Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tissue, Toilet Paper, Miwa And Anjulie

Several days ago, my good friend Miwa Lyric presented me with a gift that she had brought all the way from Japan. Nestled inside a small, plastic, pink pouch was a package of thin tissue paper for removing oil from ladies' faces. Both cute and functional, the tissues sparked a conversation regarding various Japanese customs.

A third person sitting with us that day had never been to Japan, and was surprised to hear that Japanese public toilets offer no paper towels with which to dry one's hands. Instead, Japanese carry their own private handkerchiefs with which they pat their wet hands. When you think about it, using one's own hanky is much more sanitary considering that one avoids dispensing a paper towel from a machine that's dripping with the mixture of water and germs left by the previous person. Which brings me to this...what is up with Asians and toilet paper?

At first, I thought it was just our family. I mean, my mother literally walks around with a roll of toilet paper that she uses primarily to blow her nose. She's always had bad sinuses so she's always been stuffed up. But, what's wrong with using a box of tissues? Is she just being thrifty (in only the way that Asians can be) by not purchasing tissues because she already has toilet paper in the house?

One day as I was riding a bus, I happened to look down at the car next to us. There, through the back window I spotted a roll of toilet paper sitting on the rear dashboard. "Hmm," I said to myself silently. "I bet they're Asian." When the bus pulled up ahead of the car, I could see clearly that the family was Asian. Big surprise.

Speaking of surprises, I recently saw a thought-provoking indie film that posed many intelligent questions. Medicine for Melancholy is about two African Americans who find themselves facing each other following a drunken one-night stand. At one point, the male questions the female about relationships and wonders why blacks seem to always cling to whites when it comes to interracial pairings. Why, he asked, don't we ever see a black woman with an Asian man? I wonder that a lot myself. If you know, please drop me a comment.

And, thanks everyone for your support. If you bought a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, please let me know if you'd like to submit a photo of yourself wearing one for this blog as well as for the Watermelon Sushi website.

As for the photo above, that's my sweet buddy Anjulie, a transracial adoptee whom I met several years ago at Occidental College. She'll be visiting this week and filling me in on all her mad adventures. This pix was taken while she was touring Ghana.

Your Hip Hapa,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In A Minute


Your Hip Hapa has been so busy working on a documentary and creating new designs for the Hapa*Teez line of t-shirts, that she's decided she needs this week away from blogging. Speaking of Hapa*Teez, you can now get two different Watermelon Sushi logos printed on them.

Please stay tuned for more controversy as Your Hip Hapa returns with several hot topics, and a few new links to some pretty cool blogs and sites.

btw, that's her, above, living in Waikiki in 1994. Recently, she reconnected with a Honolulu friend and will blog about their adventures soon!

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hapa Japas, That's Ja As In "Jah"

Today, I met yet another half Japanese person! It just amazes me how many of us there are because gazing from a distance it appears that Japanese society is highly homogenized with very little race-mixing. Yet, at times, I feel like I know a ton of biracial Japanese people.

Hapa Japas, I like to call us. That's Ja as in Jah Rastafari!

From all the kids I grew up with on Army bases (with their Japanese warbride mothers and fathers that were either black or white Americans) to the woman I met in yoga class today, we are many.

The woman from yoga class, Cathy, has an Irish father and was born and reared in Yokohama. Her daughter's father is also Japanese. I'm really curious to know how growing up in Japan affected her. She has a very European look so maybe life wasn't as traumatic for her as it was for someone like my friend Eriko who is half Okinawan and half black. For Eriko, Okinawa instills both a sense of pride and shame because of the way she was treated for having an African American father.

Interesting, isn't it? That a country (either Japan or Okinawa) that boasts no NATIVE black people quickly built a prejudice against them...based on what, exactly? When you've never had a certain people embedded in your country, how would you know what they're capable of or not? By the same token, whites weren't always treated well by the Japanese either. But, as in most places on planet earth, they fared better than blacks.

It's been a long time since I visited Japan, but back in the 1980's when I did with my mother and sister, we were well received. But, then again, the Japanese tend to put politeness ahead of opinion, so how do I know what others really thought? Obviously, too, because my sister and I were with my mother, we were afforded a certain respect by default. Since my mom was one of "them", my sister and I were give a wide margin for error by the locals.

Because of my advocacy for mixed-race folks, over the years I've been contacted by many half Japanese people. Recently, two sisters, Cassie and Doris befriended me. It's been a real treat to share stories of our similar experiences. And, I'm looking forward to knowing more Hapa Japas, so hollah if you're out there, cuz.

Can you name some Hapa Japas? I just visited a website called Alec In Japan that showcased a dozen half Japanese celebrities--none of whom I had ever heard of.

Here's my very small list because I'm tired and it's late:

Anzu Lawson, actress/comedienne, Japanese mother
Laura Kina, painter/professor, Japanese father
Stewart David Ikeda, writer/professor, Japanese father
Terra Paley, business consultant, Japanese mother
Velina Hasu Houston, playwright/professor, Japanese mother
George Johnston, writer/publisher, Japanese mother

Add more?

That's me in a pic taken by Doug Ing right after I won third place in a citywide art contest in Seattle one year. I cut myself in half to go with my illustration's theme.

Your Hip Hapa and Hapa Japa,

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Amazing Race/Passing As Black!

What a profound sense of wonderment in the realization that we may soon have our first mixed-race president in America. Of course, we know that Obama is mixed-race because we know his history. But how many ex-presidents were actually mixed-blood, and didn't proclaim it? Rumors have abound for decades about Warren Harding having Negro blood. Ditto, folks like Jimmy Carter (just look at them lips!) and even Bill, the Ill, Clinton (dope-smoking, sax-playing, womanizer--puhleeze, as if those traits are attributable only to blacks).

It wasn't so long ago when folks would whisper about those who "passed". Passing, the act of denying your birth race and pretending you're of another ethnicity--especially when it means being black but living as white--gained in popularity, ironically, with the progression of freed blacks. As opportunities opened up for regular black folks released from the bondage of slavery, some of those with mixed-blood who could, indeed, would pass for white. Why not? Life was easier for them living as a white person in a white world. And, they could appreciate the advantage of being treated as an equal; that is, if no one ever discovered their dark (ha-ha) secret.

Most black people seemed to be of two minds about the passing phenomena. For one, the black community felt that if one of their own could make it out of the oppressiveness that automatically came with having darker skin, perhaps it was a good thing that one less of their people was suffering.

On the other hand, some blacks saw the rejection of their race as a traitorous act. How could someone choose to be white and leave all their sisters and brothers behind to suffer?

It's an interesting concept, passing, and I've even written a feature film script about such a character in modern times. Email me at if you'd like to know more.

One true life story that comes to mind is the tale of Johnny Spain, a follower of the George Jackson Brigade and one of the San Quentin Six who was convicted of murder. A friend once gave me a copy of Spain's bio, Black Power, White Blood, and I was absolutely riveted. Incredibly, Spain was born in 1949 to a white woman in Mississippi who was married to a white man. For some unfathomable reason, she kept her baby following an affair with a black man. In her defense, she may have thought the child was her husband's, but as the baby got older it became clear to everyone that he had darker skin and tighter hair than anyone in their Anglo family. By the time he was six and ready for school, his parents couldn't take it anymore. His mother feared that her husband would harm him, and Spain's white "father" refused to be further humiliated. So, Spain was put up for adoption and sent to live with a black family in Los Angeles. In Mississippi, he'd been too black; in L.A., he was too white. Because he never felt as if he belonged, he acted out by getting into trouble. When he killed a man in a botched robbery, Spain was sent to prison. There, he found George Jackson and, in many ways, himself. Today, Spain is a community worker in the Bay Area.

Of course, it's just speculation, but had Spain been born a little later, he might have been an Obama (the murder rap and bad behavior aside). Certainly his political activism shows he has concern for the community. In some ways, his white mother was as progressive as Obama's. She didn't see color, she said in the book. To her, the black man she had a relationship with was just another man. The Loving v. Virginia case that went to the Supreme Court challenging anti-miscegenation laws didn't occur until 1967. That means, Spain's mother could've been arrested for her act of rebellion. Talk about idealism. Perhaps, that's where Spain inherited his sense of resistance.

In any case, Spain only passed as white because he was a child who had no control over his environment. If anything, Obama is passing as black. Although he's never denied his white mother, Obama refers to himself as a black man. Nothing wrong with that. Passing has now come full circle!

Your Hip Hapa,

Here's the link to a really great article on Johnny Spain.

Monday, June 02, 2008

New Publishing Date

Dear Faithful Reader,

With the busy summer months almost upon me, I've decided that I can only devote one day a week to blogging. I shall return on Wednesday with my weekly blog. Please stay tuned.

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. My condolences to Mr. Bo Diddley's family and friends. Mr. Diddley, who recently passed away, was (as an excellent article in the New York Times claimed) one of the original founders of rock-n-roll. I recall seeing him, as a 19 year-old, at an outdoor musical festival--back when outdoor musical festivals used to be psychedelic. Among a bunch of hippies with flowers in their hair (and not much else on their bodies), Mr. Diddley traded sexually-laced barbs and quips with a female in his band. My mouth dropped open and stayed that way throughout his entire performance. I had never heard such language spoken anywhere before! Still, Mr. Diddley was entertaining and powerfully talented as so many black musicians that hailed from the South often are/were. May his soul find peace.

That's me in the photo at 17, not 19. Check out those earrings!