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A tale of two cultures: 'Blaxicans' of LA speak out




Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show,
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show, "Duality: Blaxicans in L.A." at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 9, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show,
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez holds a picture of his parents. Thompson-Hernandez is black and Mexican. He was inspired to make portraits of other "Blaxicans" in Los Angeles.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show,
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez works with curator Natalie Sanchez to set up his new show, "Duality: Blaxicans in L.A." at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 9, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show,
One of photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez's favorite portraits is of Maggie, who didn't find out she was half black until after her childhood.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show,
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez works with curator Natalie Sanchez, left, to set up his new show, "Duality: Blaxicans in L.A." at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 9, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show,
Photographer Walter Thompson-Hernandez sets up his new show, "Duality: Blaxicans in L.A." at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 9, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Los Angeles is home to a plethora of racial groups, but there's one you won't hear much about: "blaxicans" — men and women, boys and girls of dual African-American and Mexican heritage.

This unique experience is captured in an online project and art exhibition called "Blaxicans of L.A." created two years ago by Walter Thompson-Hernandez . Through photographs and interviews, Thompson-Hernandez addresses many questions he had as a child, growing up in a Latino-centric household headed by his Mexican mother.

"I always wanted to know why I was a little bit darker than my friends or my relatives, why my features were a little bit different," Thompson-Hernandez says.

Eventually the confusion was cleared up for him. "My mom walked into my room one day and explained that I was an Afro-Chicano. At that point I didn't know what that meant."

"I'm Mexican and Black. As soon as I found out I was mixed it opened up my mind and I guess I was finally able to be me. When I was growing up, I was always the little dark Mexican, but once my mom told me I was black, I started to hang out with more black people and I stopped chasing the idea of proving to everyone that I was Hispanic." -- Maggie
Blaxicans of LA/Walter Thompson-Hernandez

Embracing another culture

Without his father in his life, Thompson-Hernandez says that he didn't embrace the African- American side of his racial identity until his family moved to West L.A.

"I really gravitated towards African-Americans and that experience," he says.

Making friends with more black people helped him expand his cultural references. "My mom's side, of course, was very Mexican. Chilaquiles, menudo, pozole, were staples in my diet growing up," says Thompson-Hernandez  "But [with] my black friends, I was eating soul food, greens, chitlins, listening to Al Greene."

But there were times when it wasn't easy being a part of both groups.

"When I was in middle school, there were race riots," he says. "That was the first time I ever understood that there can be tensions between African-Americans and Latinos."

Ken, Sophia and Alejandra shared their experiences with the Blaxicans project.
Ken, Sophia and Alejandra shared their experiences with the Blaxicans project. "We will explicitly teach her to be proud of the fact that she is Mexican and to be proud of the fact that she is black."
Blaxicans of LA/Walter Thompson-Hernandez

Through "Blaxicans of L.A.," Thompson-Hernadez is now at peace with his duality.

"Being able to connect with other blaxicans has allowed me to see that in all of my conclusions and struggles, I was never alone," he says.

You can follow the Blaxicans of L.A. project on Instagram.

Duality: Blaxicans of L.A. is on display at Avenue 50 in Pasadena until Saturday March 5.