Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Hapa'ning Un-Hapa

Welcome back, Hip Hapa Homeez! With the approaching holidays about to effect its annual distractions on us, don’t forget about presents for your hapa friends and supporters. If you’re still searching for a hip gift, check out

This week’s featured Hip Hapa Homee has been making noise about mixed-race issues for a while. In fact, Your Hip Hapa first became aware of Wei Ming Dariotis through a 1999 Mavin magazine article. Since she’s been forever in the mix--if you will--you know the sistah’s legit. In November 2010, Wei Ming will co-present the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference in Chicago.

Ironically, Wei Ming has been outspoken about discontinuing the use of the word hapa to describe mixed-race Asians. If you’ve been reading this blog since its inception, then you know Your Hip Hapa advocates that all blendies of any mix, and even transracial adoptees, use hapa as a symbol of unity. Originally, Native Hawai’ians referred to their half European offspring as hapa haolehapa, a mispronunciation of the English word “half”; and, haole meaning “without ha, or the sacred breath” which is how they referred to foreigners who didn’t know their custom of expelling their last breath before their king. But as mixed-race Asians grew, they “borrowed” hapa to describe themselves. While Your Hip Hapa understands the pain of pillage Native Hawai’ians must feel, she also thinks that it’s too late to return the word to them. There are so few pure Native Hawai’ians anymore that we can better honor their culture by applying their word to everyone who is multiracial, and point to them as the best example of what being mixed is all about.

Be sure to read Wei Ming’s opinions about this issue in the links below. That’s her wearing her happy hapa smile above. And, a Q&A appears below:

Q: What’s a nice multiracial girl like you doing organizing a conference for mixies?

A: The Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference grew out of an idea I had for a two-week summer seminar for mixed race studies scholars. When Eric Hamako organized a weekend retreat for Mixed Race scholars and community activists in early Spring 2008, I met Laura Kina and Camilla Fojas, who became the co-organizers of what we decided to make an academic conference with a strong community component.

Q: What is your parents’ ethnic mix?

A: My mother is Chinese, and my father is Greek, Swedish, Scottish, English, German, and Pennsylvania Dutch.

Q: You had quite an upbringing—can you share your childhood adventures?

A: I was born in Australia. At two months, I traveled to Hong Kong and Bangkok to visit my Chinese grandmother and grandfather, respectively. At four months, I was living in India on an ashram in the Punjab with my parents. Eventually, we came back to the U.S. and settled, after a year with my grandmother near Seattle, in Northern California. When I was three, my mom and I divorced my dad and, after a brief incident in which my dad kidnapped me, my mom and I moved from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, so she could be around other Asians. She worked as a cocktail waitress, and we lived on welfare for about two years until she was able to pull us out of it. My father, meanwhile, refused to pay any child support. My mom is a first generation immigrant from Hong Kong, though her roots are Shanghainese. She'd come when she was 17, and at this point had been in the U.S. for about 10 years, so she still had trouble with English and had no support network. Eventually, she met a fourth-generation Chinese American, who became my stepfather. He was an architect and encouraged my mom to become a real estate agent, which she was so good at that she was, in the mid 1980s, one of the top commercial brokers in San Francisco. Meaning: I was able to go to the most expensive and exclusive private high school in the Bay Area; San Francisco University High School. It was a childhood with many contrasts.

Q: Tell us about your work.

A: I am an Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. When I graduated from college at 21, I went immediately into a PhD program in English Lit, at University of California Santa Barbara, on a full scholarship. After grad school, I moved back to San Francisco and started working as a lecturer at various schools. Eventually, I was invited to apply for a position at San Francisco State University in Asian Americans of Mixed Heritage--a unique position that has not been duplicated in any other Asian American Studies program.

Q: You’re also a poet. Can you elaborate?

A: I've written poetry most of my life, in part because of the independent school I attended from 4th to 8th grade, Presidio Hill School, founded in 1919 on an anti-war curriculum by two sisters who were artists and poets. As a poet, however, I have often felt bound to confine my poems to specific foci--in other words, I wrote them like I write essays. After I was tenured, I felt I could open up and I began to play with language, with non-sense, and also with mixing different ideas together in one poem in a much looser way. As with my watercolor painting, I've begun to leave "white space" or "breathing room" in my poems.

The collection of poetry I am working on is a hybrid genre--poems with footnotes, bits of autobiographical narrative, and significant quotes from both my own writing and other authors are all included to make a kind of auto-poetical narrative, or what Fred Wah calls "bio-writing".

Here’s a link to a recording of me reading some of my poems:

Q: What about your artwork?

A: I do large acrylic paintings as well as usually smaller watercolors. My work is focused on trees, self-portraits, and abstracts. I like to use purples, lavenders, and copper/gold/silver in my work. Lately, I've been painting green and blue-trunked trees against flaming skies. In this, I think I was influenced by several paintings by Chiura Obata in the permanent collection at the De Young Museum.

Q: Why does the following blurb appear in all of your emails?

“I am on a 10% FURLOUGH. This will affect the level of service you receive. FIGHT to support higher education in California!”

A: What is going on in California is that we need to roll back Prop 13 so we can fund education. It’s as simple as that.

Thank you, Wei Ming. Below are links to this hapa'ning Un-Hapa's many projects and thoughts.

Remember to join Hip Hapa Homeez on Facebook where you can read more news about multiracial issues. And, become a Watermelon Sushi Fan on Facebook to help support our film.

Finally, check out Cassie here looking haute in her Hip Hapa t-shirt. Don't hate. Get yours at:

Until next week, here’s a wish for your holiday hapa-ness!

Your Hip Hapa,


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