Mary Jenewein was born in Savannah, Georgia to a Korean father and a Caucasian mother during a time when anti-miscegenation laws were widely accepted. Although her parents never separated their marriage was considered illegitimate until they moved to Texas many years later. After her father was taken away to a concentration camp for two weeks, she became acutely aware of the inequity of her position as a biracial woman in the Deep South. Her exclusion from various social situations while growing up due to her mixed race heritage bred a sense of empathy for outsiders and people on the periphery. This led her to pursue a degree at the University of North Carolina in political science. She studied fine art at the University of Houston’s Lawndale art center under the guidance of James Surls and John Alexander.