Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Hau'oli makahiki hou, omedetto gozaimasu, and happy new year...again. Yes, it's Lunar New Year (or at least it was on Monday), and time for the Year of the Ox. Or as my mother calls the animal, "cow". "Cow," she will say, "is god." Whether I respond or not, she will go on by listing all the things people take from cows--from their milk to their flesh to their hides to make boots. Even when I argue, in my best vegan voice, "That's murder!", my mom will continue praising the god-cow and its useful body parts snatched by humans regardless of its refusals. "But Mom," I'll protest, "That's why Hindus worship cows. They're sacred so you shouldn't eat them."

I love listening to my mother "talk story" as they say in Hawai'i where everyone has a tale to share. (Check out the storyteller, below, at the Hawai'i state library.) I'm not sure why she's so good at it, but over the years I've heard my mom repeating all of them endlessly without wavering. Her facts are always the same, and the details she provides paint such visually rich pictures that I always feel like I'm right there at the scene.

My mother's stories range from the time when she was a little girl of six (when her father died and left their family penniless) to the time when she first arrived in America aboard a ship that landed in Seattle to many, many tales beyond. She tells stories of living in Richmond Texas in the 1950's when it was segregated and a white bus driver conspiratorially advised her that she need not sit in the back with my father's black relatives. She talks about my paternal grandmother who taught her how to wring a chicken's neck and fry it for my dad's lunch. One of my mother's favorite stories is about going to New York after learning English from our southern black kin and asking the bellhop to bring her "soda water". Of course, he brought her seltzer because at that time in New York if you wanted a soda, you'd call it a "pop".

My mother's stories have entertained me and my sister for decades. Even her husband perks up with attention whenever she begins with, "When I was little girl, stay Japan, I not have nothing. My daddy die, then we so poor." Evidently, my mother's family owned a hair salon with six employees, but the business burned down during a devastating earthquake. A year later, just as he rebuilt the salon, my maternal grandfather suddenly became ill and died. That threw the family into a tailspin with my grandmother forced to raise five children by herself.

Another time period that yields many tales are the childhoods of my sister and me. My mother loves telling the story about how as a baby in Texas my sister cried all night keeping her awake. I was three at the time and fast asleep as my mom relates it, but my sister could not be placated. As my mother walked to the bathroom cabinet and reached up to get a lamp to light the room with, something crawled over her bare feet. Looking down, she saw a snake sashaying away to hide behind the dresser. Quickly lighting the lamp, my mom grabbed a hoe and hunkered down in her bed watching for the snake to come out. Surprisingly, my sister suddenly stopped crying. (During this part, I always remind her that my sister was born in the Year of the Snake.) Hours later, in the still of the night, the snake crept from its hiding place, and my mother jumped up and chopped that poor creature into bits. Depending on my mood, I'll either tell my mom that she was very brave or, if I want to get a reaction, I'll chastise her for killing a helpless animal.

My mom is always filled with so many stories, but I think the most dramatic ones that she shares are about her life in Texas. After all, there were no Asians living in our little country town then, and she was treated like an oddity--except for by my dad's people. Talk about culture shock! I can't imagine moving somewhere where absolutely no one looked, spoke, ate or behaved like me. But she did it, and she earned some rewarding life experiences for it.

That's why I think it's so important to reach across cultural lines and invite someone different into your life. Interracial couples do that all the time. Just think how boring life would be if
every single human on earth was of one race.

Just remember this new year is Ox time and those animals are stubborn and pragmatic. This could prove to be one really s-l-o-w year.

Speaking of time, it's hard to believe that it's been one year since I began blogging regularly about mixed-race issues. I actually started Watermelon Sushi World in 2006, but with no time to invest in it then, I let it languish. What really brought me to attention was you. You guys are so encouraging and your comments throughout the last year are so appreciated. Please don't stop. And, please consider emailing me your mixed-race stories so that I can include them in a future blog. Email me at

Oh, and here's a reminder that the producers of the Watermelon Sushi film are still checking out talent for our principal characters. Although we've received some nice reels and headshots, we're open to looking at more. We want to give everyone a chance, so please spread the word. Although we don't have our locations set yet, it doesn't matter where you live. It's a new world and even though this year may be slow as an ox, we can always bring you to us wherever we end up.

Here are some photos of my mom showing off her new boots (no, they are not made of "cow") and a hilarious note she posted on the fridge about her dog, Muffin. I added the "e" to her "befor".

Gung Hay Fat Choy to all of you from...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Triggers Flashback To Germany

Yesterday, on That Day, I was scheduled to speak about biracial issues at a local high school. But when the kids tramped in, all they wanted to do was watch the streaming of the inauguration. As their teacher frantically fiddled with a computer, I tried to get the students'
attention. But, they were having none of it. Instead, I heard incessant complaining about why the streaming wasn't already happening. "I better not miss my president," one aggressive young lady warned us. After ten minutes of clicking keys, the teacher gave up and herded the kids into the cafeteria to watch the big screen TV with other students. Meanwhile, she and I headed to the library.

During the ceremony, I went over in my mind all the interesting paths that I've seemingly crossed with Obama. There's the fact that his mother attended Mercer Island High School near Seattle where I've resided on and off for a number of years. As a child, Obama lived in Honolulu. Well, I've lived in Honolulu, too--twice. My buddy, Lucy, currently lives in Kailua where the Obama's vacationed recently and where I visited Lucy's home last fall. Obama went to Occidental College in Eagle Rock. Several years ago, I spoke to a class there about biracial issues. I also met Anjulie, a transracial adoptee from Seattle, who has since become my good pal because she was in the class that I spoke to that day. And, I have a close friend who lives in Eagle Rock which is also the location of a newspaper that I used to write film reviews for. As for the inauguration, I'm acquainted with the poet who read the poem since she's a good friend of a friend. I seem to know a lot of folks in Chicago who knew Obama, too. And, the list goes on. Crossing paths these days is not so extraordinary given the world of social networking sites and instant communications. Still, it's something to ponder. Will I make the ultimate crossing with Mr. O with an invite to the White House? Now, that would be a trip!

While I watched Obama yesterday, I--of course--thought a lot about his biracial heritage. Later in the day, I appeared on the Mixed Chicks Chat special podcast to add my two cents about the subject. I had to admit that I was disappointed that Mr. O himself has said little about being mixed. Sure, he's referred to himself as a "mutt" and has revealed information about growing up with white grandparents, but it's not like he's in constant conversation about what it's like being biracial. Certainly, I don't expect him to push aside his presidential duties to focus on the multiracial agenda. Yet, I wish he'd do more.

For one thing, 2010 will be only the second time in the history of the U.S. Census that those of us who identify with more than one race group will be able to check more than one box. Think about it. For most of my life (which has been a l-o-o-o-ng one at this point), I've had to deny one of my parents. And, because the One Drop Rule for African Americans has been so prevalent, the person I had to pretend didn't exist inside of me was my Japanese mother. Even though she's influenced me more than any other living being on this planet, I, in effect, have had to announce to the world that she was no part of me. So, yes. I do believe that Mr. O could be a little louder about us biracial babies. Let's see if he does so once we get past all the economic and international problems we currently face.

Thinking about Obama, I also realized that most of the time when monoracial people use the term "biracial", they mean people who are half white and half black. That took me back to the time when my family lived in Germany where my father was stationed for three years. After moving back to the states, we ended up in an all-white neighborhood where no one would speak to us much less allow their children to interact with my sister and me. It was a lonely time for us, but she and I made good use of our solitude by nurturing our creativity.

But the really interesting thing to me now that I'm older and can look back is how white folks in Germany were nothing like the white neighbors in our Washington state home. For one thing, a lot of German kids then had black fathers. And the white Germans we knew were very friendly. Was it because they lost the war? The white American soldiers that worked with my father were friendly, too. Was it because of the Army?

As much as I prefer the idea of pure peace, I realize that having armed forces is a necessary thing. One of the benefits of being in the Army is that everyone is pretty much equal. Being forced together makes people learn tolerance. In civilian life, our white neighbors had the option of ignoring us, but in the military we all had to get along.

In these photos, clockwise: A soldier friend of my dad's visits us in Germany and sits my sister on his lap. Next, I believe this woman's name was PeeWee. She was German, and I don't remember whether or not she had a family. It seems everyone liked having my sister sit on their lap. In the next photo, we're having a picnic with a girl name Bridget, her German mother, Carmen (in the center, who is biracial), her German mother, my sister and me. The last photo is of me playing in the snow with two friends. I don't recall if they were German or American, but they never called me any derogatory names like our Washington neighbors did.

Until next time, I am...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good Luck, Good Fortune

Do you believe in good fortune? Do you know people who always seem to luck out? You know the type; they get in a car wreck, but--fortunately--they only sustain minor injuries and, on top of that, the insurance company is paying them big time.

One of my neighbors recently sprained his back and got a brand new truck out of the deal. Personally, any injury would be too much of a sacrifice for me, but I always wonder about people who manage to luck out of what would have been an otherwise disastrous situation.

Some folks say it isn't about luck at all, but about faith. But aren't we talking about the same thing? I mean, no one can prove that anything exists beyond our mundane lives. Yet people all over the world stake everything they know on a belief that their brand of paradise exists just on the other side of their demise.

Personally, I'm more into metaphysics than religion, but it's interesting to note that neither belief system can be 100% guaranteed. My background is in Astrology, and I earned a degree from a school that Dr. Walter Coleman founded in Puerto Rico and New York. In the early 1990's, I read Astrology charts on a radio show, and I once belonged to the prestigious NCGR (National Council for Geocosmic Research). Although I discover a lot of accurate information when reading people's natal charts, I can't make predictions that are absolute and infallible. I don't believe anyone can.

Growing up, my parents each had her/his own beliefs. Like most Japanese people of her time, my mother practiced a mix of Shinto and Buddhism. Besides putting photos of her diseased parents inside her gohonzon, she often fed wild birds and exhibited great empathy towards those less fortunate than herself. But she never formally practiced any particular religion, and she'd admonish my sister and me about the existence of a higher power. In her broken English, she would chide, "God not say nothing. Only people say."

My father, on the other hand, came from a typical Southern Baptist black family. So, Sunday church attendance was mandatory for him, my sister and me. That is, until she and I got old enough to rebel. Luckily for us, my father was stationed away from home for long periods of time--up to two years, sometimes--and my sister and I took full advantage of it. With a foreign mother who didn't quite get all the customs of America, we had it pretty easy when it came to forging our own activities. But whenever my dad was around, my sister and I had to endure the scratch of starchy dresses, Jergen's lotion rubbed into our "rusty knees" and, along with embroidered handkerchiefs knotted around our coin offerings, we'd be taken to church.

Somehow, time has changed nothing. Today, my mother's married to an atheist. She still gathers table scraps to feed the wild birds hanging out in her front yard, and she still tears up whenever she watches the news. As for my dad, he still attends a Baptist church, still says grace at meal times, and still believes that you go to "heaven" after you die.

Then, there's Yours Truly (or Your Hip Hapa, I should say) who still reads Astrology charts and Tarot cards, and is absolutely riveted by Crop Circles and any sign of extraterrestrial life. For decades, I've believed that a higher consciousness is awakening in humankind, and that the portal to greater knowledge will open according to the Mayan calendar in the Age of Aquarius in 2012. I can't prove any of it, and I could be wrong, but it's just what I've always felt.

How about you? I'm really curious about mixed-race people and their personal beliefs. Most people adopt the religion of their parents. But what happens if you have parents of different races? Or, for that matter, parents who have different beliefs? Back in the day, there were issues whenever Catholics married Protestants, and vice versa. Drop me a line and let me know about how being biracial helped shape your belief system.

Meanwhile, here's a reminder that our producers have begun casting for principals for Watermelon Sushi. If you'd like to see a copy of the Open Casting Call, please drop me a line. If you're on Facebook, navigate to the Hip Hapa Homeez group page and read it there.

In keeping with my theme, above are some photos of the gods. The golden Buddha is my mom's favorite while the one next to it was snapped at a tea shop in Los Angeles. The Buddhas on the wall were taken at a fusion restaurant on Oahu. I've forgotten the names of the two ceramic Japanese gods sitting on my mom's table, but maybe you know. And, finally, there's Zoltar, the psychic who dispenses fortunes on Santa Monica's Pier.

Good Luck, ya'll!

Your Hip Hapa,

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Freakin' Blogspot!

Okay, one of the reasons my post was so late tonight is because I had to freakin' retype it 3 or 4 times because of too many photos squeezed into one space.

Here's the photo of Jero I left out along with a bowl of the ozoni (vegan style) my mother made us for New Year.

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Red And White New Year

So far, 2009 is proving to be a little more Sushi in flava than Watermelon.

On New Year's Eve, while munching on homemade osenbe, I watched Red and White with my mother and her husband. A Japanese tradition that spans several decades, Kohaku Utagassen
(or Red and White) is a singing contest between two groups of professional singers. Broadcast on NHK, it's an unbelievable 4 1/2 hours long!

Featuring women singers representing Red, or Ko, and men as the White or Haku, this year's show featured a plethora of talent. Although the J-pop groups mostly annoyed me, I was very moved by the enka singers--especially a woman named Tendo Yoshimi. I like her a lot because she's also one of the chubbiest Japanese people I've ever seen. Rarely are Japanese nationals overweight, and I was initially surprised upon first laying eyes on this popular singer. Tendo is very stylish and and her voice is a powerhouse.

One interesting aspect of Red and White was the nonchalant way in which drag queens were presented as just another part of the show. Performing songs sung in their normal male voices, these gay men were dressed to the nines--sashaying it up for the screen. You'd think with their reputation as an extremely formal people, the Japanese would be the last to show openly gay male singers mixed in with the straight on a well-known national television show. I have to give them props for their inclusion of everyone because I can't imagine it happening here in the supposedly liberal West. But then again, Japan has kabuki which, although created by a woman, features only men playing all of the roles--male or female.

Another Red and White treat for me was the appearance of Jero--the young brother from Philly whose mother is hapa (Japanese/black). Jero's mother was in the audience tearfully congratulating her son for being invited to the show which is a great honor. Her crying caused Jero to cry. In fact, most of the audience was sniffling as Jero showed off his half black/half white jacket featuring a drawing of his late grandmother who taught him to speak Japanese and who turned him on to enka.

Tears also ran down the faces of some of the singers who had poems, written by loved ones, read to them by the hosts. I tell you, in spite of their reputation to the contrary, the Japanese are an emotional lot.

On to some Watermelon stories--sort of. Here's a link Marion sent from Maryland. If you recall, several years ago, an interracial couple had twins each of whom turned out to look fully white and fully black. Well, they did it again. So much for Hapa-dom!

And, finally, some news about both Watermelon and Sushi. It looks like the film production is on again as our producers have issued a national casting call. Email me if you'd like a copy of the casting notice. Although we're not certain yet where we'll be shooting, we're gathering our talent now. If you've purchased a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, please let us know so we can add you to the credits.

Hopefully, you and yours enjoyed a HAPA New Year!

Your Hip Hapa,