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,

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