Friday, March 07, 2008

HAPA Birthday, Sistah B!

March seems to be the month for birthdays, and today's belongs to someone special--my sister, Beverly Rhea. I won't say here how old she is, but I will give her props for being the first person I've known to really push the biracial agenda.

Back in the very early 1990's, b.r. (as she refers to herself) had the idea to write a book about mixed-race people. She called a few multi-racial folks that she knew in Seattle and got them to come over to her Madrona home on a weekend afternoon. Unfortunately, b.r. is the consummate hostess, and ended up spending most of her time refreshing folks' drinks and serving them delicious munchies. Meanwhile, what was supposed to have been a session for note-taking towards the book ended up being more of a bitch session for what all racially unidentifiable people have come to declare the worst question to be asked by a monoracial person: "WHAT ARE YOU?"

In the past, the question would so infuriate me that I'd merely stare down the questioner and reply, "A human?" Or, "What do you mean, exactly?" Or, "I'm a Venusian from Venus." In other words, I didn't want to play the game which puts the questioner in the seat of authority and me in the position of the accused.

These days, folks are much more discreet, or "PC" as it's called, and will ask instead, "What kind of name is Yayoi?" Of course, my answering "Japanese" only adds to their confusion, and causes them more anxiety since it's obvious that I don't look pure Japanese.

The only time in my life I didn't mind being questioned about my race was during the times I lived in Honolulu. There, as most people know, everyone seems to be mixed and when they ask me what I am, it just feels like they want to compare notes. "Oh, you're half Japanese? So is my best friend Leilani! I'm half Korean, myself."

It may sound hypocritical, but it's not. It's all about the purpose of the questioner. People who put me on the defense do so because their questioning forces me to have to explain myself. They seem to be saying that my appearance indicates that I don't belong, and they want to know what I'm doing in their world. On the other hand, when other mutli-racial folks inquire, it's more out of a sense of solidarity. "You're half black? So am I! Filipino and black!" And then, we bond.

Omedetto gozaimasu, Beburee-san! That's her in the photo above, at age 2, with my beautiful mother in Germany.

Your Hip Hapa,

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