The Challenge

How might we engage the public in a dialogue about what it means to be American?

The Outcome

A public DIY kaleidoscope station that visualizes participants’ cultural identities


IDA Design Award 2018 Student Gold, Design for Society



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’


Step 1.

Name cultures that you associate with your identity


‘Hyphen Viewer’ is a kaleidoscope that visualizes and celebrates your rich and diverse cultural backgrounds


Step 2

Pick a card with a word that best describes you


The cards contained quotes from other immigrants of color about their experience in the country


Step 3

Place the word inside your kaleidoscope and add colors


When you pick the word, you are given a sticker to place inside the kaleidoscope



I say American. That’s the funny thing. I say it, but still they’re like ‘what are you?’
I’ve had a lot of people try to tell me how I should identify culturally, but I feel like I’m Puerto Rican-American and it feels good being able to just say that... because that’s how I feel and it puts my own stamp on how I identify.
I think it’s important to identify as something-American, because America is a place that’s all over. You’re not like American, that’s it

The Outcome

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.

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Event Website + Invitation

Instagram Page + teaser posts

Instagram Page + teaser posts