Friday, May 30, 2008

Hapawood, Not Hollywood!

Several days ago, I met a man walking around downtown gathering signatures for a petition. He smiled a lot and seemed enthusiastic about life so I started a conversation with him. For some reason, his facial features and body language suggested to me that he was Kenyan.

"Close," he replied when I asked. "I'm from Uganda."

As we discussed politics, we veered towards other topics, like my writing film reviews. Glancing at me sideways, he asked what I thought about The Last King of Scotland. I rolled my eyes before responding, "It was very Hollywood, wasn't it?" adding, "But what do you think? You're Ugandan. Was that a factual story about Idi Amin or even about Ugandans in general?"

The man, Vincent, shook his head. It's not that I don't believe Amin wasn't a brutal dictator, but some of the scenes just made me throw my hands up in disbelief. It's like when The Last Samurai, or Memoirs of a Geisha, was released. I just about gagged watching Tom Cruise's character become an overnight samurai. Come on now, we're talking about a privileged class of people in feudal Japan that one had to be born into. And, here was this goofy gaijin only six months into Japan and already fluent in the language! (Shades of Richard Chamberlin in Shogun.) You could've knocked me over with an udon noodle. Here, I've known my Japanese mother for decades (let's not discuss how many), who speaks a mishmash of broken English and Japanese to me, and I'm nowhere near fluent. Just because you're an Asianphile doesn't mean you're Asian!

As for Memoirs of a Geisha...three modern Chinese actresses playing very culturally specific roles that takes even Japanese women who aspire to such a career years of careful preparation. Need I say more? (Sorry to dis you Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh! I'm a huge fan of both, but...)

The question is why does Hollywood feel entitled to take such liberties with inaccurate portrayals of a people, or a culture, or a race that they don't intimately know. The answer's simple. Because they can.

I remember once complaining to the editor of a screenwriters magazine about Tina Fey. He had organized a Q&A with her following a screening of Mean Girls which she wrote. After seeing the film, I was livid that all the Asian American high school kids had thick accents and even spoke some Asian language, Vietnamese, I believe. So, I mentioned to the organizer how appalled I was by those scenes. Instead of asking me to substantiate my claims about Fey creating stereotypical images of Asian Americans, he dismissed me by telling me I was wrong. Further, he added, the Asian Americans in the film were authentic and Tina Fey had them pegged because a lot of Asians in high school aren't Native English speakers and would revert to their own language when fighting with other students--in California! Now, hold up. Do you need an instant replay of that?

This organizer, by the way, is not Asian American (he's Jewish), and Tina Fey certainly isn't Asian American, but I am--at least half of me is--and I was told point blank that both of them know more about Asian Americans than I do. How, exactly, does that work? Should I write a script based on Jewish or Caucasian American characters and when a representative from their group tells me they are offended by my inaccuracy, argue with them?

In times like this, the realization hits home. We are truly the minority because if we had any kind of pull at all, Hollywood would not be able to cast Angelina Jolie in blackface to play a mixed-race black woman in 2007 (A Mighty Heart). But it goes beyond actors because until writers and directors of color are as visible as minority movie stars, we are just not going to get our authentic stories onto the silver screen.

Something that's been really bugging me is the glut of documentaries about impoverished folks, mostly of color, around the globe that are rarely made by people of color. But when you think about it, that makes sense. Who can afford to go to film school these days? Few people of color. And even if their families do have money, the kids aren't encouraged to pursue arts because there's the perception (especially in Asian families) that making movies is not real work or that it has no fixed future. So, we get a proliferation of white filmmakers who not only have the technical know-how to make movies, but who also have the opportunity to make the all-important contacts that will propel them into careers either with the studios or with independent producers--a growing force. It is they who ultimately make decisions about how we, so-called ethnics, are portrayed onscreen which, in turn, is how the world will perceive us.

Several years ago, I was in Honolulu when former Tri-Star/Columbia producer Christopher Lee hosted the writers and director of Final Fanstasy for a talk at University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Of course, being studio guys, they were all white. And, young. And, male. As they looked out over the audience of locals (mostly Asian, Asian-mixed, Polynesian and Melanesian folks), one of them said, "You guys should be telling your own stories." I snickered. He said it so matter-of-fact, as if we had the resources and connections, as if we'd even be allowed. But wait, you say M. Night Shyamalan is a Hollywood fixture and he's a minority and he's telling his own stories. Oh, yeah? What kind of stories? True life depictions of the Indian American experience? I think not. That would be left to a white filmmaker who, picking up a camera and some grant money, visits M. Night's family and soon produces a documentary of epic proportions like, dare I say it, Born Into Brothels.

Even though I give it props for being a spectacular doc with an amazing story, some scenes in it veered so closely to a "big white filmmaker saves little darky pickaninnies" theme that it made me downright uncomfortable. After all, what could a British Caucasian woman (the co-producer seen onscreen) know about the souls of the Indian children whose lives she uncovered? It was her country that colonized them, thus, contributing to their current state of being. But to be fair, I think the film exposes some very important issues about Calcutta's redlight district children of prostitutes. And, I happily salute the filmmakers for giving those children hope and visibility. So did the Academy which awarded them an Oscar. Still, I felt a sense of entitled opportunity in Zana Briksi's efforts; some feeling of "let's film some impoverished children in an emerging nation or third world country" flavor-of-the-month bid that made me cringe. That's when I wondered had a native made the documentary instead, with an imprint stamped "authentic", would s/he had been able to create a film that didn't come across so anthropological and studied as if s/he had been standing at arms length? And, would that native filmmaker been able to raise the kind of funds or garner the kind of publicity and accolades that the Caucasian filmmakers did?

All that wondering contributed to my pleasure upon recently viewing a documentary called Lakshmi and Me. Made by an Indian filmmaker, the story about her maid is so in-your-face, there's no doubt it's all real. But, the true tenderness of the filmmaker is in her humble admittance of her role as oppressor by virtue of her higher caste--something I doubt Briski and company is capable of acknowledging about themselves.

Which leads me to this: We need to start a movement, and that movement will be Hapawood. It's time to overthrow Hollywood and create our own. If you've been reading me for awhile, you know that I believe the word hapa is just a Hawai'ian mispronunciation for the word half and all of us blendies and mixies should call ourselves that. Now that we have a name we should build on it. I've already created the t-shirt ( so let us begin by writing and producing our own films about hapas. All we need is a sound plan, a solid foundation, and a commitment to cohesiveness and authenticity.

Let me know. Hollah.

Your Hip Hapa,

Before I could finish writing this blog, I got an email from Anzu Lawson. Half Japanese herself, she's performing a reading of her script Full On this Sunday afternoon. If you're in L.A., stop by Raleigh Studios at 4 pm for the Screen Play Lab and an authentic hapa experience. That's Anzu, above, singing hapa birthday to me a few years ago at my favorite Santa Monica Thai Restaurant--Siam Place.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Perfect Peace

Although I consider myself an armchair anti-war activist, I have to admit that growing up on military bases was one of the best things that happened to me and my sister. Ironically, we spent our teen years as peaceniks protesting the Vietnam War and the "military industrial complex". But looking back now, I see that had it not been for the U.S. Army I wouldn't have been born me. The only reason my father was in Japan was because of war. Had he not met and married my mother, I might've ended up with a Japanese otosan. What a strange concept to consider!

But back to childhood. Even though we were unaware of it at the time, those military bases were havens of perfect peace for us kids of mixed marriages. Shortly after WWII, American military men took warbrides from Europe, Asia and Australia. Many GI's ended up with German and Japanese wives. During our years at Ft. Lewis, I remember having lots of friends with Japanese or German mothers. Their fathers were sometimes white, sometimes black.

In any case, I never heard a single racist comment during that period. Instead, I learned snippets of various languages and cultural traditions from all of my classmates. My best friend, Sondra, whose family was Puerto Rican once invited me to her Catholic Church. Although I consider myself agnostic, it was richly rewarding to be exposed to someone else's religion. My sister's best friend, Tessie, was Filipina and I remember that meals served in her home were markedly different from what Sondra's family dined on. The mother of the Mexican family next door taught my mother to make a popular noodle dish. In fact, there was so much ethnic diversity in our neighborhood that it was like living at the United Nations. Only no one seemed to notice that everyone was different because being different was normal.

Several years later, when my father moved us to an all-white, middle-class neighborhood in nearby Tacoma, our neighbors there rolled up the welcome mat and tossed it out. Today, I realize that the only reason no one burned crosses in our yard was because they thought they had too much class although they probably thought about doing it. A fireman who lived across the street called my sister and me the "n-word" one day as we walked past his house. Huh? How'd you like to have him come put out the fire at your house? Let's see, "Ya'll are nothin' but a buncha "n-words" so I'ma jest let yo home burn down." Most of the kids in our 'hood just told us point blank that they weren't "allowed" to play in our yard like we had a disease or something. Only one girl, whose parents both worked in factories, ever actually came inside our house. I guess, in the eyes of the rest of the neighbors, her having laborer folks put her in the same class with us coloreds.

When I was in high school, my two best friends were also the offspring of warbrides. Silvia's mother was Austrian while Helen's mother was French. I was also friends with two girls who both had German mothers although one had a black father, and the other a white. I don't think any of us were particularly conscious of it then, but one of the reasons, I figure, that drew us together was our having mothers with accents. Having a foreign-born mother is what separated us from other classmates more so, I believe, than being mixed-race, or even black. I mean, it was a pretty big deal to attend some mother-daughter school function and present your mom to "real Americans" who would gawk at her before rudely demanding of you, "What did she say? I can't understand her." Of course, there was probably some remaining hostility towards Germans and Japanese who had been America's enemies during the war. Still, common sense would dictate that warbrides had been screened and approved for immigration by the U.S. How harmful could they've been? Was my mother toting a machine gun during the war? Was she the one who ordered the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Between dodging bombs dropped by Americans and running to bomb shelters, she barely survived on the few rations doled out by her government.

While we've come a long way since the days of outright animosity towards foreigners, we still have a ways to go. That's evident by some of the events that took place post-9/11. A friend of mine who is half black and half white, but looks of Arab descent, caught hell the first year following 9/11. When he once visited me in Los Angeles, he was stopped from taking photos of the LaBrea Tar Pits! No kidding.

These days, I'm grateful for my military upbringing although I remain vehemently anti-war. Still, I believe the only answer to peace is education. Until people learn the truth by studying accurately recorded history, we are doomed as a species to continue battling one another based on some physical trait.

Your Hip Hapa,

Friday, May 23, 2008

Milli Vanilli And DeBarge: Tragic Mulattos?

Lately, it seems those of black and white mixed-race heritages have taken to calling themselves mulattos. In the past, the term was considered derogatory but there's been a radical revival in the black/white community to identify themselves as such. At one time, mulatto was thought to be derived from the Spanish word for mule, or a half-bred animal. Today, mulattos point to the Arabic muwallad, which means "mixed-race person", as the source of their definition for the word. In any case, it isn't for me to decide what that group wants to call itself. I'm more curious about the term "tragic mulatto" which refers to mixed black/white people who are thought to lead horrific lives because they are never quite black enough to be black, or white enough to be white.

So, the question that begs an answer is this: Are mulatto lives any more tragic than other mixed-race people's? It seems that if one is the biracial offspring of two minorities, hope (as it were) is not as high for finding acceptance among the dominant majority. Therefore, your expectations are lower and you're not as devastated when whites don't accept you. But if you have one white parent, you might feel you deserve to be recognized by half your race which could, arguably, lead to tragic consequences.

While I was working on a tedious homework assignment today, I just had to go there. You know YouTube! Telling myself that I'd just listen to one or two songs and not even look at the videos, I found myself peeping at the "tragic mulattos" Milli Vanilli and DeBarge. Wow. Here were two very talented musical groups that experienced untold tragedy. Both were hot in the 1980's with major hit records, and while one was a family composed of mulattos, the other was a duo with a mulatto member. The DeBarges were several brothers and a sister who had a white father and a black mother. The oldest, Bobby, had a voice like silk and his group, Switch, scored with tunes like I Call Your Name. Later on, the DeBarge's featured youngest brother El, whose incredible chops was the cause for some women (and men) becoming pregnant according to the comments left on YouTube. While I haven't done any extensive research into the DeBarge family, I do know that brother Chico ended up in prison, brother James married Janet Jackson who later had the nuptials annulled, and gorgeous brother Bobby ended up dying of AIDS at a young age. As for Milli Vanilla, everyone probably knows that they won a Grammy they had to return after it was revealed the voices on their records were not theirs. The two fine young thangs wore dreadlocks wrapped in gypsy-style scarves, gold earrings, incredibly tight pants and long, wide-shoulder coats. Evidently, their singing wasn't as hot as their bodies so their record company cut them a deal...until they were outed in disgrace. Tragically, the German and black member of the duo ended up overdosing on drugs.

Is it just a musician thang? Everyone knows how crazy their lives are. Or, were Milli Vanilli and DeBarge impacted by their mulatto heritages?

Talk to me. (Incidentally, that was Chico DeBarge's big hit.)

Oh, yeah. That's me above in the late 1980's looking like I could've been a member of DeBarge, or, Milli Vanilli for that matter.

Your Hip Hapa,

Monday, May 19, 2008

What Blend Of Mixed-Race Person Are You?

Are there any particular blends of mixed-race people that have it harder than other biracial folks? I'm just wondering because I peeped in tonight on The Study of Racialism forum, and was surprised to discover the intensity of replies to statements posted there. Most of the folks commenting referred to themselves as mulattos. Obviously, they were part black and part white, but not necessarily exactly half of each. A lot of them had a beef with the black community calling them race traitors if they chose to claim their European side. They also had issues with whites whom they accused of "One Drop Ruling" them. That is, calling them black when only one parent was--a la Halle Berry and Barack Obama. One woman, who described herself as "light-skinned", wrote about being immediately classified as black whenever she told any Caucasian that she was mixed.

Anyway, take a look at the site and add your comments to the controversy. I think Obama is a typical example of what happens with biracial children of one black and one white parent. That good ole One Drop Rule rears its head and you're forced to deny your own parent. I mean, he grew up with his white mother. She must've influenced him more than anyone else on earth. Yet, he knew instinctively that Euro-Americans as a group would never accept him as one of theirs so he forged a black male identity on his own. That's enough to make me want to vote for him right there. I mean, do you know how hard it is growing up a black male and without a father to boot?

As for us AfroAsians, the picture is definitely different--but not necessarily easier or better. Back in the day, I found it extremely difficult to relate to the Asian American community. In spite of my mother teaching me Japanese language and culture, I wasn't accepted as being Asian, and I didn't care either. But after I became involved with APA's via my writing for Asian community newspapers, I learned that young folks (and some older ones) didn't have the same prejudices as their parents did. btw, that's me and Naila in the photo above. She's also Japanese and black, and we met in Seattle a few years ago. The last I heard she was at Harvard Law School, but I've lost track. Naila, if you're out there, hollah at your girl!

It's really interesting when you think about it--the lighter-skinned group worldwide somehow is the one that always possesses the status to reject the darker group. There was a time (pre-1980's) when most whites looked down their noses at Asians. And, Asians, in turn, dissed black folks. So who did that leave for black people to put down?

I don't care what you look like, if you tell black folks that you are one of them and you hang around long enough, they will accept you as family. Check out the white valedictorian for Moorehouse's recent graduating class. From what I understand, the man claims he grew up in black communities, had mostly black girlfriends, and feels more comfortable around blacks than his own people. He even turned down Columbia in favor of hangin' with the homeboyz.

By the way, that's one of my favorite films--Hangin' With The Homeboys. My sister turned me on to it quite some time ago, and I highly recommend it. It's the story of four guys--two Latinos, two blacks--who hang out in NYC one night. The film does an excellent job touching on some race issues without being heavy-handed about it. A very young John Leguizamo stars as a lovesick youngster infatuated with a porn star working nights at the supermarket.

Ah, but I digress.

Meanwhile, across the globe, we see the caste system in effect in India where lighter skin and Aryan features are touted in Bollywood flicks yet no tight-haired brown-skinned folks ever star in those movies and we know India is filled with them. So, just when did this dark-skinned thing start, and why? Since when did the abundance, or lack of, melanin become the measuring stick for what is good and desirable, and what isn't, in a human being?

Okay. That's enough. I don't want to make me crazy here so I'll just bid you oyasuminasai.

Your Hip Hapa,

Friday, May 16, 2008

Emancipating Emails

Aloha All!

It may appear as if I'm tearing my hair out, but I'm actually holding my head for joy.

Why? Because today I received several emancipating emails. That is, emails that addressed the mixed-race agenda with the type of dialogue that I find freedom-inducing. One email (from an interested observer of hapa life; thank you, Michael!) offered up a comprehensive list of films about mixed-race folks available at UC Berkeley. Here's the link:

The list of mostly documentaries is quite extensive and filled with one-time projects by filmmakers that I haven't heard about since their single effort. Mixed-race issues are tough subjects to get financed. I can attest to that, having watched my Watermelon Sushi film project stall at the gate time and again over the past 9 years.

Recently, I read that Halle Berry is working on a new movie about a mixed-race woman who has a psycho "white" side, or it could've been her "black" side attacking her "white side". Whatever. Big surprise--not--how Hollywood still views the "tragic mulatto". Didn't you know that biracial people are never emotionally healthy or normal? Not according to the studios.

Speaking of mulatto, I personally find the word disturbing but I know that some racially-mixed black and white folks are resurrecting it as if flinging it back to the originators--much like how the "n" word is used in some instances. More power. Since I'm not of that particular mix, it's not my place to tell ya'll what to call yourselves. However, an interesting topic being discussed at The Study of Racialism website is called "Honk for Mulattos", which also ended up in my mailbox today. It seems one commenter was quite upset at seeing postings like "I Brake for Mulattos". It's an interesting subject, so check it out at:

And, finally, a reader of this blog (thank you, One Creative Soul!) suggested a site where a list of mixed-race celebrities was posted. Upon closer inspection, I noted there were few AfroAsians in the group, and I immediately thought of some who could've been posted but weren't. Whenever I get a moment (and you, too), I plan to contact the publisher to have more names added. Here's the link:

btw, has Vin Diesel ever 'fessed up about his blend?

Mahalo nui loa to all of you who continue to show your support for mixed-race folks everywhere. Aloha no!

Your Hip Hapa,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tou Saiko Lee, A Hmong Hip Hopper

First of all, thank you to everyone reading my blog. I know how valuable your time is so I appreciate you sloughing through my ramblings when you could be doing so many other important things, like...well, you know what they are.

Tonight, I'd like to introduce a young man who's going places. That's his photo on the left. Check him out on the landing page of the New York Times' website. Just click "Magazine" to watch the video:

I first met Tou Saiko Lee several years ago when I interviewed him for an article about Southeast Asian American gangs for A former gang member, Lee provided great insight into why gangs were so prevalent in Southeast Asian communities, and why few outsiders realized the enormity of the problem. Lee, of course, left gang life and became a highly respected community activist incorporating poetry, spoken word, and rap music into his messages of staying off the streets.

In the video, Lee talks about his work and about Hmong life both in the U.S. and Laos. (You might want to familiarize yourself with Hmong history in America--they were the fierce mountain folks who fought on the side of the U.S. against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, then came here as refugees.) In one scene, Lee's grandmother sings a traditional Laotian song while he raps. Watching them together brought to mind the music videos of Jero, an African American man who sings Japanese enka songs that his Japanese grandmother taught him. Now, maybe it's because I'm getting old, but I find it so refreshing to witness the respect that these young people endow on their elderly relatives.

When I lived in Waikiki, my best friend was a young lady who worked at her family's jewelry booth next to the spot where I painted illustrations on fingernails in the International Marketplace. Even though Khanyka was some 20 years my junior, we would go out dancing on the weekends--when she could get away. Her family was from Laos, and I soon learned that meant her older sisters and their husbands were in charge and not to be contradicted. Family was a priority and Khanyka often worked late--sometimes delaying our outings--whenever the Marketplace was crowded and the doors to the public still opened. Every last customer had to be out the door before Khanyka could leave. Many nights, I'd be dressed up and ready just waiting for Khanyka to finish ringing up the last sale so we could head out to the club.

Khanyka's grandmother also lived in the same household that included Khanyka, one of her two older sisters, that sister's husband, and their son; and, later, Khanyka's boyfriend. Khanyka always took special care of the oldest (her grandmother) and the youngest (her nephew) and their needs came first. Yet the kind of honor she displayed to her family was also shown to her friends. There wasn't any favor I could ask Khanyka for that she wouldn't try to fulfill. I don't know if it's a Laotian thing or if Khanyka was just a special person, but it seems that those who enjoy good family relationships also have great friends.

Hey, please watch Tou Saiko Lee in the video and let me know what you think.

Your Hip Hapa,

Friday, May 09, 2008

Marvelous Miwa Lyric

Can you stand to read yet another hapa birthday blog? Among my many friends and acquaintances, it seems, I can count lots of spring babies.

One special child is the marvelous Miwa Lyric who shares my birthday--only she was born several decades after me. In spite of her tender age, Miwa is wise and filled with the kind of compassion that is available to others only as they grow older. But Miwa seems to have been born that way. She's a writer, a rapper, a social activist and, she even designs clothes. Wait! Am I talking about her or me? Actually, my social activism is limited to talking a lot about what should be done, and my rapping--well, let's not discuss. But when it comes to demonstrating concern for those who suffer from injustice, with Miwa, there's the walk and the talk, and the two of them go together.

I was first introduced to Miwa, several years ago, via email blasts sent to me about her performance dates. I later found out that Miwa, herself, was sending them. How she stumbled upon my email address I don't know, nor do I care, because I became so entranced by what she had to say about art and politics. Although I haven't been able to see as many of her shows as I would like to, what I have seen has impressed me as they have others. Miwa has a HUGE fan base, mostly in LA, but also internationally. Right now, she's in Japan.

A few weeks after Miwa began emailing me, I received another email from a young woman named Asani Winfrey who wondered if we were related. That's legit. Even Oprah's cousins have contacted me about that possibility. Asani, who is of duel heritage (Chickasaw and black), has a famous father, a musician named Toddy, who ended up living in Japan. As for Asani (here's the irony of all ironies)--her husband is a music producer who produced Miwa's first CD's when she was still with a group! None of the three of us knew any of these connections existed until we continued to communicate with each other and it all came out.

On top of it all, Asani's birthday is May 6 (two days after Miwa's and mine) so one year Miwa threw the mother of all parties at the Jazz Club in J-town, L.A. Hundreds of people turned up, Miwa performed along with some of her hiphop students, her sushi chef father made fresh sushi, and I shot video of the entire event. Someday, I'll post a clip on the Internet for everyone to see.

Meanwhile, I just wanted to shout out to my special little friend, the marvelous Miwa Lyric. Here's her site:

And, that's her in the pix above with me and Chuck D following a Culver City studio taping of Kool Mo Dee's TV show, I Am Hiphop, last year.

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. Thank you again to Cassie and Doris for the wonderful gifts and that yoga card. You two are something else!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Writing, Then Reading

During the past week, I've been spring cleaning my huge storehouse of published writing. Tossing out multiple drafts of some stories while organizing voluminous clips, I was surprised to discover that I had penned so many articles in my 11 years as a freelance journalist. Although I started out writing nightclub reviews in 1997 for a Los Angeles publication called No Cover Magazine, I've ended up focused on issues of concern to communities of color and other underrepresented sectors of society.

Of course, while working, I was compelled to read through most of my old articles. Heh, heh. After comparing some of the drafts to the finished pieces, I realized what was published didn't always turn out well due to heavy-handed editors. Still, other pieces benefitted from intuitive editors that offered helpful suggestions without allowing their opinions to overwhelm my flavor.

Besides the countless film reviews, interviews with celebrities and filmmakers, and film festival coverage I'd written, I'd also contributed hundreds of Astrology columns--both the Asian animal and so-called Western style. But in 1999, I began writing features for Northwest Asian Weekly newspaper in Seattle. Soon after, I interviewed several AfroAsians for Mavin
magazine--a publication for the mixed-race community. My article titled Chopsticks and Chitlins was a turning point that led me to seek more "serious" assignments, heavy on interviews. So it was very timely to be invited onboard Asian American Village at as a contributing editor right around that same time.

Writing for all three publications led me straight to the door of the Asian Pacific American community--a group that I'd previously had little contact with. Because my mother and I are technically issei (first generation Japanese), and because she married an American soldier, we didn't grow up in a neighborhood with Asians who'd been in America for several generations. My first in-depth experiences with APA's as a group happened after I began writing for publications with a heavy Asian readership. Learning first-hand about their experiences was enlightening, and probably more educational than taking Asian Studies.

For instance, some of the subjects I wrote about concerned: a hate-crime against two Vietnamese American brothers that resulted in murder; where in America Asians felt the safest living; the cause of rampant AIDS in Cambodia; author Iris Chang's suicide; and, the rapidly aging former detainees of Angel Island portrayed in a photo exhibit.

Those experiences helped me when I later wrote for like: Southesast Asian gangs; interracial relationships; why Asian kids feel the need to achieve; Asians and the political process; why so few teachers of yoga, an Asian discipline, are of Asian descent; and, what constitutes beauty in America (being non-Asian, of course).

Although I've been nominated several times for journalism awards, I've never actually won any. However, one article I wrote about white actors portraying Asian characters, titled Yellowface, is cited on Wikipedia.

During that period of intense writing, I also tried to connect with African American publications--constantly pitching to magazines like Essence and Ebony. But only two Los Angeles based-magazines with a black focus ever asked me to contribute anything.

Otherwise, the bulk of my work has been read in Asian publications and, no surprise here, more mainstream (read: white) periodicals. Naturally, there's far more of them. Besides, I write a lot about the film industry and there's seldom color involved. Still, I've had my share of covering controversial topics for mainstream newspapers like the now-defunct Seattle Press. In a single year, I wrote about: the difficulty of renting in Seattle; racial profiling in that city; political volunteers during the Nader-Gore-Bush elections, a highway overpass littered with used hypodermic needles; several homeless people including a 19-year old girl; a Nepalese sherpa restaurant owner; and, an older white couple who adopted a black crack baby.

Lest you think that only Seattle fields serious problems, I also wrote some pretty heady stuff for Malibu Times newspaper and magazine. Consider: a mother, because her son died suddenly, starting a non-profit to help poor families with funerals who lost children unexpectedly; a Malibu couple visiting Jamaica who helped rescue Haitian refugees when their boat sank; and, an art teacher who hosted a safehouse for indigenous children of the Northern Territories because of their high suicide rate. That's right, Malibu. That beach-y place with all those surfer dudes, dude.

Now that I'm moving in another direction career-wise, I can look back at my body of work without emotional attachment--which was never the case when I was deep into an assignment and fighting to maintain my voice. Nowadays, I write to write.

Question of the Week: How do you feel about Jackie Chan carrying the Olympic Torch? Does he seem to be out of step with some opinions that China is a human rights abuser and, therefore, should be shamed while the rest of the world is watching? Or, do you think that Chan is simply trying to get beyond the politics that's overtaken the Olympics and making it just a sporting event again?

Hit me!

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. HAPA birthday, Pearl, Jr.!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Celebrations, Commemorations And Birthdays

I was born between May Day and Cinco de Mayo--both holidays with rebellious significance.

Celebrated on May 1, May Day was originally a pagan commemoration of summer (back when February 1 was considered to be the first day of spring). Later, May 1 was chosen as the day to honor laborers internationally--although it originated in America in the 1880's when workers demanded an 8-hour work day. There's quite a history attached to May Day, and the deadly events that took place at Haymarket Square in Chicago resulting in anti-Communist hysteria, but I won't go into the details here--not on a blog that's supposed to focus on mixed-race issues.

As for Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day, but is really in recognition of the Battle of Puebla which Mexicans won over the French in 1862.

Then, there's Boys Day in Japan which is also celebrated on May 5. Although there's not necessarily rebellious behavior connected with it, Boys Day is still about boys and you know how combative they can be. Called Tango no Sekku, Boys Day originated in China and was renamed Kodomo no Hi when it became a national holiday in Japan and incorporated Girls Day (Hinamatsuri, held March 3). On May 5, koinobori (carp windsocks) are flown for each child in a family. Considered to be a courageous fish because they swim upstream, the carp symbolizes strength that parents hope their children will inherit. Families also display samurai dolls, helmets and swords, and serve mochi in celebration of the fifth day of the fifth month.

Because those first few days of May are jam-packed with celebrations, commemorations and festivals, I'm honored that people still remember to send me birthday greetings. Thank you, my dear friends and family!

Oh, and HAPA birthdays to Miwa Lyric and Kimora Lee Simmons who share my May 4 day of birth. What are you ladies doing to celebrate this year?

That's a pix of me celebrating birthday number 25, I think.

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. Soon after my last post about Haruo McKinley, I googled his name and found an ex military man who is also looking for him. Evidently, they were stationed at a few Army posts together. Stay tuned, and maybe there'll be some interesting news up ahead.