Monica Luhar, NBC News, July 30, 2014
In the next 30 years, minorities are expected to become the majority population in the U.S. — a demographic shift that has already occurred in states like California and Texas.
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, an Indian-American photographer and professor at the University of Rhode Island, is trying to document that shift in picture and sound, through archival photos, digital animation techniques, and audio interviews.
Her latest project, “To Majority Minority,” aims to highlight this “changing face of American immigration,” as “minority” and “majority” take on new meaning.
“Through digital animation, I make it appear that the old and new images magically flow one into another, revealing the blurring spectrum of the generations moving from immigrant to native,” said Matthew.
Growing up, Matthew’s family was one of the very few South Asian minority families residing in a small town in England.
At 28, she moved from India to the U.S. after turning down the choice of having an arranged marriage. Instead, she focused on her dreams of becoming a photographer in America.
“I have an amalgamation of an accent that is faintly British, Indian, and slightly American,” said Matthew. “As a result, when I moved to the U.S. and even now, people would often ask, ‘where am I really from?’”
Her latest project draws upon her own experience, revealing the generational transition from “immigrant to native,” by conveying stories of immigrant families from different pockets of the U.S. over the last 75 years.
“People need to have a better understanding of the stories of where we come from, to hopefully create more empathy and not perpetuate stereotypes,” says Matthew.
States like California and Texas have already reached “majority-minority” population status, with Asian Americans playing an important role in the narrative, explains Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at UC Riverside and founder of AAPI Data.
One Family’s Story
In Los Angeles County, there are roughly 1,497,960 Asian Americans; 63.93 percent of that group — roughly 926,299 — are foreign born, according to findings from Ramakrishnan’s AAPI Data.
During a recent visit to Southern California, Matthew photographed several minority families — each with their own stories to tell.
Grandmother Keum Bong Kim has lived in Fickett Towers Senior Housing for nearly nine years. The Van Nuys, Calif.-based housing unit boasts a predominantly large number of Korean-American seniors.
Grandmother Kim’s daughter, Dr. Young Kim Susan Chung, 68, met her husband while attending medical school in Korea. The couple later immigrated to America in 1973.
36-year-old Connie Chung Joe, a former attorney who now works as the executive director of Korean American Family Services, is the daughter of Dr. Chung, and the mother of two young children.
Connie says her mom loved the idea of freedom and the chance to practice internal medicine in the U.S.
“As a Korean-American woman in the post-Korean war, it was still an extremely patriarchal society. In medical school in Korea, there were very few women,” said Connie.
But chasing the American Dream was difficult for Chung and her family, especially with the lack of available jobs.
“At the time, from Korea to come to America, they would only allow $200 as an immigrant – that’s all. We knew we wouldn’t be able to survive, because we wouldn’t have a job. We even thought we might work as a janitor,” said Chung, who now works as a psychiatrist in Southern California.
But at the age of 49, Chung’s husband suffered from a heart attack, leaving her in a state of depression for many years. She turned to a theological seminary as a way to cope with grief and document her husband’s legacy through a series of memoirs and books on mental health in the Korean language.
To address mental health in the Asian-Pacific Islander communities, Connie’s mother has served as a volunteer psychiatrist at various organizations in Southern California that cater to Korean-American immigrants and survivors of domestic violence for the past 25 years.
For more information about Annu Matthew’s project “To Majority Minority,” visit http://www.annumatthew.com/. Families from any state interested in participating in the project can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.