Friday, March 28, 2008

AmerAsians, Blendies And Hapas

Speaking with a good friend tonight, I was moved by her declaration that she won't allow herself to be called hapa. That's cool. It's just not a word that she wants to identify with, and I'm okay with that.

A blend of Okinawan and African American, Eriko prefers the term AmerAsian. Again, I have no quarrel with her, but, personally, I prefer hapa because it's truly a non-word. As I've explained before, Native Hawai'ians had no concept of half of anything, but Europeans who arrived in their nation taught them the word. The way Native Hawai'ians pronounced it with their particular phonetics, half came out sounding like hapa. In Hawai'ian, every word ends with a vowel--much like in the Japanese language.

The word hapa was originally applied to the offspring of Native Hawai'ians and Europeans. Because the first Europeans landing on the islands didn't know the custom of bowing to the king and expelling their last breath, or ha, Hawai'ians felt they must not have any--breath, that is. Thus, the word haole was born. Ole means nothing, so the word ha-ole meant "he without breath". Although modern-day natives of Hawai'i (not necessarily Native Hawai'ians) mispronounce the word as "howlie" and use it derogatorily to describe a white person, it's original intention was to simply differentiate between those familiar with sacred Hawai'ian rituals and those who were not. Hapa haole then became the name Hawai'ians used to describe half European children.

Anyway, I'm repeating myself because I still feel like there should be one word that designates us as a group of multi-racially identified folks. Since hapa is a bastardized word anyway, I don't think it should belong to any one particular blend of people--like the half Asian and half white folks who mostly use it to describe themselves. In fact, I recently read an article in the LA Times where a reporter said the word hapa was Hawai'ian for half Asian and half white. Now, why would Native Hawai'ians even have a word for that particular mix of children?

It's pretty scary what passes for reporting these days. Just last week, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece written by a Jewish woman married to a Japanese American man. Her subject? What it means to be hapa. And, her expertise in the subject? Her daughter, a toddler, whose experiences as a mixed-race child provided the writer with all the insight she needed. She was, after all, her only resource. Now, I know if I wrote an op-ed piece about what it means to be Jewish, the New York Times would not only flatly refuse my article, but they'd probably ridicule me, too. Yet this writer, with no direct connection to being hapa, arrogantly told us multi-racial folks what it means to be mixed, and the paper actually published her piece--rife with errors, too, I should add.

Of course, I had to respond to that article, although I'm not confident that a newspaper printing such an inaccurate piece would even publish my rebuttal. If I don't hear anything by next week, I promise to publish my response here on this blog. And, that's a threat, New York Times!

But back to name-calling. I have another good friend who's African American and years ago, Darlene used the word "blendies" to describe some biracial people she knew. I thought that was cute.

Truthfully, I don't know what the answer is. As much as we hear the phrase "safety in numbers", I don't think we realize the power in the size of our group. If all mixed-race people worldwide came together, we'd be a force to be reckoned with.

Here's a quick quiz. I was trying to make a list earlier today of all the famous hapas--all clearly biracial people who are household names. Can you add to it?

Jimi Hendrix (Native American mother, African American father)
Bob Marley (black Jamaican mother, white British father)
August Wilson (white German father, African American mother)
Mariah Carey (white American mother, African Venezuelan father)

I'm sure there's more, but I'm off to cop some z's. There's me, above, a hip hapa Hapawood star! Join me by wearing a Hapa*Teez t-shirt claiming your identity. Go here:

Your Hip Hapa,

1 comment:

one creative soul said...

A list of bi-racial celebrities... see link below