Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I admit I'm a consummate hostess. Back in the day, my sister and I would entertain rooms full of folks in our tiny one-bedroom apartment near Seattle's Lake Union. Thinking back now, I wonder if our neighbors suspected us of dealing drugs or being prostitutes because of our many visitors--mostly men--who'd stop by for a drink (usually coffee or something stronger) and a chat. Sometimes, one of them would scoop us up for a couple of games at a nearby pool hall. Other times, we'd go check out a Bruce Lee or Blaxploitation flick. And, still other times, we'd cruise to Seward Park for a jam session with my sister playing her twelve-string guitar.

In any case, more than loving to entertain, my sister and I loved being entertained. Our friends ranged from a naive white guy from Florida named Paul, who also played guitar and would duet with my sister, to a brother named Donzell whose cousin Goat was often the butt of his jokes. Donzell drove a Brougham and would take us dancing at various nightclubs until we'd finally stop for breakfast at an all-night Chinese restaurant on Broadway. There was Femi from Nigeria, Allan from L.A., and Darryl from round the way--my sister's classmates from the University. Interestingly, none of these men were quote unquote boyfriends, but rather acted as substitutes for the brothers that we lacked. Of the ladies, I remember Mila, a Filipina whose children all had black fathers. My sister's friends, Linda and Tien, were Japanese American and Vietnamese, respectively, and also had black husbands. Although not that common in the 1970's, interracial coupling between Asian Americans and blacks did happen. During this time, Asians weren't acceptable for marriage by whites, and most of the Asians we knew were either with other Asians or with blacks.

Just sharing stories with our friends helped shape our views of the world back then. In those days, before the Internet and instant exchanges, my sister and I often met new people in public places and through other friends. Each one had a tale to tell, and that's how we learned. Today, I meet people through every method imaginable. But my friendships are still just as rich and rewarding as ever.

This weekend, while I stayed with my mother, two friends notified me that they'd be in town so I invited them over.

Albert, an educator originally from Ghana, was driving from Oregon to Washington on his way to fly to a seminar in Maine. Although we'd been friends for years, we'd never met face to face before. Unfortunately, Albert arrived just as the NHK taiga series, Atsuhime, began. As any of my regular readers know, I am totally addicted to this show. I could hardly peel my eyes away from the screen as I instructed Albert where to sit and hang his coat. With the dog frantically pawing his legs, and my mother firing questions at him about his personal life, it was all my guest could do to maintain. My eyes glued to the TV screen, I'd periodically turn to look over my shoulder at Albert and explain the scene at the Ooku with Atsuhime and her ladies-in-waiting during the countdown of the Satsuma overtaking Edo castle. My mom's husband, in his failed attempt to be sociable, commented on how homely the real Atsuhime was compared to the actress playing her. As we ate the square wontons filled with vegetables that my mother made, she needlessly explained to Albert that they contained no meat because of my vegan diet. Observing their efforts to communicate, I served as an interpreter throughout. My mother doesn't speak Twee and Albert speaks no Japanese although two of his cousins live in Japan where they both have Japanese wives.

Shortly after Albert left to continue his trip, Heisue arrived. This young student from Seoul currently attends school in Boston and has undertaken an intensive project about Korean warbrides. Upon entering their living room, she bowed towards my mother and her husband, and we were all charmed. Proclaiming herself to be "global", Heisue told me the reason she spoke English with an American accent was because of "Sesame Street". Sipping green tea, Heisue and I discussed the importance of her work. Some of the warbrides she interviewed had been abandoned by their American military husbands once they arrived stateside. Yet they survived. We talked about how life had been for their mixed-race children with the additional burden of not having their own fathers in their lives. And, I took Heisue on a journey from the time before I was born, to my mother's early childhood. Even though my stories helped Heisue piece together her project, I was the one who felt cleansed. The communication between Heisue and my mother was fairly clear and they each spoke a few words of the other's language. When my mother remembered a Korean song, she began singing it and Heisue joined in. I wish I would've had my camera as it was one of those moments in life never to be repeated. Heisue was stunned that my Japanese mother knew all the lyrics to this very traditional Korean love song, and so was I. Then, my mother trotted out a calendar she's had forever featuring Korean models on each page. Like the time last year when she broke out the homemade kimchee for a mixed-race Korean friend, my mother was seriously trying to connect. Maybe that's where my sister and I inherited our penchant for making and keeping friends.

Above is a photo of one of the very first visitors I can remember--a fellow soldier and friend of my dad's in Germany.

In friendship forever...

Your Hip Hapa,

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