This article appears in the October 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.
What is it about the faces on these pages that we find so intriguing? Is it simply that their features disrupt our expectations, that we’re not used to seeing those eyes with that hair, that nose above those lips? Our responses can range from the armchair anthropologist’s benign desire to unravel ancestries and find common ground to active revulsion at group boundaries being violated or, in the language of racist days past, “watered down.”
Out in the world, the more curious (or less polite) among us might approach, asking, “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” We look and wonder because what we see—and our curiosity—speaks volumes about our country’s past, its present, and the promise and peril of its future.