Sunday, February 24, 2008

Eating Asian, Dancing Black

Today as I visited my mother, I was honored with the company of two Japanese and black sisters who live in the area. We'd recently met through the miracle of the Internet when one of the sisters read about my film and contacted me.

Like the dutiful daughters of a Japanese mother that they are, the women came bearing a gift of osenbe (rice crackers) from their Kyoto-born mama. The packaging was quite exquisite. Exclaiming over the beautiful wrapping paper (nobody does wrapping paper better than the Japanese), my mother quickly explained the illustration depicting the man, Genji, who (she snickered) had many "girlfriends". Of course, she meant concubines, but her English isn't always so hot. Nevertheless, we were entertained.

For the next three hours, the two sisters and I were in a state of bliss as we swapped tales of growing up with Japanese mothers and black American fathers. Sharing their family photos with me, my mother and her husband, the ladies were an absolute delight as we sipped green tea and munched on the osenbe.

When the older of the two asked me if I had ever experienced rejection from African Americans, I told her that I had never felt that--that it was Asian Americans who would hold me at arms-distance whenever I appeared at any of their social events. The sister then wondered if my fairly light skin didn't arouse suspicions among black folks if I showed up at their functions.

Thinking about it, I realized that there might have been times when blacks looked at me as if thinking, "Now what is she doing here?" But, as I told the sister, those attitudes never fazed me. I would just think to myself, "Just watch me on the dance floor, fool."

And, it's true. There was one incident I recall that took place in the mid 1980's when my sister and I visited Oakland. We'd heard about a really hip club in Jack London Square, and as we pulled into a parking space, about 3 or 4 brothas surrounded our car, talkin' trash. They were clearly interested in us coming inside the club and their admiring looks encouraged us to strut into that venue as if we owned it--not that we required their compliments. Back then, my sister and I were young and cute, and we knew it, too.

But as we entered the doorway, it seemed as if every pair of eyes in the room turned towards us. Nobody in that club was anything else but black. This was a time when Oakland was fairly segregated. While the men seemed to shrug us off after checking us out for sex appeal, a lot of the women continued to glare at us. I had the feeling they thought we were Mexicans. But my sister and I are not the type to be intimidated by anyone merely staring at us. After all, that had been happening most of our lives followed by the tasteless question, "What are you?" As far as my sister and I were concerned, we were just as black as anyone else and had a right to be in that club.

But more than that, I knew I had the secret formula for assuring acceptance. I knew it was just a matter of time and, sure enough, a gentleman soon asked me to dance. You see, I may tend to look more Asian to most people, and I eat that way, too, but I most definitely dance black.

But aren't those stereotypes, you may well ask. Well, that's a whole other conversation that we'll deal with later.

Thank you Cassie and Doris!

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. That's my sister and mother together in the photo back in the day. Hey, please, don't forget those t-shirts at

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