Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Beginning At The Beginning With The Daughter Of A Japanese War Bride

Konnichi-wa, Hip Hapa Homeez.

my cousin at the sakura-blooming Imperial Palace

Your Hip Hapa recently returned from a fact-finding mission in sakura-blooming Nippon. Even though I stayed in a major international city like Tokyo, I felt more like a minority there than, say, in Los Angeles. Among 13 million mostly ethnic Japanese, I saw less than 100 foreigners over a two-week span. When I say ‘foreigner’, I mean those not of Asian ancestry. Obviously, I couldn’t identify any non-Japanese who may have been of another East Asian heritage, so there may have been more ‘foreigners’ than I recognized--such as the large contingents of ethnic Chinese spotted in the lobby of my hotel because of the banners they were holding. But just based on physical appearances, I would say I was one of approximately 100 non-Japanese-looking among millions.

Mom, bottom row, 3rd from left

Strangely enough, I was spoken to in Japanese all the time, but that may be due more to Japanese' reluctance to use English even if they knew it. I could be wrong. Perhaps they thought I looked close enough to the ‘real deal’ to be spoken to in their native tongue. After all, my relatives marveled at how much I resembled my ‘pure’ Japanese mother. Or maybe, they--as should rightly be expected--felt that anyone visiting their country would at least know how to communicate with them in their own language. Sadly, my nihongo is at an elementary school level. You know the sort of dialogue that goes: ‘Hello. How are you? My name is Yayoi. How do I get to Shinagawa-ku?’

me and Mom, back in the day
Even though my self-made journey included mostly visiting shrines and temples in ancient parts of the city, I don’t want to focus on writing a culture-crossing travelogue here. Instead, I want to concentrate on why I went to Japan in the first place.

my cousin with the doctor's daughter
Because I’m filming a documentary about Japanese war brides like my mother, I wanted to find out where she and I started our lives together. When I told my cousin who lives in the U.S. that I wanted to visit the clinic where I was born, she diligently tracked it down through an equally diligent city employee. Although the clinic had moved to a different address, the two were able to locate it. In Japan, my cousin’s oldest sister guided us to Machida-shi, the city where my mother gave birth to me. There, we found the clinic and spoke with the daughter of the late doctor who delivered me. Even though my father was an American soldier at the time, my parents weren’t legally married so I came into the world at a Japanese clinic presided over by a Japanese doctor. Over the years, my mother told me many stories about my birth and how she regretted never taking me back to meet the doctor who helped me arrive on planet Earth. Thanks to the hard work of my two cousins and the city official, I found closure about my beginning in life. What a homecoming!

On another day, my Associate Producer, Ray Tabata, his friend from Hilo, and I visited the Kaigai Iju Shiryokan, or The Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (managed by JICA), in Yokohama. As we walked towards the venue, I looked over at the Bay and realized my mother and I had departed for America from those very waters. Suddenly, a ship’s horn sounded and it took me back to that day we left Japan, even though I was only two years-old then and couldn't possibly remember it. Still, I could imagine it.

The visit with museum staff was amazing and saturated with information. If you can, you should take a tour of the exhibit that highlights Japanese who left Japan to live abroad. By now, most people know that Brazil has the second largest population of Japanese in the world, but how many know that 61% of great grandchildren of Japanese Brazilians are marrying into other ethnic groups?

The museum staff was really excited that our party was visiting from Hawai’i as they had a huge display of Japanese sugar cane workers that arrived at plantations on the islands. Besides providing us with tremendous resources for our War Brides of Japan documentary, they also happily talked stories with us--in English.

Towards the end of my Japan voyage, my cousins and I visited the family cemetery, and I was able to formally say good-bye to my grandmother.

And when I retuned home, I was surprised to learn that Ray Tabata had located the daughter of a Japanese war bride living near us. The real surprise came when I saw her name, Marlene Blackwell, and recognized it as belonging to someone our family knew decades ago at an Army base in Washington State. When I spoke with Marlene, she sent me the picture, below, of her and my sister performing at a PTA meeting. She determined it had to be my sister after I told her that she had an unusual mark on her cheek because she had fallen off her bike the day of the show and my mother covered it with rouge, a bright red circle that resembled a Japanese flag on her face.
Marlene Blackwell, 2nd from left; my sister to her left
my sister practicing for the performance
Dear Hip Hapa Homeez, please follow us as we begin fundraising and filming War Brides of Japan. Right now, Your Hip Hapa is editing over 4 hours of footage to create a trailer so that you can get a better sense of our filmmaking goals. Meanwhile, here are links to slideshows, including one that placed among the top three entries in the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles in 2012.

We also have our feature narrative, Watermelon Sushi, to complete so please support our pages.

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

You can also join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook and post articles about being transracially adopted, a blended family, an interracial couple or an ethnically mixed child, and more.

Until next bi-month, please stay tuned for more info about War Brides of Japan!

Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

War Brides of Japan Marches Forward And, A Sister Search

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

Arrigatou gozaimasu for your continued support in both reading this blog and in ‘liking’ our various Facebook fan pages. A list of the links appears at the end of this post.

The good news is that we’re in the midst of pre-production for our documentary, War Brides of Japan.

The bad news is that Your Hip Hapa will have little time to devote to the intense interviews posted here in the past.

However, our featured Hip Hapa Homee this bi-month is E. Dawn Samuel who has a special request for you. Please read her plea below, and respond to her directly if you have any information you feel might be helpful.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep you updated about our War Brides of Japan documentary at our Facebook fan page as well as at our new website—once it’s built, that is.

Greetings, friends.

PLEASE HELP! I’m writing in pursuit of lost love. I'm searching for a woman and her child on behalf of my father, an 86 year-old African American veteran living in upstate New York. He recently came to me to ask a favor and proceeded to tell me the most amazing story. Here are the Cliff Notes:

Toward the end of WWII, at the young age of 18 or so, my dad and his twin brother went off to war and were stationed in Japan. There my dad met and fell in love with a mixed-race Japanese/German girl named Natasha. One day in 1948 or '49, she came to him, sat in his lap and said, “You are a handsome man and I am a pretty woman. So, I’m sure this is going to be a beautiful baby.” And with that romantic remark, he was thrilled at the prospect of parenthood and the three of them becoming a family. But as fate would have it, shortly thereafter, his unit was shipped off to Korea and the young lovers where separated.  

The military, which was segregated at the time, heartlessly sent the black troops to fight with only their summer gear and, cruelly, their cold weather gear never arrived. With a lengthy winter that reached temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero, horrifically, the majority of his unit froze to death. Thankfully, my dad and a lucky few survived.  

But when he returned to the apartment in Nagasaki where Natasha lived, her roommate--shocked and completely taken aback to see him alive--told him that thinking he was dead, Natasha had married a tech sergeant from another unit and they had immigrated to the U.S.  The roommate also told my dad he was the father of a baby girl. So, with very little information to help him pursue finding Natasha, he was shipped off again and again. 

Once, he was finally discharged from the service years later, my dad had no idea of how to find them and no idea of Natasha’s circumstances. And, he didn’t want to blow up her life. So, he harbored two major secrets: first; he kept the secret that he was alive from Natasha and; second, he kept the secret of fathering a child during the war from his family. For more than 65 years, my Uncle Richard was the only other person who knew, until my father asked me to find them for him over the Christmas holiday. 

“Babe, will ya help me out and find your sister for me?” he asked me. “I wanna meet her and see Natasha again before I die. She and your momma are the only women I’ve ever loved, and I need to see my firstborn. So please babe, find them for me.”

My dad is 86, has early Alzheimer’s/COPD and is on full oxygen. So, that’s why I’m trying to find this particular war bride. I’m searching for my sister! With a heart full of joyous emotions (I’m crying as I’m writing this now), I’m searching for my sister! Somewhere out there, my dad has a daughter that he’s never seen, but desperately wants to. So, I’m searching for my big sister! Honored and humbled that my dad chose me to share his deepest secrets, I’m searching for my sister!  Hopeful that she will be accepting of our dad and as thrilled as I am to learn of a new sibling, I’m desperately searching for my sister!  And compelled by a sense of privileged duty and with nothing but love in my heart and hope in my soul, I am searching for my sister!

E. Dawn Samuel

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

Don’t forget you can become a member of our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook and post articles about being ethnically mixed, or an interracial couple, or a blended family, or a transracial adoptee, and more.

And, please join our cyber voyage as we travel to film the War Brides of Japan!

Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Pop Idol Moon Prince: Jun Leo

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez.

Moon Prince Jun Leo

For our last blog entry of this year, we have an especially sweet treat for you to savor. Our hip hapa homee for this bi-month is the incredibly kawaii and talented Jun Leo Mirzat, aka Jun Leo Xi, aka Prince Jun Leo, but best known as Moon Prince. Your Hip Hapa first became aware of this extraordinarily gifted artist when we became Facebook friends in 2010 and he was shooting a series of videos about mixed-race folks in England. Since then, we’ve watched his career blow up all over Asia. But let him tell his story in his own words:

Q: Jun Leo, who are your parents and how did they meet?

A: My mother is of Chinese-Uyghur descent and my father is of Italian descent. They met in a town just outside of London. Funny story, actually. My mother was putting her washing out in the garden to dry when suddenly the washing line collapsed. My father was visiting his brother who lived next door to my mother. He vaulted over the fence to aid my mother in picking up her washing, which probably included her panties, ha ha. At that time, my mother had two other children, my elder brother and sister from her previous marriage with a British man of English and South African descent. After my parents got married, along came me!

Q: You left England for a music career in Japan. What inspired you to move to another country?

A: Well, during high school I was made fun of for my Asian features. Other kids would make fun and pull their eyes up to replicate Asian eyes. I was around the age of 11 at that time. Before that, I’d never really thought about race very much. 

Now when people criticize me for me, I don’t tend to back down. I tend to push further and make that point a plus, rather than a negative. I then started to discover Chinese pop. From that, I also found J-pop and K-pop which both had a reasonable following in the East.

When searching for J-pop, one of the first artists I came across was Ayumi Hamasaki, who is still one of my favorite Japanese artists. Through Japanese music I then discovered Japanese street fashions and subcultures such as ‘Gyaru, Gyaruo’, ‘Visual Kei’ and others. It just felt like a part of who I am, which needed to be conveyed in the way I dress. It was just a way of expressing how I felt inside and a way to feel stronger.

So from about the age of 13, I was flicking through a magazine called ‘Gothic & Lolita Bible’ where I discovered a male model called Riku who had a soft androgynous look I felt I could relate to. From then, I wanted to become a model in Japan for street fashion magazines.

After that, I discovered Leah Dizon. She was born in Las Vegas to a half-Filipino half-Chinese father and a mother of French descent. She became an idol in Japan with a successful pop career. Since she was another hapa born in the West and moved to Japan to be a star, she became my idol and made my dreams feel possible.

So from then on, I wanted to become a singer the most--but an all around ‘entertainer’.

A lot of people assume I had rich parents and that’s how I ended up in Japan. I grew up with a single mother working several cleaning jobs to put food on our table. We never went without and she gave me some amazing values I am grateful to have been taught. But we never had a lot of money. I left school and went to a community college to study fashion. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do aside from my career in Japan. If ever asked what I wanted to do with my life, that’s the only thing I could think of. Of course, people doubted me and mocked me. I may not be the best selling artist in Japan...yet, but here I am, ha ha.

I then got a job in fashion retail, which was horrible, but that’s another story. I stuck at that job, and it’s not a time I look back at fondly. After that, I managed to get a nicer job in the same field but in central London. I’m one who likes to be busy and in a place with lots of people. So I was far happier working in central London. I worked there for just over a year, saving money to move to Japan.

After that I had a strange feeling that it wouldn’t be long before I moved to Japan. In Winter 2013, I was contacted by a music production manager who worked in the Kansai region in Japan. We then began to talk and he was interested in working with me.

In Summer 2014, one of my managers at my retail job broke the news to me they were going to be possibly dropping a few people in a month’s time and I was one of those people. They had kept me on a temporary contract, which they would just renew every month or two. Which was just the company’s way of saving money. By this time, my Japan plans where pretty much fixed. So, I just lost interest in the job. I had worked some long, stressful hours, being pressured to do overtime when I didn’t need the extra money or want to do it. So, it was more about the moral of it, they where just going to casually drop me.

Since I didn’t really need the job anymore, I started taking extra breaks, ha ha. Going for extra cups of tea and such. But one morning, I just decided to not go in. If they weren’t possibly firing me, I would have done the procedure properly. They did, however, send me a letter that ‘could lead to dismissal’ which obviously if I wasn’t coming into work, I wasn’t going to be going in so they could fire me. But I guess that was all the procedures they have to go through with.

I used that time to see my family and friends. My grandfather had passed away a short while prior to leaving, which was hard to deal with. I went to his funeral just 3 days before leaving the country. I then had to pack my life into a suitcase for an exciting, scary and uncertain future. 

Q: Do you speak Japanese?

A: When I came here, I could speak very little Japanese. It was tough at first because I felt a little lonely, not being able to express myself well with no English speakers where I was. But I learned Japanese through survival. I picked up a lot very fast. Although now I am not fluent, I can hold a conversation without too much struggle. I’ve had a few times where people haven’t realized I wasn’t born here which is a compliment to my accent, ha ha. But I’ve still got a long way to go before I can say I’m fluent.

Q: What do you find the most interesting about living in another country?

A: I guess, the fact I live in another country doesn’t really cross my mind too much. Although I was born in the U.K., I never felt I belonged to the U.K. It’s just another place on this planet I have a connection with. I feel extremely comfortable in Japan for the most part.

I definitely appreciate the safety of Japan. I don’t worry about walking alone at night. Just like every country, Japan isn’t perfect. But as far as I know, Japan is the place for me and it’s perfect for me.

Q: You have huge fan bases in Europe and Asia. Are you looking to North America to repeat the same?

A: I honestly don’t feel like I have a huge following yet. But I appreciate every last follower. Their support means so much to me.

I’m not really looking to be mainstream in the West at all. Although lately I’ve gained quite a few followers in China, Japan is where I want to gain success. I would love to one day perform in North America and various places, possibly at anime conventions. That would be real fun!

(Editor’s Note: Moon Prince, we wish you would have performed at the Anime Matsuri at the Honolulu Convention Center last weekend!)

Q: How many albums have you released so far? How would you categorize your music?

A: I haven’t released an album yet. I actually just finished recording for my first mini-album! I’m also working on some free work I want to release online. 

It’s hard to categorize my music. I don’t want to stick to one genre. I want to experiment, but I don’t want my music to become a blur. I want everything I release to feel like a ‘Jun Leo song’. I am very particular with how I want to be presented. The current set of songs are all J-pop, there are some with an electric dance feel to them. But there is a variety on there! My current music producer is extremely talented and has done such a great job with the production. I am really excited to release my first CD!  

Q: Are you doing anything else—like acting or otherwise performing in Japan?

A: I am actually! I model! In early November, I modeled for Japanese brand Ayymatsuura in Seoul, Korea. In December I am walking the catwalk for the same brand in Osaka!

I have also been trained in the Japanese art form of ‘nihon buyo’. I have performed at several stages in Nara.

Q: What are some links to your work?

A: I have released several previews of songs that will be featured on my mini-album. They have yet to be completely mixed and mastered, so these are rough copies of the final product.

Jun Leo - Last Fantasy

Jun Leo - Make It Move

Domo arrigatou gozaimasu, Moon Prince! You are so destined for greatness!

Dear Hip Hapa Homeez, please remember to check out our usual links, as well:

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan pageon Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

Also, please consider joining our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook where we post articles and share discussions about everything blendie, mixie, hapa, interracial, transracial and more!

Until we cross cyber paths again in 2016, I am

Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Hip-A-Teez Hapa-Teez

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

This bi-month, Your Hip Hapa is giving you the silent treatment. That is, there is no interview with any multiethnic, transracially adopted, interracially involved or culture crossing person. Instead, enjoy the photo gallery below, all about our line of Hapa-Teez t-shirts. 

welcome to Hapawood
and, enjoy the Hapa Life!
one Hapa Nation...

a Watermelon Sushi kind of girl...

for Blasians and others...

Buy a shirt and support a film. Find out how by reading these links:

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

And, remember you can get interactive by joining our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook.

Until December, when we return with an exclusive interview with erotic mixed-race author Libra Libre,

I Am Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Humankind-ness Of Sarah Moriguchi Ross

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

Over the years, Watermelon Sushi World has featured people of all cultures, ethnicities and races. Whether they were mixed, transracially adopted, interracially involved or crossing cultures, they have taken us along on some incredible journeys, and we’ve learned a lot. This bi-month’s Hip Hapa Homee also adds to our multi-culti education by showcasing her family—hopefully, a model for what future families might look like. Read the post below and see if you agree:

Q: Sarah Moriguchi Ross, who are your parents, and how did they meet?

Sarah (right) officiant at Golden Gate Park wedding, 1969
A: My parents met in San Francisco where I was born. My dad had just come out of the Army and WWII, and headed west from Hartford Connecticut. My mom had been working in Louisville Kentucky in the war industry doing draftsman work for airplane building plans. She is from Charleston West Virginia. They met at a boarding house they both resided in.

My dad is German (on his dad's side) and Irish (born in Irish free state) on his mom's side. He was the oldest of eight. My mother is English (on her dad's side) and Native American (Seminole) on her mother's side. I was considered white, although when I was old enough to ask about identity, my parents would say I was a “Heinz 57”. Back in the day, this was a mustard blend that was marketed. My aunt told me about my Seminole heritage much later in life. I was informed that my grandmother, my mother's mother, was adopted and that the county court house burned down with all the records.

Sarah as USPS mail carrier, 1969
Q: What was it like growing up?

A: Growing up in San Francisco, I was fortunately able to interact with many people of different ethnic backgrounds. Being raised white, the conflict I encountered was with my parents over my choice of friends. At 14, my first boyfriend, Fred, was 16 and the oldest of five kids in a multiracial--we used the term interracial back in the day--family of German and Japanese parents. Toshiro (Fred’s dad) was a Nisei soldier who fought in WWII in Germany. He married Josephine (Fred’s mother) who was a young German woman who survived the war. They came to San Francisco and sent for Fred when he was 4, and he got entry into America. He was born in Munich in 1946.

Fred and I married and divorced young. We had two children. I moved to Oregon in 1973 pregnant and with two children—and, single. In 1975, my friend Randy and I started a relationship that resulted in marriage and produced four children. We also raised some of his children. Altogether, we are the parents of ten. I gave birth to seven children. Two are inter-ethnic and five are interracial (multiracial). Randy's three are: one African-American and two multiracial. He is African-American, or a more common term “black”. He is the oldest of three brothers from Los Angeles. We have been together for 39 years.

Sarah (3rd from left, top row) with husband Randy, their four children, and two of hers with her ex-husband
Q: What inspired you to create H.O.N.E.Y., Inc.? (Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth?)

A: Raising our kids of color in a mostly white area presented some concerns--discrimination, mistreatment and lack of role models who looked like them, or even similar to them. The clincher was when they heard us talking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and they were like, “who?” We knew if we did not do something for them, as well as the community, the situation/area would remain backwards. So, in 1983, before the day was declared a holiday (1986), we planned a big family-friendly celebration for Dr. King’s birthday. We had a petition on the wall to create the day as a holiday. When we finished with the event, we realized that our group of friends and volunteers were a multiracial mix of parents with mixed-race children. Then, we started to organize ourselves to discuss our concerns and our children's identity development. We agreed that combining our efforts to form an organization was a good direction, and incorporated in 1985.

top row: Lela Ross (Sundancer), Karen (Moriguchi) Phelps, Sarah, Randy, Fred Moriguchi, Niyah Ross
bottom row: Maurice Ross, Ayanna Moriguchi, Tumasi Ross

Q: What are some of your group's goals?

A: Our group goals are dual in essence: support interracial families and create a racially harmonious environment. We held programs for children and many adults sat on advisory boards to provide feedback to the larger community. I remember this one instance when I was at a city planning meeting and advocating for black people on the topic of naming a park after Martin Luther King, Jr. The city planner looked at me in complete seriousness and said, “I didn't know any black people lived here.” This was the early 1980's. 

The goal statement from our Facebook group, Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth H.O.N.E.Y. Inc., was founded in 1983 in Eugene Oregon. This non-profit was formed with the goal of providing support and advocacy for the enhancement and acceptance of multiracial persons and their families. The organization’s premise is that in order for the healthy development of interracial families to thrive, it is important that racial harmony be attained by our society. Therefore, through education, Honey strives to create a well-established multicultural community. Our programs and projects reflect these fundamentals. Typically, we still hold celebrations for MLK Day and Loving Day in a family-friendly style. We had a Saturday program for 20 years called Culture Club. Now, it is more of a playgroup and held less frequently.

Q: Some of us are aware that Eugene Oregon is considered a politically radical community, but is it a particularly mixed-race city?

A: Eugene's second biggest “ethnic group” is comprised of persons who are two or more races. This figure is not inclusive of persons who are inter-ethnic, i.e., white and Latino. Our largest ethnic group is Latino. Some data is still a challenge. An old friend once said, “The black University of Oregon football players sure do pepper up the place.” He was a “blue blood” originally from Chicago. I think that meant a light-skinned black person.

I make my own observations about our mixed-race populations. Over the years, the demographics have changed statistically and visibly. When my children attended school in the 1980's, they were the only children of color in their class. Now, as my grandchildren attend school, there are many children of color and, often, they are multiracial. Children of color and mixed-race kids are less isolated now in the school institutions. Therefore, there seemed to be less need for our program, Culture Club. Yes, there are black and brown environments here. But there is no neighborhood that is defined by a particular ethnic group other than white. Upper classes live in the hills and lower classes in flat lands. We have a huge population of homeless people and families. Honey families are a mix of low income and average income folks. The 1,200 black people on the census tend to be middle-class or greater. The five or six thousand of two or more races are a variety of income backgrounds.

Q: Oregon once had a “no blacks allowed” law, yet today, the Pacific Northwest is known as a progressive/liberal region. Any thoughts on that?

Sarah, at center with long white hair,
doing Tai Chi on Loving Day
June 21, 2015 

at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park
A: Yes, that is why the area is mostly white. It was called the exclusion law. When the state was formed in 1859, there was a vote to determine if this would be a slave state. They voted against slavery and for exclusion. This excluded people of African descent, Chinese, Hawaiian and Malays. That law was discontinued in 1926. If I were a ruler of this Oregon land, I would say immigration should only be granted to People of Color for an indeterminate number of years until the racial balance was achieved. Exceptions only to family members. A total fantasy, I know. White supremacists nationwide want to make Oregon a white homeland, and there are many white Oregonians who resist this, also due to their liberal progressive nature. However, when it comes to exclusion, groups still practice various ways to stick to their own kind. My kind is human kind, thank you. A good book on this state history is called, “Peculiar Paradise, A History of Blacks in Oregon.” 1980 Laughlin, (I think). When I read the book in 1989, it really made me realize why this area is like it is. A big “ah hah!”

Q: Since you are so invested in youth and tomorrow's citizens, you must be optimistic about the future.

A: I am not a person with her head in the sand. I know what is going on and it is all very concerning and upsetting. But, yes, to say I am optimistic is true. We have big problems and they can be solved. But division only makes matters worse. Divide and conquer is very effective, and we all need to counter these divisions--put our heads together and create peace, life and love.

Mahalo, Sarah. Dear Hip Hapa Homeez, please consider visiting these links:

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

And join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook where we interact with you through comments on postings of articles like the one above.

Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Asian American Adoptee Activist: Simone Labony Labbance

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

Welcome back to our Watermelon Sushi World. Meet this bi-month’s featured hip hapa homee, Simone Labony Labbance.

A transracial/transnational adoptee, Simone is a recent graduate of Wellesley College where she studied Asian American Studies and Music. Recently, Simone completed a capstone for her Asian American Studies major, which culminated in a full-length lecture examining the relationship between AAPI admissions at elite colleges and race-based admission practices. Simone was also president of Wellesley Asian Alliance, the only pan-Asian racial justice student organization on campus. Currently, she’s job-hunting in the Boston area and hoping for something in AAPI Advocacy. In the meantime, she also has a part-time job at EMW BookstoreIs that busy enough for you, hip hapa homeez? No? Well, here’s more from this active activist:

Q: Simone, who are your parents and how did they meet?

A: My parents are Kathie and Bob. They have the most generic white names of the ‘50s! They are both racially white. My mother is of mixed European descent, but I think mostly English. My father was very Italian (biological last name of Maestro), but he was adopted into a Hungarian family, hence my last name: Labbance.

I have an older brother, who is also adopted, and his story influences mine, so I’ll touch on it briefly. He was adopted from an orphanage in Kolkata (many people still use the British name of Calcutta). My parents chose India due to interest in the culture and because it was a country known for having relatively smooth adoption processes at the time. When my parents went to adopt a second child, they had two hopes.

1. to adopt a girl, so they could have “one of each”;
2. to adopt from the same orphanage or at least the same region of India, so my brother and I would share a culture.

We’re both Bengali, and as you’ve probably at least heard, India is a very diverse country from food to culture/language and even terrain/ecosystem.

My brother and I are both from the International Mission of Hope (IMH) in Kolkata, but it almost didn’t turn out that way! IMH was hurting financially when my parents adopted my brother. So they grouped together with many other expectant parents to hold a fundraiser. My parents ran an eclectic restaurant and cooked a huge Indian meal. One mother, an artist, painted a backdrop for the dinner featuring a scene from India, I believe…but I’m not entirely sure because I wasn’t there or alive! My brother successfully made it over to our family in large part due to that fundraiser. Yet during the interim year or two between the time my brother left IMH and the time my parents would file for a second adoption, IMH looked as though it was closing, or at least was not in the position to match children and families. So my parents were forced to look elsewhere in India. They were recommended to a place in the southern part of the country. But before that adoption was close to being ready (and definitely not paired), IMH started to accept applications for adoption again. Because I was the second child my parents had adopted from that particular orphanage, the orphanage let them choose the sex of the child. They, of course, chose a girl and ended up with me!

My mother’s first image of me was via fax (yes, back in the days of fax machines)! She tells a great story of holding her breath while watching me appear, feet first, her new daughter, Labony. I arrived at Logan International Airport a few months later in the fall.

Simone with Chinese adoptee
Q: How did you grow up?

A: Ha ha--definitely not in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. I grew up in rural Vermont, the second whitest state in the USA. There was little cultural opportunity, but my parents worked really hard to provide whatever they could for us in that regard. My first home was located in the epitome of backwoods Vermont with only a few children (if that!) in each grade and not a single other person of color in the entire local community. (Unless of course you count my brother!)

So we moved to Central Vermont, which could offer a community with other POC, but most importantly, other children of color. Many of these children were also adopted, and we shared a particularly meaningful connection. Central Vermont also had easy access to Burlington, Vermont’s hub of cultural diversity.

My mother brought me to Indian music and dance performances, as well as international festivals and events for Hindu holidays. At some point in my junior high years, my mother and I attended a Bharatanatyam* (Hindustani classical dance) performance. Through members of the crowd, we discovered there was a massi**, who worked in my orphanage in India, present that night, too! (I’m so grateful for the small community in Vermont at times like these!) She is an amazing person, and we still keep in touch on occasion today. The massi, now Auntie-ji, invited me to her house, spoke Bangla around me (though I’m sorry to say I haven’t picked it up), taught me how to cook desi food, and wholly welcomed me into her Bengali home and community without a second thought. I also met one of the main dancers of the evening and began taking Bharatanatyam lessons in Burlington on a regular basis. (A big thanks to my mother for driving me for an hour there, waiting throughout the lesson, paying for private lessons, and then driving me home.)

Simone plays sitar
When I was fourteen, my father indulged my wish for a sitar. I took sporadic lessons throughout high school, as I had to go all the way to Portland Maine to meet with my teacher. I already had a strong musical background through piano lessons as a young child, and flute lessons starting in fourth grade. While this was clearly European classical music with completely different theory, notes, scales, everything, it did offer a base from which to work. I was very passionate about linking my activism with music. This was especially possible when addressing cross-cultural communication and international relationships.

Simone with Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band (B5)
playing Bangra Jazz fusion
I composed pieces for the sitar and European chamber ensembles. The musicians often came from a variety of backgrounds. My favorite musician to play with was Bolivian American. The piece of music I composed that expresses this most is Me Shanti, or into peace. The first-stage version is still posted on my MySpace musician page, since that was the in platform of the time. This composition was selected to open the United Nation’s International Day of Peace ceremony in 2009 as a musical representation of a world in conflict engaging in cross-cultural dialogue and eventually moving into a state of positive peace. The musicians were from three different continents (including myself). Those who performed were of South Asian, Latin@, and Mediterranean descent to further convey the message.

Since I haven’t produced new music since high school (and the days of MySpace), I haven’t felt the need to move to SoundCloud or anything else. I hope to have a page up within a year with some new pieces though! I’ve learned a lot in my music courses at Wellesley that I want to apply.

Simone's collage for justice
While Vermont is very racially hegemonic, there are pockets of non-whites and cultural experiences if you know where to look. I was very fortunate to grow up with those experiences made available to me.

Q: What was like being a child in New England?

A: As I mentioned previously, there were other people of color and other transracial (and transnational) adoptees in the greater Vermont community. My parents met many parents of transracial transnational adoptees, and maintained close friendships. Their friends’ children tended to be the same age as my brother and me, and even occasionally from the same orphanage! This was a great support growing up. We shared concerns with one another and processed our individual experiences together. Though to a certain extent, it did seem natural to be adopted and to be a different race than my parents, because those were the experiences I was surrounded by.

WWA poster designed by Simone

At college, it was quite different and definitely more difficult! I attended Wellesley College outside of Boston, and our campus was approximately 30% AAPI including international students. Most students of Asian descent at Wellesley are not adopted, speak their mother tongue pretty fluently, and had a much stronger vocabulary for discussions around race, culture, and ethnicity than I did. It was intimidating to arrive at Wellesley, but I also felt most at home with other students who identified as AAPI. No one knew I was adopted just by looking at me, and a few people even thought I was an Indian International student. I was told by other Indians that I gave off a certain vibe that led them to believe this and, according to them, was able to hold my own in discussions of Indian culture.

Q: Do you have the same passion for golf as your late father?

A: I actually quite dislike golf! The only reason I hold any fondness for the sport (now) is because my father loved it so much. He was well respected in the field as a historian and writer. My father fell off a bridge (on a golf course, of course!) and was paralyzed from the neck down when I was still in elementary school. He died in 2004, just after my fifteenth birthday, of ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. Now that he’s gone, I like hearing golf tournaments on in the background (though I’d never actually sit down and watch). The sound is comforting and reminds me of him.

I would say our mutual passions fall into the category of history, politics, and writing. He was very liberal and used to write incredibly out-there articles under a fake name for a publication in England about Americans. I’m probably more like him than I realize, but it’s hard to tell when your strongest memories of your father are of his illness. My main memories, besides the painful ones relating to his own suffering, are of his laughter and sense of humor, his strength through great adversity. The most useful lesson I learned from both my parents was personal strength during difficult times. I also learned that strength takes on many faces and how to use multiple types of strength to endure life’s hardships.
playing flute in the Himalayas

Q: Have you returned to India, or connected with any relatives there?

A: There is no information on my birth family, so nothing there. But I have returned to India. I studied abroad at an alternative school in India my senior year of high school. This is where I really developed my Bengali American cultural identity. At this school, there were roughly a combined total of 10 American and Canadian students and approximately 30-40 Indian students. I was the only Indian westerner and soon discovered I didn’t fully fit in with either group of students. I wasn’t Indian in the sense that I didn’t grow up in the country and still required a fair amount of help with certain interactions, especially because my Hindi is quite poor. Yet I wasn’t white American. I understood certain cultural etiquettes and was often treated by Indians (students and community members) as though I had never left the country! It was an interesting experience trying to balance the pieces of my identity that fit into both worlds all while trying to remain true to myself as an individual. My experience could not be corroborated with or related to by anyone else in the campus vicinity.

WAA film festival poster
Q: Do you believe that Indian culture is inherent in you, or do you think culture is something that's learned?

A: I believe both. I don’t think one’s culture is inborn, but I think certain people inherently feel more connected to the culture of their heritage. Many personal traits are deep-rooted and even natural, evident at birth. I don’t believe in the “babies are a blank slate” thing. For example, I would also consider myself inherently political and compassionate. I have always been very aware of the world and cared deeply for others. (Perhaps this is what led me to pursue activism!) Even when I was in my first years of elementary school, I would draw posters about current issues and hang them up around school in attempt educate my peers about topics that called for intellectual and moral consideration.

with friend Suh, stepsinging
With regard to culture, part of me definitely has always shown a strong interest in my South Asian heritage and culture. But this was fostered and reinforced by a variety of experiences. I don’t believe that the opposite of inherently feeling Bengali is having to learn the culture. The two are closely linked. If I am interested in my culture from birth, this will lead me to learn about my culture and further my knowledge of it by seeking out experiences that will educate me about my culture. This isn’t an exclusive relationship either! Someone who has shown absolutely no interest in their culture for their entire life could suddenly decide it’s something they want to learn more about and pursue that knowledge without having felt an inherent connection to their roots.

at the Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program

Q: You are so active in your beliefs. Where do you think that comes from?

A: As I said before, I have always shown a strong level of conscientiousness with regard to global issues and exhibited concern with the future of the world and its inhabitants—people and animals alike, although my work does center around racial justice (humans).

Thank you, Simone, for sharing!

Your Hip Hapa,

*Bharatanatyam: Hindustani Classical Dance, also known as temple dancing. These dances are for the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. There are many different styles of Hindustani temple dancing. Bharatanatyam is from Tamil Nadu in the south.

**Massi means caretaker such as an Auntie or someone else of significance…more than, say, a high school babysitter!

Want more, Hip Hapa Homeez? Then, please check out these links:

Watermelon Sushi film
Watermelon Sushi on Facebook
Watermelon Sushi World Networked Blogs on Facebook
Hapa*Teez on YouTube
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Hapa*Teez on Café Press
War Brides of Japan v.2 on YouTube
War Brides of Japan on YouTube
War Brides of Japan on Facebook
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