How might we engage the public in a dialogue about what it means to be American?
A public DIY kaleidoscope station that visualizes participants’ cultural identities
What It Is
Hyphen America was a pop-up event that I hosted in Union Square in March 2018, where more than 60 participants created personalized “Hyphen Viewers,” i.e. kaleidoscopes that visualized and celebrated users’ rich and diverse cultural backgrounds. It was intended to encourage people of color to proudly claim their unique heritage.
How to build your ‘Hyphen Viewer’
Name cultures that you associate with your identity
Pick a card with a word that best describes you
Place the word inside your kaleidoscope and add colors
In just two hours, we ran out of the 60 kaleidoscope kits I had prepared. User interviews revealed that many participants felt pressure to obscure their multicultural roots and identify with one culture. They had few opportunities to express as both their cultural heritage and their American identity, even when combinations of both, (i.e. ‘Hyphens’) were the most authentic.
I coined the name ‘Hyphen America’ for its reference to immigrant identity —often, the conversations with my users started with them introducing themselves as “something -American.’ It expresses the idea that we all are immigrants in some form, and celebrates the duality in our cultural identities.
Taking cues from my thesis title, Hacking the Racial Binary, I used black, white, and yellow as my primary visual device. The logo reimagines the word hyphen by placing a horizontal bar, a symbol for the word, in the middle. Its simplicity makes the mark visible from afar on uniforms, cart, and kaleidoscopes.