Monday, April 28, 2008

Haruo And Spring

Perhaps it's coincidence, or perhaps not, but this past Sunday a contestant on NHK's amateur singing show sang the Jero hit Umiyuki. I couldn't seem to extract from my mother whether or not this is a popular song, like a well-known tune equivalent to, say, Hey Jude or something. But if you know, please tell me. All I know is that yuki refers to snow, and that it's a name for girls born in winter.

Speaking of seasons and Japanese names, I remember having the biggest crush on a boy named Haruo (for spring) McKinley back in the fifth grade. I often wonder what became of him. In fact, about half a dozen girls in my class were smitten with Haruo. Although he looked totally Japanese, I'm assuming that with that last name his father was an American Caucasian. Haruo's hair was dark except for a patch of blonde in front. In this photo, you can't really see it, but it's there.

One possible reason Haruo appealed so much to us girls might've been because he was older than us. On the back of this photo, he signed his name along with his age: 12. The rest of us were 10 going on 11, so to us he was an older man--suave and sophisticated. I wonder if he might've been held back in school for a year. My guess is that he had probably gone to school in Japan and had to start all over in the U.S., maybe due to a transition in language.

Anyway, the girls all loved Haruo. Even when he cried. Oh, yeah. One time, we all had to get TB tests done on the inside of our forearms. Well, Haruo's blew up into a big red circle and everyone said he was probably infected with tuberculosis. I remember watching the poor boy at his desk lay his head in his arms and just bawl. It must've been a false alarm, though, because he was back in school the next day impressing us again with his blonde forelock and older, wiser ways.

Here's to a happy haru, or spring, to you--whoever and wherever you are.

Your Hip Hapa,

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jero (Or, J-Lo)

Over the past few weeks, I've received emails from friends that included links to YouTube videos for a singer named Jero.

Jero, I quickly discovered, is actually Jerome White--a 26 year-old enka singer from Pittsburgh. What's enka? you might well ask. Well, it's a very traditional style of Japanese music featuring strong vocals and heavy emotional expressions. Like most things Japanese, the lyrics are focused on Mother Nature's four seasons and, of course, human love. Singing enka also requires certain voice and facial inflections that are revered by the audience when a singer produces them, and Jero seems to have them down.

Jero (who, it turns out, has a Japanese grandmother) not only sings enka but also speaks Japanese. On his YouTube videos you can watch the Japanese hosts of a television show exclaim in surprise, "Sugoi!" when he opens his mouth and spills out Japanese answers to their Japanese questions. I'm no expert in the language (I'm limited to endless nouns and a few verbs), but he sounded authentic to me. At least his pronunciations were pretty good.

So, what's all the fuss about this young man? For one, Jero is African American. Or, at least he's 3/4 since his mother is half Japanese. Dressed like a hiphop artist, Jero bursts from a graffiti decorated background, but instead of exclaiming "yo this and yo that", he croons with authority and integrity in one of the Japanese' favorite singing styles. It's to his credit that Jero could've been just another rapper, but early on felt a strong connection to his Japanese roots and embraced them. I imagine the boys in his 'hood might've laughed at him had they known what he yearned to sing. After all, don't all young black men rap?

Whether he caught flak for his musical choice or not, Jero has the last laugh. Right now in, he's a huge hit in Japan where he currently lives.

I'd love to post a pic of him here, but the only ones I have access to are copyrighted. So, just take my word that he is one cutie-pie. Besides, you should check out his videos. Just go to YouTube and search for Jero. Anyway, the closest image I could come up with is one of me posing with singer Brian McKnight's brother, Frederick, while we were in Seattle in 2000. I know, it's a stretch, but my story needed visuals.

Hey, thanks to Michelle at the World War II War Brides Association and Eriko for sending me Jero clips. Thanks also to Derrick Holmes for providing additional information like how the Japanese call him J-Lo.

Your Hip Hapa,

Monday, April 21, 2008

Where Are The Asians In America?

Well, it seems I struck a nerve in at least one person. Fusen-san, thank you for commenting on my last post about Asian Americans disappearing from the current presidential candidates' sight. Although Fusen's comments can be read by clicking at the bottom of that last post, I'll re-type it here because, gosh darn it, I think it's important. (I've slightly edited for grammar and punctuation.)

"Konban-wa, Yayoi-san. I had this very discussion with a couple of friends a few nights ago. When they stated that Obama is representing (from the onset of his campaign) his biracial heritage (speaking about his mother who is white, but did he actually say he is running on a biracial platform or even claiming that identity?), hence he is able to be fair and can speak and understand the specific situations and conditions of people of color in the U.S. (and maybe abroad). To that I said, "What year is this again? It's 2008 and we are still talking ONLY about black and white? What happened to the Asians and other people of color?" Is he really positioning himself as a biracial candidate? Really? I would love for him to win, yes I do, but let's keep it honest. Give credits where they're due, and leave grandiosity and dementia to psychiatry, shall we?"

Back to Yayoi:

To recap, I wondered in my last post whether Asian Americans even exist anymore. Other than a solitary article I read in Time magazine online speculating whether Obama had "an Asian problem", there's been nothing else addressing the issue of politicians courting this ethnic group. Or, as I put it, is there such a thing as the Asian vote in America? Or, even more ominous, have Asians disappeared into honorary white-ness? Have Asians been so successful at assimilation that they are no longer considered a race separate from whites?

It's true that the out-marriage rate for Asian Americans is higher than for any other group so perhaps in a few generations there'll be no more Asians in America. The presidential candidates seem to think so in the way they've virtually ignored them in their rush to garner the black, white and Latino votes. By their lack of addressing Asian Americans and their issues, the candidates seem to be saying that Asians simply don't count.

While it's true that their count may be low (the most recent population breakdown stats I read indicate that Caucasians make up 66% of the country with 15% Latino, 12% black and 4% Asian), it's still important to include everyone. Four percent may not seem like much, but that's still a lot of people, and everyone should matter.

And yes, Fusen-san, I agree with your remarks about Obama never really declaring his biracial heritage. From what I've read, he considers himself to be a black man. However (see my past comments on the One Drop Rule), even if he wanted to claim his white heritage there is the problem that he is simply too dark-skinned to be embraced by Caucasians as one of theirs. Seriously, I have asked and have never received an answer (from the New York Times op ed editors among others) why Halle Berry is always referred to as black while Mariah Carey is not. Both have white mothers and black fathers, but one is blonde and light-skinned while the other is a little more tawny. Could it be that having skin several shades darker than another makes one officially black instead of biracial? Nah. It couldn't be. Like Fusen says, this is 2008.

One thing is clear, though, Americans still like their Asians to be, well, Asian. Witness how much box office Jackie Chan and Jet Li did over the weekend. That would never happen with, say, Margaret Cho, or even an Asian American with genuine talent--like Ming Na.

Anyway, let's hear from some Asian Americans. Are you out there? Or, have you disappeared into acceptance by the dominant majority?

Talk to me.

The photo is of a Federal Building somewhere in the U.S. If you guess the city correctly, you win the plant that's on the desk.

Your Hip Hapa,

Friday, April 18, 2008

Blogging From The Left Lane: Do Asian Americans Exist Anymore?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I lean left. Sometimes, I lean so far left that I end up doing a cartwheel and land on my feet upright. It's a little trick I learned while attending The School of Hard Knocks where I earned a masters in Street Smarts and, later on, a Ph.d. in World Wide Survival.

On the serious tip, I'd like to start a conversation on this blog about Asian Americans and politics. Since I've been following the election campaign, I've noticed that no one seems too concerned about Asians in this country. I never hear the candidates address this particular group, and it doesn't seem as if the politicians are trying very hard to get the so-called Asian vote. Perhaps, there isn't one.

Nor do the pollsters ever include this demographic in their reports. We hear, ad nauseam, that such and such percentage of blacks are voting for Obama, or that such and such percentage of whites are voting for Clinton. But never, ever, do I read any statistics about APA's as a voting bloc.

In November of 2006, I wrote an article for about APA's and voting. During my research, I was very surprised to learn how many different Asian American political groups and organizations exist. Yet, if one reads only the mainstream news, one would conclude that Asian Americans don't become politically involved.

What has caused this attitude to develop? Some say that APA's have become so assimilated into white American culture, that they are now seen as "honorary whites" and not as a separate group of people. Would that necessarily be a bad thing? Isn't that what people of all ethnicities want? To be able to just blend in with the dominant majority, and not have to stand apart as a race which often leads to discrimination?

Or, is there a price to pay for being invisible? Other than a plethora of Asian American women TV journalists, I don't see a preponderance of Asian faces anywhere in American media. Do you?

You tell me. Drop me a comment here. I would really like to know what Asian Americans think about this idea that they've blended in so well that they longer exist as a subculture in America.

Your Hip Hapa,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Muffin's Twin

I thought I'd give ya'll a break today, and refrain from writing ad nauseam about race. (Okay, okay. I admit I have a ton of homework, too.)

So, instead, I'll just post a photo (thanks for the pix, Bob!) of Muffin's twin. If you recall, Miss Muffin is the BIRACIAL offspring dog (poodle/terrier) of her blended folks (Asian/Caucasian).

Since I posted a photo of the real-live Muffin last week, I thought I'd include one of her twin this week. Thanks to Cassie who sent the dog figurine to my mom after meeting her several weeks ago. Like me, Cassie is Japanese and African American and grew up in the Northwest. It's always good to connect with our twins.


Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. Five hot, haute, hip hapa designs have been added to the Hapa*Teez lineup:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mixed-Race Animals Proclaimed Inferior!

Truly. That's the story I saw on the PETA website the other day as I was cruisin' the 'net.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to read the article, but the photo caption indicated that certain folks felt that purebred animals, dogs in particular, were of a higher caste than mixed mutts. There was a photo of white-hooded KKK look-alikes proclaiming that interracial breeding produced bad results. Ha ha.

As a staunch vegan, I love everything PETA is doing to educate the public. What I read of the article amused me. It also made me think of something I saw a long time ago about breeders ruining the health of some dogs because they breed them for attractiveness only. For instance, some breed of short-legged dogs keep getting shorter with each new consecutive mating to the point that they can hardly walk anymore. Cute and cuddly, yes. But the poor animal lives in pain as it tries to function on stubs instead of legs.

In our blended family (Japanese mother, white stepfather, black father, 3/4's black grandchild), we consider ourselves a healthy combo. So, of course, what else would have but a mixed dog? There she is above, Miss Muffin--a biracial terrier-poodle. You go, Muffy. Arf!

Your Hip Hapa,

Alert! I'm posting at least four new t-shirt designs this weekend. Check 'em out, and sign up for the newsletter, too, at:

Monday, April 07, 2008

Another HAPA Birthday, Mama!

Today, Tuesday, is my mom's real birthday--the one she shares with Buddha or Shaka, as she calls him. But we celebrated on Sunday because it was more convenient.

Even though it was her birthday, my mom did all the cooking. What? You thought I was going to hang out in the kitchen chopping and dicing? Not a chance. Besides, I brought tulips.

The only time my mom took a break was to watch the Japanese amateur singing show on NHK followed by the news. Otherwise, she was busy with her favorite hobby--busting out them pots and pans.

Happily, she planned the menu. Proud that it had such an international flavor, she announced each item: Japanese miso (soup) with nori (seaweed), inarizushi (sushi rice stuffed inside fried tofu pouches), barbecued chicken for her husband and vegan barbecued riblets for me, New Orleans style black-eyed peas and rice, and Mexican succotash (which she later waived in favor of steamed spinach). And, the capper--a lemon-flavored birthday cake. That's right, the woman baked her own birthday cake. And, why not? She might as well since she also baked the bread we ate as toast for breakfast earlier.

I guess if you love cooking, it's no big. I just happen to hate being in the kitchen. Even though I'm a capable cook and I like to eat, I just can't stand wasting time doing something that just doesn't last. I figure if I took that same amount of effort it takes to prepare a meal and wrote a book or created some artwork instead, I'd end up with products that could be around for some time. But cooking? Okay. You spend about two hours washing and slicing and stirring and serving. Then, you eat it all in about 10 minutes. After that, you get to clean up the kitchen which could take at least half an hour. It just doesn't seem to be worth it to me. But I'm thankful my mom loves doing it. And, the icing on the cake, as it were, is that she's an incredible cook.

HAPA birthday, Yuriko. Don't worry. I won't reveal your age. Wink!

Here are some photos taken by her husband. The flags on the cake were her own clever, artistic idea.

Your Hip Hapa,

Friday, April 04, 2008

New York Times Punks Out: Hot, Hapa Mess!

Well, as promised, below is the link to the New York Times "Mixed Messenger" article on hapas which was not even written by a hapa, but by the Jewish mother of a hapa daughter. After you read the article, please return to my blog to read my rebuttal which was not accepted by the New York Times' short-sighted editors.

Even if they had edited it (it was too long for both the Letters and OpEd pages), I would've been happy just to see them acknowledge an article about hapas written by a hapa. And, people wonder why race relationships in this country are so bad! If I, a Japanese-black woman, decided to write a piece on what it means to be Jewish, I'd either be laughed out of town or hideously chastised. Instead, the vice versa is perfectly acceptable.

Sign me,

March 25, 2008

Editor/Op Ed, New York Times

Dear Editor,

I was very surprised to read an article in your publication about hapas written by someone who is NOT hapa. Just because a mono-racial person has a biracial child doesn't make her an expert on hapas. And, in Ms. Orenstein's case, that goes double (pun intended).

First of all, for her to write that Senator "Obama has increasingly positioned himself as a black man" is wrong. Most biracial people aren't allowed to choose their own identity, but are thrust into one by mono-racial people based on nothing more than their physical appearance. She also makes no mention of the One Drop Rule, a legacy of slavery that is still in effect today--which is substantiated by her next remark:

"White America, too, has a vested interest in seeing him as black (as) it's certainly a more exciting, more romantic and more concrete prospect than the "first biracial president"...

Please. White America wants Senator Obama identified as black in order to perpetuate the One Drop Rule, which was enforced by white slave masters seeking to ensure that their property never fell into the hands of their half-Negro slave offspring.

The anti-miscegenation laws Ms. Orenstein refers to were enacted to prevent WHITES from intermarrying. Period. Those laws were based on the concept of white supremacy and were enforced to keep white blood from being tainted by any other race. Certainly, no one would arrest a black man and an Asian woman who married, or vice versa.

Ms. Orenstein is also misdirected when she says that hapa is a Hawai'ian word meaning half. Native Hawai'ians didn't have a word for half because they had no concept of it. If Ms. Orenstein had done her homework, she would've learned that hapa is a mispronunciation of the English word half. Hawai'ian phonetics, which adds vowels to endings of words, would dictate that half comes out sounding like hapa. Half-a. Hapa.

Ms. Orenstein's article is rife with misinformation. If your paper's intent was to educate the mainstream about hapas, you should've asked a genuine one like Jen Chau, head of the largest mixed-race organization in the world-- comment.

In fact, there are dozens of well-known hapas who write, speak and promote hapa-ness that would've given a much clearer and more accurate picture of what it means to be biracial. Thanks to Ms. Orenstein, we now have a hot, hapa mess on our hands.

Your Hip Hapa,
Yayoi Lena Winfrey

btw, that's Jen Chau above, right, with my friend Doris when I visited both in NYC in 2000.