Amy S. Choi and Rebecca Lehrer

When my business partner, Rebecca Lehrer, and I met for the first time, we immediately connected over our shared American experience of living on the hyphen. Not that any of our “hyphens” were at all similar. I’m a first-generation Korean-American who grew up in a Jewish suburb of Chicago. I was the first person in my family to be born in the United States. Rebecca is a Salvadoran-Jewish-American, first-generation on her mom’s side, with roots in Poland, Vienna, Brazil, and El Salvador, who grew up in L.A. I was raised in a household that spoke Korean; hers, Spanish. I ate kimchi; she ate pupusas. I’m Asian; she’s white.

And yet we have so much in common. We’re both married to people very unlike us culturally  — me, a first-generation Colombian-Mexican-American, and her to a many-generations-American non-Jew. We both deeply value our roots and our cultures; and at the same time, we both feel the need to stretch the boundaries of our given experiences to create a new American identity.

Rebecca and I are both storytellers at heart, and way back when in 2013, we found mainstream media profoundly lacking when it came to honoring our American experience and telling our American story. And our experience, and that of our community, is vibrant, noisy, colorful, challenging, global, multifaceted, richly rooted and forward looking. Mash-Ups are living in cultures different from that of our parents, partnered with people very different from ourselves, and most importantly, we are culturally curious and deeply engaged in a world that demands authenticity. Our diversity of races and religions and ethnicities and cultures does not divide us, but gives us a shared wellspring of strength and depth, as well as a unique lens on America’s particular challenges and a compelling and fresh perspective on solutions to those challenges. Who better to bridge the divides in American society than those who are already straddling multiple cultures, navigating life as an ongoing code switch?

But all we saw were verticals. The media landscape we craved was not Latino stories here; Black stories there; LGBTQ stories hidden in some back corner of a website; Asian American stories, I mean, who knew where they were? We didn’t see ourselves reflected, much less the nuance and global interconnectedness of America as a whole. Our experience is not vertical and compartmentalized; our storytelling should not be either.

So was born The Mash-Up Americans, a media company and creative studio that explores race, culture and identity in America and what makes us who we are. We smash the traditional (and eye-rolling) “identity” verticals to instead center our stories on the universal: family, relationships, food, and issues like guilt, faith and love, through a nuanced and compassionate cultural lens. Stories are the most powerful vehicles for seeing others who are different from you as whole humans. They are the first seeds of empathy. And with empathy, change is possible.

Rebecca and I started Mash-Up as a thought experiment on Tumblr on the great Thanksgivikkuh of 2013, when Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day (how mashy!). Our experiment has since evolved into a full website, newsletter, and a public radio podcast with KPCC and American Public Media, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary next month!

On our website we feature original narratives and resources to amplify the voices of Mash-Ups not typically given space in mainstream media. We answer questions like, How did a trans man choose his name? What did a Sikh man do when he encountered his childhood bully? Why is jollof rice SO important? How can you be the best Indian daughter-in-law when you’re a white girl from the Midwest? (Important issues.) On our podcast we interview Mash-Up celebrities like Margaret Cho and Nina Garcia, as well as luminaries such as population geneticists and Spanglish experts and world-class design thinkers (ahem, John Maeda) to learn more about how their mashiness informs their profoundly important work. In our weekly newsletter we curate news and research from around the world, all with a Mash-Up lens. We believe you can ask any awkward question, as long as you do it with compassion.

Collectively, our editorial forms the kaleidoscope that is the Mash-Up American experience. And while we advance stories at the intersection of culture and identity, with our creative studio we help executives and brands engage with Mash-Up America in an authentic way. We work with companies to help them understand what Mash-Ups care about and how to reach them. Us.

If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, right? Well, we believe that if you can’t see, understand, and embrace the modern Mash-Up American demographic, then you are missing out—on our perspectives, our leadership, our support, and our spending power. An antiquated model defines Mash-Ups as “minorities;” but collectively, we see ourselves as the new majority—demographically, culturally, ideologically. Our vision is an America where diverse voices are heard and valued; our mission is to make that possible.

❔ Whois

Amy is co-founder and editorial director of The Mash-Up Americans, a multimedia publisher, creative studio and consulting agency, that explores race, culture and identity in America and what makes us who we are. A Korean-American married to a Colombian-Mexican-American, she is mom to two feisty Korombexican-Americans: in other words, The Future of America. She has worked for 15 years as a journalist and editor in New York and her work has appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Women’s Wear Daily, Inc., TED and Salon, among other publications. She specializes in getting people to tell stories they never expected to share. Amy earned degrees in journalism and poetry writing at Northwestern University. She is always hopeful and forever restless. You can follow her @awesomechoi and find her in Brooklyn.

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  1. This is a very thought-provoking post. I wondered, though, why white Americans get to just be “American” while the rest of us are hyphenated or qualified by race, as I am as a Black American. It was the description of Rebecca’s husband as a “many generations-American non-Jew” that got me. I’ll take it that you mean “white” or “Caucasian.” My family has been in America many generations as well — back to the 1700s — but I doubt you were referring to anyone Black. Just something to think about. Race and ethnicity in America is so complex.

  2. You might want also to look for linguists with expertise in all North American patois (Kerouac’s joual, for instance).

  3. It would be so nice not to have to be described with hyphens! How we love to label people and put them tidily in boxes on the shelf, when the box with the same label may not even have the same content!!!

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