Last weekend, while pink petals fell like silent snowflakes from cherry trees lining the Seattle Center, I made my way over to its grounds. Just past the Experience Music Project (Microsoft partner Paul Allen's dedication to Jimi Hendrix), I found the Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival in full bloom (yeah, pun intended). A three-day cultural event sponsored by the Japanese Consulate, this matsuri is an annual shindig. But this year, besides the usual activities of dance, ikebana (flower arrangement), judo, kimono dressing, shodo (calligraphy), and taiko (drumming), the festival also featured a Hapa Booth.
A friend on the committee who knew of my passion for blendies invited me to help out at the Booth. So, for three days, I mixed and mingled with hapas, their parents or other relatives, and their friends. Through a whirlwind of exchanges, I felt a spiritual connection with so many multiracial folks who willingly shared their stories--some sad, some glad.
The Hapa Booth itself was simply decorated with photocopied pictures of mixed-race Japanese. After all, it was the Japanese Consulate's event so no other hapa Asians were featured. But that didn't deter hapas of all combos from approaching us to "talk story". Since the Japanese community has one of the highest out-marriage rates, numerous visitors started their sentences with, "My mother's Japanese and my father's..." Or, "My father's Japanese and my mother's..." And, the numbers of hapas hailing from Hawai'i clearly outnumbered everybody else.
Besides photos, there was also a laptop looping video clips of Jero's (with his obachan in pix here) performances. Although curiosity from those who'd never heard of him was strong, their interest sometimes bordered on incredulity, and I wondered if they saw him as a novelty rather than as a serious enka singer.
I also discovered that, unfortunately, a lot people still have a misconception about the word hapa. Many think that it describes someone who's half Asian. I know I've written this before, but hapa is simply the Hawai'ian mispronunciation of the English word half. Being limited to 12 alphabet letters, the Hawai'ian language does not provide phonetics that would permit a Native to say h-aaa-lll-fff, so the word was softened to ha-pa. Native Hawai'ian language also ends every word with a vowel so it would be impossible to say h-aaa-lll-fff anyway. Initially, when the first Europeans arrived on the islands, they were referred to as ha-ole, or "no ha". Ha is the sacred breath that was expelled before the Hawai'ian king, but Europeans didn't know that so they didn't do it. Thus, "no ha". Hapa haole were the offspring of Native Hawai'ian and European parents. These days, haole is pronounced by locals as "how-lee" and is sometimes used derogatorily against whites. But back in the day, even Princess Ka'iulani was hapa haole with a Native mother and Scottish father.
Besides trying to come up with a quick definition of hapa that was palatable to the surging crowd, I also dispensed information about mixed-race organizations to those requesting resources. It's all good and well to point to photos that show that the world is rapidly blurring its racial lines, but for those who are still having a rough go of it, it's nice to know that there are organizations out there for us. Shout-outs to MixedChicks.com and SwirlInc.org!
Among monoracial people drawn to the Hapa Booth, most of the responses were positive although some clearly appeared puzzled about the very notion of race mixing, or why it would even be celebrated or publicized. A board set up on an easel accompanied by post-it notes and pens invited comments from the audience. Some were ordinary; some profound. But one actually said, "Hapas? Get over it."
Well, the only thing this hapa is getting over tonight is finishing this blog post.
btw, in celebration of my upcoming birthday during the first week of May, I'm planning to add quick interviews with various hapas here on this blog. If you'd like me to talk to you, please drop me a line. It doesn't matter where you live, or what your combo flava is, I want to hear from you.
And, here's a reminder that our Watermelon Sushi producers are still on a talent search. If you haven't already sent us your DVD or headshot, it's not too late. Check out the breakdowns on the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook. And, sign up to join us while you're there.
Also, if you've purchased a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, let us know so we can give you credit for contributing.
Meanwhile, can you stand one more photo of cherry seasoning?
Your Hip Hapa,