’s all very ambiguous. So growing up, I just assimilated into that small town as if nothing were out of the ordinary. I was called things like “unique,” but no one really discussed the fact that my mother was born in Osaka, Japan and immigrated to the United States from Seoul, Korea.
It was as if we were all in collective denial.
When I went away to a diverse college, Rutgers University, it became clear that I was going to have to deal with this issue. Those were the years that people started asking, “Where are you from??”
“New Jersey,” I would reply.
“No, where are you from??” Or they would bluntly ask, “What are you?”
“A human being?” Indigestible is a good word for it.
I took Korean in college. The class was full of Korean kids who knew the language and were taking it for an easy A. I struggled and didn’t make any Korean friends.
Someone recently asked me what ethnicity box I checked on my college applications.
“I always said I was Asian-American, even though that traditionally meant something akin to a fully Asian person who becomes a U.S. citizen (like my mom) or a full-on second generation Asian. But I am Asian. I am also American. Who better to embody that category?”
The thing was that most of the time, the categories were either “Asian” or “Caucasian.” So I had to check the box labeled “Other.” Then I would write in, “Asian-American.”
AE: How do you deal with or process these feelings of otherness? Do you have specific practices or ways of thinking that help you? If so, to what end?
Sophia: Being mixed-ethnicity has a distinctive flavor to it, like a swirl cone. Mostly I would confuse people, but sometimes people would identify me more with one side or another. So when it made someone more comfortable to have a vanilla sundae with some chocolate in it or a cup of chocolate ice cream with a touch of vanilla, I would accept that and sample it out. As an actor, I had to repeatedly embody roles that were completely foreign to me. I learned techniques to be authentic in unreal circumstances.