Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou (And HAPA New Year)!

That's Hawai'ian, literally, for "happy, year, new".

Speaking of the islands, I always get a chuckle out of reading news stories about Hawai'i. Mostly written by mainlanders, the articles usually reflect the writers' unfamiliarity with things Hawai'ian. I have to admit that I, too, was surprised when I first moved to Honolulu over a decade ago. I guess I was expecting to see Native Hawai'ians running around in grass skirts and speaking their beautiful language that sounds of sea waves. Instead, what I found was Asians...lots of Asians. The Asian influence in Hawai'i is strong, yet they've also embraced Hawai'ian culture and managed to meld it with their own traditions; creating a unique blend of both--much like us multiracial folks.

It tickles me that AP contributors reporting about Obama vacationing in Kailua Oahu identified the city as being "close to downtown" when it's way over on windward side. They also wrote things like "SHAVED ICE" when everyone in Hawai'i says "SHAVE ICE". There's a loose national language operating over there--a blend of Hawai'ian, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, English, etc. "all mix up" and spit out in a special way. I find it very similar to speaking to my mother who didn't arrive in the U.S. until she was 33, lived in segregated Richmond Texas for two years, then Germany for three. By the time, she had any opportunity to learn standard English, she was too busy working and raising two daughters. When I talk to my mom, it's like she has her own language.

Mom: "We go store now? I go buy green onion for natto."
Me: "Well...I was watching Atsuhime..."
Mom: "You not want to?"
Me: "Oh, all right."
Mom: "You no have to go."
Me: "I'll go. I'll go."

When I was a lot younger and living in our all white neighborhood devoid of immigrants, other kids upon meeting my mother would rudely state in front of her, "I can't understand what she's saying." While living in Hawai'i, I often thought how much easier it would've been for her had my father been stationed there instead of Ft. Lewis. But at Ft. Lewis, she had all her Japanese warbride girlfriends and they spoke rapid Japanese whenever they gathered for a lively game of hanafuda. I remember hanging around the table hoping to pick up on what they were saying until my mom would shoo me away.

But I digress. In case you aren't aware, biracial actress/singer/dancer Earth Kitt died last week. You may be too young to remember, but Ms. Kitt was banished from the White House when she told Lady Bird Johnson that the U.S. should not be in Vietnam. For years afterwards, Kitt was forced to eke out a career overseas as she was blacklisted and investigated by the FBI and CIA. Still, she persevered and enjoyed many successes throughout her life. Even though she started out working in the cotton fields of South Carolina, Kitt became an entertainer after she moved in with an aunt and attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York. The child of a black/Cherokee mother and white father, Kitt was a victim of One Drop Rule--unable to proclaim her multiracial heritages in a mono-racial world. She was 81.

On to something sunnier. It appears that the film Watermelon Sushi is making some progress lately. Besides the addition of Associate Producer Derrick Holmes of Tokyo, we've recently welcomed playwright Jaz Dorsey of Nashville into the circle also as an Associate Producer. Both men are aggressively clearing a path to production dollars, so stay tuned in '09 to see how far we travel. And, we're still selling Hapa*Teez t-shirts to help fund the film. If you haven't bought one yet, check out the newly added designs at:

Remember, if you've made a purchase, contact us to make sure we have your name for the rear crawl credits:

That's Chinese/Korean/American Scott Lee in the photo above toasting with tea at our favorite restaurant in Hawai'i. And, that's me in the photo here celebrating a new year in Germany. I wish I could remember who our family friends are in the pix with me, but it's been awhile. I think the African American sistah's name was Betty.

In closing, I wish you and yours omedetto gozaimasu, hau'oli makahiki hou and a HAPA new year!

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka And Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!


No matter how you celebrate (or don't) the hollah-daze, I send you wishes of enjoyment for yourself, your family and your friends. For metaphysicians like myself, this season is really about the Winter Solstice when we've reached the end of ever-darkening days and begin to see a return to longer light-infused ones as the Sun increases its face time. As an Astrologer, I view the Capricorn Sun as effecting a serious influence on folks assessing their year about to pass and proclaiming resolutions of change for the new one coming.

Personally, what I hope to accomplish this next year is a serious presence for all multiracial people everywhere. (Please see the Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook). The insistence of major media in continuing to label Barack Obama as "the first black or African American" man to ascend the presidential throne is an affront to anyone who can count. One-half white and one-half black adds up to one mixed-race person. If Obama doesn't care to confront the issues of One Drop Rule and create an understanding of how and why this weird math is still practiced today, I swear, we mixies must unite and send him a petition to address this. Ya feel me?!?

Here's a recent article about the very subject:

And, here's a comment in reply from Michael Shenton of London:

"Obama should thank 'former African Americans' for making his journey possible and not forget this. In actual fact, without the removal of the anti-miscegenation pact, Obama would not have been born. So, his very existence owes to this fact. As a 'mixy', I'm very proud of him. He is our first recognized pres (some argue that 5 or 6 other former pressies really were mixed). Love, Mikester."

On to other rants. Last month, I had the opportunity to screen the film Skin starring Sophie Okonedo. Based on the true story of Sandra Laing, this movie has the potential of being a great learning experience and so needs a wide release. Sandra was born to two white parents during apartheid South Africa when people were separated into categories of black, white, colored and Indian. Due to some strange genetic development, Sandra became darker-skinned and more curly-haired as she got older. Can you imagine having a white racist father as you look more Negro-ish every day? The funny thing is that Sandra's father loved his daughter and insisted that she was white and be treated as if she were. You understand, he looked down on blacks and other racial minorities while doing so. But all the same, he went to court and had his daughter officially classified as white. When Sandra ran away to be with a black man (and his people whom she felt more comfortable with), her father threatened to kill her and her lover. Here's a YouTube clip of the real Sandra Laing (keep your tissues close):

Last week, I wrote about Jesse B., who was upset over the casting of the new M. Night Shyamalan film based on a TV series called The Last Airbender. The story features Asian characters, but Shyamalan cast only Caucasian actors. I'm still not all that hip to what's hapa'nin' with the project, but I do have to say--lawdamercy! I had no idea how talented Ms. B. is. Check her out here:

I know you're all probably anxious to return to your hapa hollah-daze, so I'll let you go. btw, new Hapa*Teez t-shirt designs will be posted over the next few days.

And, all the Xmas decos you see here are courtesy of my mother. Actually, they're from last year as I couldn't locate pix of this year's.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Multi-Culti Statues, "Blackwomanface", "Yellowface", And More

Having written about the Hollywood/LaBrea statues last week, I feel like I'm on a roll. So, allow me to introduce a few more of my favorite likenesses in bronze--or whatever they're made of.

This summer, I was hanging out at my old stompin' grounds of Waikiki where one of the world's most intriguing Hip Hapa Homeez once lived. When I first moved to Honolulu in 1994, I found an apartment on Ka'iulani Avenue. Stupidly, I had no clue about the wonderful woman for whom the street was named. But that changed fast as I studied Hawai'ian language at Iolani Palace, and read everything I could find about the history of the royal family.

Today, Princess Ka'iulani claims ownership of her own triangular-shaped park on Kuhio Boulevard. Since all the shots I took of her statue remain on my vid cam, I've posted someone else's rendition of her that I saw displayed in a shop window, below.

Born to Princess Likelike, Ka'iulani was an intelligent child filled with grace. Her father, a Scotch businessman named Archibald Cleghorn, sent her abroad to be educated after her mother died when she was just 12. While Ka'iulani was gone, her aunt Lilio'kalani was deposed as Queen and Hawai'i was annexed by the U.S. Next in line for the throne, Ka'iulani travelled to America to beseech President Cleveland to restore her Kingdom, but her words were lost on Congress. Back home, Ka'iulani suffered greatly from the loss of her country and her crown, and fell ill. A beautiful woman who loved beauty, she kept peacocks as pets. It's said that at the exact moment when she died (at age 23), her peacocks screamed ceaselessly.

Another, more popular, figure in Hawai'ian culture is Duke Kahanamoku. Still, not a lot of people know that he was responsible for introducing surfing outside of Hawai'i in the 1920's. Contrary to popular belief, surfing did not start in Malibu, but was a sport many Native Hawai'ians enjoyed until, in 1821, European missionaries banned it--in Hawai'i!

A statue of Duke--the "original beach boy"--stands today on Waikiki Beach where tourists and locals alike often adorn it with long leis. A gold-medal Olympic swimming champion, the brown-skinned Duke often encountered racism on his many travels around the globe. Yet, he always remained stoically dignified even when he was shoved into stereotyped roles in Hollywood movies. A restaurant bearing Duke's name is located near his statue and, not surprisingly--at least up until 2003--I never saw anyone not Caucasian working there.

This week, I received an email from Jesse B who read my article about "yellowface" that was published many moons ago. Upset that a TV animation series, The Last Airbender, based on mostly Asian characters was being made with only Caucasian actors, she contacted me for my opinion.

Coincidentally, over the weekend, I watched the movie Norbit with my mom and her husband. While I was aware that a lot of BBB's (big, black, beautiful) sistahs were upset with the film because of Eddie Murphy's portrayal of a stereotyped overweight, angry, black woman--"blackwomanface", if you will--I was also astounded by his nerve to perform in "yellowface". If you've never seen this flick, don't. But if for some unfathomable reason you have, you must've felt like I did. First of all, Eddie don't ever try to do an "Asian" accent again. I don't know why your character had to be Chinese, but trust me, no one hailing from any existing East Asian country speaks like your Mr. Wong. If for no other reason than because of how African Americans suffered in the past by white actors playing "blackface", you should've displayed some sensitivity towards "yellowface". For shame, Eddie! But, then again, $159 million worldwide box office probably expunged you of any such feelings of disgrace.

Back to Jesse B and her distress over the upcoming film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Since I'm not familiar with the TV show's characters, writers, or the soon-to-be-made movie, all I can say is that the only South Asian I've ever seen in a Shyamalan studio release has been him. Why is that, I wonder? I know Shyamalan probably thinks he's doing a Hitchcock number by walking onto his set and even giving himself some speaking lines. But aren't there any other actors of color who could play roles in his movies? It's the same question I want to ask another Indian American filmmaker who recently made a short with an all-white cast. Is this the film you wanted to make, or did you feel you had to make it like that because of how Hollywood continues to perpetuate racist stereotypes? Does the term self-hating come into play here, or is it all about the benjamins? Any comments, folks?

Meanwhile, things are cookin' over at Facebook. If you're there, please join our group, Hip Hapa Homeez. And, remember our Hapa*Teez t-shirts and Watermelon Sushi film, too.

Until next time, I promise to always be...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hollywood, Atsuhime, Inarizushi And More

One of my favorite multi-culti works of art features four female statues standing on the corner of LaBrea where it meets Hollywood Boulevard. Made of some type of silver metal (I'm not sure what), the four of them together support a contraption atop their heads which, in turn, holds a vertical sign that reads 'Hollywood'.

More or less representing the four main races are likenesses of actresses Dorothy Dandridge (African American), Mae West (Caucasian), Anna Mae Wong (Chinese American), and Dolores Del Rio (Mexican American).

Well-known back in the day, each of these ladies broke barriers in her own way. Because I've written several articles about Anna Mae Wong, I'm most familiar with her story and how she became an actress after being chosen as an extra during a shoot in her neighborhood. Although her life ended in 1961 when she was just 56, Wong enjoyed an unprecedented show biz career despite being forced to portray Asian stereotypes. Never allowed an onscreen romance that came to fruition, Wong often joked about having to "die a million deaths" in her films. Indeed, Wong was an enigma and her career a paradox. Acting during a time when white performers would don makeup to look Asian (or as it was called "appearing in yellowface"), Wong was even forbidden to kiss any "Asian" played by a Caucasian actor.

Dorothy Dandridge's life was also a dichotomy. Her highest achievement as the third African American actress nominated for a Best Actress Oscar was negated by a host of personal tragedies. And, like Wong, Dandridge suffered from being forced to play stereotypes--mostly of sexually promiscuous women with loose morals. Also like Wong, Dandridge died young--at age 42 of a drug overdose.

Were these women victims of their race or their gender, or both?

There are plenty of women victims in the NHK taiga series Atsuhime. Briefly, Atsuhime (left) is a princess of the Satsuma clan who was pressured into marrying Shogun #13 to unite her clan with the larger ruling Tokugawa clan. But the Shogun has since died leaving Atsuhime a young widow and "mother" to the new Shogun. In the latest episode, the Emperor's sister, Kazunomiya (right), has finally recognized that Atsuhime is her ally. Forced to marry the new Shogun (Atsuhime's "son" in order to unify the "royals" with the Tokugawa samurai clan, Kazunomiya was at first horribly unhappy having to adjust to life in Edo (Tokyo) after leaving the Emperor's Kyoto digs. I love watching this show where chicks rule! And, having my mother explain her Japanese history during each episode is an added treat.

Speaking of treats, my mom decided to get into the mixed-race game recently by making both brown rice and white rice inarizushi. Check it out. She even marked each row
with flags for easy identification.

Hey, thanks again to the Mixed Chicks for having me participate in their November 26 podcast to talk about interesting names of multi-ethnic folks. I've explained mine so many times here that I'm sure you don't want a repeat.

At last, the new Watermelon Sushi website is up! Some tweaking remains to be done, but that will happen over the next few weeks. For now, please check it out and email me your comments. So many folks over the years have been supportive of this film endeavor, so I send you all a shout-out.

Also, if you've purchased a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, drop me a line to make sure I have the spelling of your name correct.

HAPA Hollah Daze!

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

HTML Hell And CSS Confusion!

Due to continuing issues with html and css (what sadist invented this torture mechanism?), I won't have anything to say tonight.

Hit me back next week for further developments in the world of Watermelon Sushi (hopefully, the new site will be up by then).

In stressed-out frustration,

Your Hip Hapa,