Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Haru Ga Kita!

Yes, my Japanese-speaking tomodachi, believe dat. Spring is coming! Along with bringing us longer, stronger, brighter days, Haru will also, I hope, envelope us in lightness. It's been a heavy Winter, and I'm ready for something luminous.

My friend Terra called today to say that she really enjoyed reading the blog about my father that I posted a few weeks ago. In it, I mentioned that he had been enslaved along with other black children in his Texas town, and forced to pick cotton for local whites. Terra's words today really encouraged me. And, because she is of Asian and Jewish descent, I know she gets the whole mixed-race bag and why it's an important topic.

After Terra's call, I went about my day and as Fate would have it, ended up in a conversation with a mono-racial Caucasian woman about my ethnicity and family. When I told her about my father suffering from fighting overseas in a segregated military for a country that denied him civil rights, she broke out in a wide grin and said, "Well, that's over. Now we have a black president!"

Somehow, she seemed so proud of this fact that she was inadvertently dismissive of what my father had endured. But I just smiled back weakly. How could I ever educate her about the atrocities committed against black folks since our forced migration from the Motherland 500 years ago? How could I tell her about a 14-year old Chicago boy named Emmitt Till who visited Mississippi and was beaten to death by white men for talking to a white woman? How could I convey to her the many revolutionaries whose lives were arrogantly ended by those who fought against change during the Civil Rights movement? How could I tell her of all that occurred to others in order to bring us to this intersection of having a "black" president? I knew I couldn't, so I simply left the conversation.

What would you have done? I know those of you who are mixed or of color have encountered many such moments. What did you do? What would Buddha do? Drop me a line and let me know.

Well, the subtitled version of NHK's Atsuhime is on its last episode this weekend, and at the same time a new taiga has begun. Tenchijin had been shown at least twice before but, without subtitles, I couldn't really figure out what was going on. Last week, though, the first episode aired with subtitles, and I'm addicted even though it's about two males--a local lord currently 13 years-old and his five year-old vassal. I'll miss the girls of the Ooku, but this has promise. I never thought I'd see anyone who could cry more than Atsuhime, but the kid playing the kid in Tenchijin cried buckets--on cue!

Nodojiman was also interesting last week because another brother won. I can't remember his name, but he was from Brazil and cried both when he was selected as a finalist and later when he won the Champion. The poor guy was so nervous that he forgot how to speak Japanese when the announcer asked him personal questions. My mother laughed and said, "Jero better watch out. Somebody going to beat him. He better hurry up and practice more."

As for all those Oscars going to Slumdog Millionaire, no comment. People of every racial persuasion keep asking me if I have seen it or will see it, and I tell them I don't think so. For one, I've been reading a lot of articles, especially on the BBC, that indicate the child actors, who really live in those slums, were exploited. I don't have any facts. I'm just repeating what I've read. But, right now, I don't feel comfortable contributing to anyone's exploitation--especially children's. Further, there are two perfectly talented Indian women filmmakers--Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha--who could've made such a film. Although they've had successes in the past, I haven't seen them doing anything lately. It just makes me wonder; is it a gender or a race thing? But, hey, if you've seen the flick, and you think I'm wrong, drop me a line.

Right now, I'm working on a proposal for the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival to be held in June, so if you'd like to be on a panel or part of a workshop, drop me a line so I can factor you into my submission. One of the topics I'll offer will be about blogging and new media, but I'm also considering presenting one on relationships.

We're still in open casting call for Watermelon Sushi, too, so email me for a copy of the breakdown. And, I promised to post that link to the AAPEX blog--thanks, Jaz!--so here it is:

And, here's a vid clip to entertain you this Spring:

Finally, that's my baby sis, b.r., doing her Sakura thing in that pix above many moons ago. The story is that she was slated to appear in a dance recital with three other girls with Japanese moms. On the day of, b.r. was riding her bike, fell down, and scratched one of her cheeks pretty badly. My clever, creative mother cleaned the wound, then added lots of rouge to both cheeks to make it look as if b.r. was just naturally rosy.

Ja matta ne.

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dang Links!

Try these, instead.

Your Hip Hapa,

Ethnically Ambiguous Folks Of Yesteryear

I know that a lot of us mixed-race folks think we still have it tough even with biracial Obama in the White House. I mean, here we are in 2009 feeling the need to publish books, make films and hold conferences about why we should be validated as folks who identify with two (or more) races. Even the marvelous Mixed Chicks of L.A. are holding a Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival in June. I mean, none of this stuff existed when I was growing up--which, truthfully, was so long ago that your grandmother probably doesn't even remember. So, although I think the world has some distance to travel in learning about us mixies and what it means to be multiracial, I do believe that we have made some progress.

For instance, back in the 60's and 70's, there were few faces of color (let alone blendies) gracing magazine covers or looking out from TV or movie screens. Sure, there was the occasional "token". Sidney Poitier put a lot of fearful white minds at rest with his graceful manners and non-threatening "Magical Negro" movie roles. And, there was Victor Sen Yung playing the harmless Hop Sing--the Chinese houseboy/cook on the cowboy TV series Bonanza. And, I'm sure there were others that I just don't recall at the moment.

But the appearance of anyone looking ethnically ambiguous like myself was so rare that I would remember that person forever. If I saw that person on TV, I would get up close to the screen and just stare. I would try to find info (back in the day before the Internet) in my mother's Good Housekeeping magazines or my own teen publications. And, if I discovered a photo in one of them, I 'd obsess about that person to the point of ridiculousness.

Honestly, I can't remember how old I was when I first noticed the all-girl group The Ronettes. Like a lot of female singers of their time, The Ronettes sang sweetly about a lot of mushy stuff--tunes about romance, about teen angst, about breaking up, and about making up. Produced by Phil Spector, this group caught my eye because although they appeared to have black blood, they also had light skin and long hair (before weaves became common). They also hailed from New York so I just assumed they were Puerto Rican.

Somehow, growing up biracial, I really connected with Puerto Ricans. While we lived on military bases, many of our neighbors were Puerto Rican. My best friend in grade school, Sondra, was Puerto Rican. Later, when I was old enough to analyze just what Puerto Rican meant, I realized that the ones I knew were mestizo--a mix of Indian, Spanish and African--because of the history of their island. Perhaps it was that reality of them being a combo of races like myself that drew me to their culture.

Sadly, Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes passed away last week. I know little of their personal lives except they were ripped off and sued for royalties, and that the lead singer, Ronnie, married then divorced Spector. But I wondered how it was for them growing up in New York as mixed-race children. In Estelle's obituary, it reports that she and her sister, Ronnie, were black, American Indian and Irish, while the third member of their group, Nedra Talley, was black, Indian and Puerto Rican. In other words, throw in the kitchen sink! Yet these ladies' ethnicities was something that was never written about anywhere that I recall. It just wasn't an issue back in the day of One Drop Rule.

But here we are some 46 years after the Ronettes had their first hit, and things are changing. Next year, the U.S. Census will allow us, for only the second time in history, to choose more than one. Poor Estelle. Reading her obit, I wondered if any of her purported mental problems were caused by her inability to forge a racial identity. I'll never know.

Here's the link to the New York Times article:

And, here's a link to Janice Malone's Film Festival Radio show that I was interviewed on last week:

And, one more. Here's the link to the interview I did with Jaz Dorsey for AAPEX:

Okay, boys and girls. Keep the cards and letters coming. Watermelon Sushi is still casting, and we could be looking for you. So, go to Facebook and join the Hip Hapa Homeez group where you can read a copy of the casting call.

In honor of the Ronettes, that's a pix of me, above, looking my most Ronette-like self in the 1980's.

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine's Day Hearts To Midnight Velvet


I don't know if you celebrate Valentine's Day, but if you do I hope the day will be all you want it to be, with the one you want it to be with--regardless of race.

Last week, a catalogue called Midnight Velvet arrived at my home. Now, I'm not one to order stuff through the mail, but after thumbing through it I took a closer look because I noticed its pages contained mostly upscale clothing for sale. (I did once aspire to a fashion career, after all.) Imagine my surprise when I discovered on page 14 (how significant is that number?) a photo of an interracial couple modeling formal outfits. She, clearly a bright-skinned sistah, is dressed in a gold two-piece dress while her white male companion is wearing a beige linen suit. Hold up! I hear you saying, what makes you think they're a couple just because they're on the same page together? Well, besides flipping it by presenting the male as the white partner, the art director of the photo layout is clearly letting us know this couple is romantically linked because they are holding hands. Wow. I almost felt like buying something from Midnight Velvet just because they had the courage to display such a pairing. Alas, their merchandise isn't really my style. But here's their website if you'd like to compliment them about forwarding the mixed-race agenda on our behalf:

Speaking of love, the taiga series Atsuhime just gets sadder and sadder. The week before last, Shogun Iemochi died leaving Kazunomiya a young widow and Atsuhime a young grieving step-mother. But the saddest part is that it appears we've arrived at the end of the series. Of all the taiga I've watched, Atsuhime has been my favorite. Obviously, because she's a girl. But what a girl! Did she invent feminism, or what?

I don't know if you caught the controversy around teen star Miley Cyrus recently, but it seems so yesterday that any kid her age would make fun of Asian folks by pulling their eyes up in a slant with their fingers. I mean, come on, now. I remember all that "Chinese, Japanese, American Knees" b.s. from way back in the day. But what excuse do people Miley's age have? They are the most educated in terms of having access to instant information. They have been exposed to other cultures and ethnicities in ways nobody of any other generation has. Further, with her fortune and fame, one would assume Miley has the best tutors and teachers money can buy. Are they not teaching her awareness, manners, or what?

Well, things just keep moving on with the movie, Watermelon Sushi. While reels and headshots from talented actors continue to tumble in, we've also been reorganizing our production staff. Besides our producers in Tokyo and Nashville, it looks as if we may soon add another in New York. Stay tuned for more info.

btw, my interview with Janice Malone last Saturday, February 7, was a lot of fun. You can listen to it here:

And, I'll let you know as soon as my interview with AAPEX is posted.

Please don't forget about the Hapa*Teez t-shirts and your rear crawl credit. See for more info.

And, remember to check us out at the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook. Sign up to join us. After all, what other organization can you belong to that has the famous old school rapper Kool Mo Dee as its Veep of Music Production?


Here's to a HAPA Val's Day if you do that sort of thing. My dad and my friend Brian Parker obviously do. I'm holding cards they sent me last year in the photo above.

Until next time, I send love from...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My Father

Dear Regular Reader,

If you think I write a lot about my mother, you're right. I mean, I can't get away from that woman. My sister and I have always been dominated by her strong personality, but our mom is also like our third sister--only bossy because she's the mother, after all.

This week, I'll fill you in a little bit about my dad. That's him in the photo as a young soldier in Germany. The Winfrey's (some who are first cousins to THE Winfrey--Ms. Oprah) are planning a family reunion this summer, and my father and I plan to attend. I just hope there's something vegan I can eat in Arkansas.

Although I've written about my dad extensively in an essay included in the anthology Brothers and Others published about seven years ago, I'll brief you here.

Born in Richmond Texas in 1927, my father was the oldest of three boys and a girl belonging to Andrew and Eleanor Winfrey. A chauffeur and maid, respectively, Andrew and Eleanor saved their money and built a small hamburger stand. It was the first eatery for blacks in Richmond, and, as the years passed, my grandparents grew it into a barbecue cafe with indoor dining. (Today, there's a monument to my grandfather in Richmond.)

As a child visiting during the summers, I would wait on customers and drink strawberry soda in that smoky cafe. Behind the restaurant, my grandparents raised animals they would slaughter for everything from ribs to chitlins. Thinking about it today, my vegan stomach turns. But back in the day, it was a source of pride knowing that my kin owned their own business. That, plus I was known to scarf more than a few pigs' feet.

Not satisfied with having just a cafe, my grandfather also learned bricklaying and built several houses. The family lived in one and rented the others to tenants. But by the time my father turned 18, he decided he wanted to see the world. He wasn't crazy about the idea of working in his parents' b-b-q joint forever, and all the successful black men he knew of in his small country town had joined the military to acquire their bling. So, my dad signed up for the Army.

Well, he ended up seeing the world, all right. He was stationed in the Philippines, Korea and Japan where he met my mother. Later, he was sent to Germany (we went with him) and several other American military bases. But my father also experienced a segregated military before President Truman desegregated it. While my dad was overseas fighting for America, America represented by the Army approached restaurants and shops near military bases in foreign countries and ordered them to either serve only its black or white soldiers--but never both at the same time. Once he returned from serving his country overseas, my father struggled to find a place to live in Washington state.

Several weeks ago, I read an article about the book Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackmon, and it triggered something my father had told me about his childhood. He'd said that after class each day, he went to work picking cotton. Naively, I replied that it must've been nice for him to have earned some money. But my father corrected me, and clarified that neither he nor the other children were ever paid for their labor. Instead, the white people who would round them up after school each day were still practicing slavery when it was clear that slavery had been declared illegal nearly 80 years before. According to Blackmon's book, slavery continued in the south until 1945--18 years after my father was born.

If you'd like to know more about my father, I still have a few copies left of Brothers and Others. Drop me an email at, if you're interested in getting one.

And, if you're not busy this Saturday, February 7, at 4 pm, you'll have the opportunity to listen to me being interviewed by Janice Malone at Please tune in to hear us discuss multiracial issues as well the Watermelon Sushi film.

I'm also anticipating an interview with playwright and Watermelon Sushi Associate Producer Jaz Dorsey of Nashville. I'll keep you posted about when the article will appear on the AAPEX blog.

Meanwhile, if you're on Facebook, join our group on the Hip Hapa Homeez page. Dude, we're hip, we're hapa, and we're homeez!

Until next week, I am...

Your Hip Hapa,