Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hapa Japas, That's Ja As In "Jah"

Today, I met yet another half Japanese person! It just amazes me how many of us there are because gazing from a distance it appears that Japanese society is highly homogenized with very little race-mixing. Yet, at times, I feel like I know a ton of biracial Japanese people.

Hapa Japas, I like to call us. That's Ja as in Jah Rastafari!

From all the kids I grew up with on Army bases (with their Japanese warbride mothers and fathers that were either black or white Americans) to the woman I met in yoga class today, we are many.

The woman from yoga class, Cathy, has an Irish father and was born and reared in Yokohama. Her daughter's father is also Japanese. I'm really curious to know how growing up in Japan affected her. She has a very European look so maybe life wasn't as traumatic for her as it was for someone like my friend Eriko who is half Okinawan and half black. For Eriko, Okinawa instills both a sense of pride and shame because of the way she was treated for having an African American father.

Interesting, isn't it? That a country (either Japan or Okinawa) that boasts no NATIVE black people quickly built a prejudice against them...based on what, exactly? When you've never had a certain people embedded in your country, how would you know what they're capable of or not? By the same token, whites weren't always treated well by the Japanese either. But, as in most places on planet earth, they fared better than blacks.

It's been a long time since I visited Japan, but back in the 1980's when I did with my mother and sister, we were well received. But, then again, the Japanese tend to put politeness ahead of opinion, so how do I know what others really thought? Obviously, too, because my sister and I were with my mother, we were afforded a certain respect by default. Since my mom was one of "them", my sister and I were give a wide margin for error by the locals.

Because of my advocacy for mixed-race folks, over the years I've been contacted by many half Japanese people. Recently, two sisters, Cassie and Doris befriended me. It's been a real treat to share stories of our similar experiences. And, I'm looking forward to knowing more Hapa Japas, so hollah if you're out there, cuz.

Can you name some Hapa Japas? I just visited a website called Alec In Japan that showcased a dozen half Japanese celebrities--none of whom I had ever heard of.

Here's my very small list because I'm tired and it's late:

Anzu Lawson, actress/comedienne, Japanese mother
Laura Kina, painter/professor, Japanese father
Stewart David Ikeda, writer/professor, Japanese father
Terra Paley, business consultant, Japanese mother
Velina Hasu Houston, playwright/professor, Japanese mother
George Johnston, writer/publisher, Japanese mother

Add more?

That's me in a pic taken by Doug Ing right after I won third place in a citywide art contest in Seattle one year. I cut myself in half to go with my illustration's theme.

Your Hip Hapa and Hapa Japa,

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