Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!
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Your Hip Hapa continues to be amazed by the many halfies, hapas, mixies and multi-cultis among us these days. Recently, while traveling long distance, I met an authentic ‘hapa haole’ named Meilani. ‘Hapa’ is Hawai’ian pidgin for ‘half’. ‘Ha-ole’ means literally ‘without sacred breath’—‘ha’ for breath expelled in front of Hawai’ian kings and ‘ole’ for nothing. The first visitors to Hawai’i were unaware of the custom so were thought to have no breath to expel. Children born to them and Native Hawai’ians were then called ‘hapa haole’—half ‘without sacred breath’.
|Your Hip Hapa with Meilani|
Besides being a writer and publisher, my new friend Meilani has a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawai’ian) mother and Irish American father. Although she’d been living in the Northwest, she was headed back to her kama’aina (child of the land) roots and her mother. Another woman I met on my travels was MexiCali, half Mexican and half white growing up in California. Admittedly, she lived a more ‘white life’ due to lack of exposure to her other culture, which she’s now actively exploring. On this same trip, I also met with the intriguing Grace Etsuko Lee. An AfroAsian with a Japanese mother and a father from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Grace has published a book about her life and is now involved in our War Brides of Japan documentary. More about Grace below.
More and more, we are living on a multi-culti planet filled with hapa haoles, MexiCalis, AfroAsians and Celtic Samurais like Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, a consulting professor and published writer, who is this month’s featured Hip Hapa Homee. I first met Stephen at the Hapa Japan Conference 2011 in Berkeley where he was ‘talking story’.
|Stephen's Mom and Dad|
Q: Stephen, who are your parents and how did they meet?
A: My parents met in Tokyo after the war. So, I was born in Occupied Japan, as were my two older sisters. My father was a reluctant, former American soldier who had luckily never engaged in combat and had left the military as soon as he could. He remained in Japan and was working at GHQ, where MacArthur’s office was, when he met my mother. Somehow, my mother had managed to learn enough English during the war years as a college student to get a job as an interpreter. They shared a love of literature and music, and started dating and considered marriage. However, they encountered numerous roadblocks that delayed the legal aspects of marriage and, by the time I was born, they’d had two girls who, by the nationality laws, were born as Shigematsu, and Japanese. My parents were legally married when I was born so I became a Murphy, and an American. My grandparents were open-minded about all of this, and we lived with them in Tokyo from the time before my sisters were born. All they cared about, they told me, was that my dad respected them and my mother, and he did, so that was enough.
Q: How did you grow up?
A: My dad stayed in Japan eight years, but eventually wanted to return to the States. His parents, who had emigrated from Ireland, had died but he had sisters and brothers in Massachusetts so that’s where we went and settled. My Japanese grandparents were devastated to lose us, as my mother was an only child and we were their only grandchildren, but it seems that everyone thought that it was better to raise mixed-race kids in the U.S. Where we lived in Western Massachusetts was a hostile environment, but tolerable because we were only one Japanese family and no threat to anyone. I endured vicious treatment, but survived through my own resilience, my pride in being Japanese, and the support of friends.
While I never met any other Japanese or other Asians, my association with blacks in high school was crucial in helping me to get over the desire to be white. I became empowered as they were during the “Black Power” days and left the U.S. to re-embrace my roots on what became an extended journey of twenty years in which I became Japanese in every way, including naturalizing as a Japanese citizen and working for the Japanese government. In my own mind, I had always been Japanese and was simply rediscovering a “surrendered identity” and realizing my wholeness.
Q: How has teaching on two continents helped you to realize your own ethnic identity?
A: Becoming a counselor and teacher in both countries of my heritage has enriched my life beyond belief. I have been immersed in both cultures at the deepest and most intimate levels, nourishing me with “soul food”. I find myself in both places and embrace each for its contribution to my wholeness. Of course, in each I also find myself displaced and a stranger, and I must also deal with this, accepting a sense of homelessness and my position as a marginal person who brings something of value to each by virtue of who I am in relation to that culture.
Q: What about your involvement in teaching medicine?
A: My role in medicine is trying to bring together the areas of health humanities and cultural sensitivity. This means using cultural awareness as a means of keeping alive the human side of health care. To me, the focus on cultural differences can be a pathway to the realization that we need to remain open to the uniqueness of the person before us, whether this is in a clinical encounter or just on the street. We need to be cognizant of our limited ways of seeing others, in stereotypes, in quick judgments based on physical cues, and be mindful of overcoming these views so that we can empathize and engage with the individuals we encounter.
|The Celtic Samurai|
Q: Talk about your oral storytelling and The Celtic Samurai.
A: A few years ago I started to tell stories to a live audience. I called it The Celtic Samurai: A Boy's Transcultural Journey. Writing is a lonely job and I desired to get together with people in a more interactive way by connecting through telling our stories. I tell stories that are deeply personal, but also connect to the political so that they are not just my stories in a self-indulgent way, but are the stories of others as well. To me this is the challenge, to make it less ego-driven and more service-driven by offering a story that resonates with the stories of others. Storytelling is perhaps a mid-life transition from a pattern of reserved, self-deprecating behavior exacerbated by the inhibiting forces of racist treatment to a desire to take the stage, to present myself openly and authentically.
Q: What about your writing career?
A: Much of my work is still writing, which I find deeply rewarding in the sense that I believe we find meaning in life by discovering what we do well simply by virtue of who we are and then working hard at it. I can listen well and I can write so I listen to people’s stories and I write them down, asking myself what they meant to me in hopes that they mean something to someone else, too. I wrote a book of "clinical ethnographies" called Multicultural Encounters which were case narratives from my counseling practice with clients of diverse cultural backgrounds.
I also published it in Japanese and that is something I have valued doing. I published another book in Japanese, which translates as Amerasian Children: An Unknown Minority Problem. I felt it was important to reach Japanese readers so I published with a trade press, which made the book available to the general public. It also led to a portion of the book being reprinted in a nationally used middle school social studies textbook introducing minorities and human rights.
I just completed a book called When Half is Whole. The image on the cover is a half moon. So the metaphor is rich and open to interpretation, but to me it shows the ways in which we are fragmented by society and lose touch with our wholeness. People see only part of who we are and assume that is all there is. In reality, there is much more than can be seen by the naked eye. Our own limitations prevent us from seeing all that exists, in ourselves and in others. So healing is a journey toward wholeness, connecting to, finding meaning in, realizing and embracing all of our parts and our inherent wholeness. I interviewed some extraordinary people and wrote their stories of how their ethnic identity plays a role in wellness.
I have another book coming out at the same time called Synergy, Healing and Empowerment. It applies the concept of synergy to education and health, integrating knowledge from traditional and modern sources to creative developments in which seemingly disparate parts come together in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The book shows how synergy is expressed in identities and communities. Besides books, I write essays for academic journals about health and illness. I also have a blog I call Multicultural Family that is fun to write.
Q: And, you’re a consultant, too.
A: Yes, in a strange development that shows that life is stranger than fiction I have become a cultural trainer for the U.S Military. The still numerous and vast military bases in Japan employ thousands of Japanese and there are predictable problems between them and their American bosses. A few years back, the Marines identified me, because of my Japanese and American backgrounds and knowledge of cultural psychology, as an ideal person to work in bringing the two groups together. So that is what I do, basically teaching mutual respect and treating each other with dignity by modeling those value and behaviors. This is another meaningful way to use my background as Japanese and American.
Domo arrigatou gozaimasu, Stephen.
Here are links to the Celtic Samurai’s website and blog:
|Your Hip Hapa with Grace Etsuko Lee|
As for Grace, we’ll be interviewing her in the near future. In the interim, here are links to her website:
Finally, a shout-out to Pat S. for hosting, and for her Japanese Hawai’ian aloha. Mahalo nui loa, watashi-wa tomodachi.
Remember to join us at our Facebook Hip Hapa Homeez group page to discuss being mixed-race, multiethnic, interracially involved, transracially adopted and more. You can also join the Watermelon Sushi movement by “liking” our pages and checking out our various websites:
Aloha nui loa until next month.
Your Hip Hapa,Yayoi