Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I admit I'm a consummate hostess. Back in the day, my sister and I would entertain rooms full of folks in our tiny one-bedroom apartment near Seattle's Lake Union. Thinking back now, I wonder if our neighbors suspected us of dealing drugs or being prostitutes because of our many visitors--mostly men--who'd stop by for a drink (usually coffee or something stronger) and a chat. Sometimes, one of them would scoop us up for a couple of games at a nearby pool hall. Other times, we'd go check out a Bruce Lee or Blaxploitation flick. And, still other times, we'd cruise to Seward Park for a jam session with my sister playing her twelve-string guitar.

In any case, more than loving to entertain, my sister and I loved being entertained. Our friends ranged from a naive white guy from Florida named Paul, who also played guitar and would duet with my sister, to a brother named Donzell whose cousin Goat was often the butt of his jokes. Donzell drove a Brougham and would take us dancing at various nightclubs until we'd finally stop for breakfast at an all-night Chinese restaurant on Broadway. There was Femi from Nigeria, Allan from L.A., and Darryl from round the way--my sister's classmates from the University. Interestingly, none of these men were quote unquote boyfriends, but rather acted as substitutes for the brothers that we lacked. Of the ladies, I remember Mila, a Filipina whose children all had black fathers. My sister's friends, Linda and Tien, were Japanese American and Vietnamese, respectively, and also had black husbands. Although not that common in the 1970's, interracial coupling between Asian Americans and blacks did happen. During this time, Asians weren't acceptable for marriage by whites, and most of the Asians we knew were either with other Asians or with blacks.

Just sharing stories with our friends helped shape our views of the world back then. In those days, before the Internet and instant exchanges, my sister and I often met new people in public places and through other friends. Each one had a tale to tell, and that's how we learned. Today, I meet people through every method imaginable. But my friendships are still just as rich and rewarding as ever.

This weekend, while I stayed with my mother, two friends notified me that they'd be in town so I invited them over.

Albert, an educator originally from Ghana, was driving from Oregon to Washington on his way to fly to a seminar in Maine. Although we'd been friends for years, we'd never met face to face before. Unfortunately, Albert arrived just as the NHK taiga series, Atsuhime, began. As any of my regular readers know, I am totally addicted to this show. I could hardly peel my eyes away from the screen as I instructed Albert where to sit and hang his coat. With the dog frantically pawing his legs, and my mother firing questions at him about his personal life, it was all my guest could do to maintain. My eyes glued to the TV screen, I'd periodically turn to look over my shoulder at Albert and explain the scene at the Ooku with Atsuhime and her ladies-in-waiting during the countdown of the Satsuma overtaking Edo castle. My mom's husband, in his failed attempt to be sociable, commented on how homely the real Atsuhime was compared to the actress playing her. As we ate the square wontons filled with vegetables that my mother made, she needlessly explained to Albert that they contained no meat because of my vegan diet. Observing their efforts to communicate, I served as an interpreter throughout. My mother doesn't speak Twee and Albert speaks no Japanese although two of his cousins live in Japan where they both have Japanese wives.

Shortly after Albert left to continue his trip, Heisue arrived. This young student from Seoul currently attends school in Boston and has undertaken an intensive project about Korean warbrides. Upon entering their living room, she bowed towards my mother and her husband, and we were all charmed. Proclaiming herself to be "global", Heisue told me the reason she spoke English with an American accent was because of "Sesame Street". Sipping green tea, Heisue and I discussed the importance of her work. Some of the warbrides she interviewed had been abandoned by their American military husbands once they arrived stateside. Yet they survived. We talked about how life had been for their mixed-race children with the additional burden of not having their own fathers in their lives. And, I took Heisue on a journey from the time before I was born, to my mother's early childhood. Even though my stories helped Heisue piece together her project, I was the one who felt cleansed. The communication between Heisue and my mother was fairly clear and they each spoke a few words of the other's language. When my mother remembered a Korean song, she began singing it and Heisue joined in. I wish I would've had my camera as it was one of those moments in life never to be repeated. Heisue was stunned that my Japanese mother knew all the lyrics to this very traditional Korean love song, and so was I. Then, my mother trotted out a calendar she's had forever featuring Korean models on each page. Like the time last year when she broke out the homemade kimchee for a mixed-race Korean friend, my mother was seriously trying to connect. Maybe that's where my sister and I inherited our penchant for making and keeping friends.

Above is a photo of one of the very first visitors I can remember--a fellow soldier and friend of my dad's in Germany.

In friendship forever...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where Are The Extraterrestrials Of Color?

This week I attended a press screening for the film Knowing starring Nicholas Cage as an MIT professor with a young son. Because his wife died recently, the prof has taken to drinking a lot while pondering the meaning of life. He even lectures his students about the randomness of it all.

The movie opens fifty years earlier as elementary school children each contribute a piece of artwork to a time capsule. All the students are happily coloring and drawing, but one girl is obsessively writing rows and rows of numbers. What does it mean? I'm not going to give away the plot in case you plan to see this movie, but I will reveal that it involves the world coming to an end and "good" aliens rescuing "the chosen". And, just who are these chosen? Out of the billions of folks on planet earth, the lucky two that the aliens save happen to be the granddaughter of the little girl who wrote all those crazy numbers fifty years previous, and the professor's son.

Of course, the two children (who we assume will be the Adam and Eve of the new world) are mono-racial Caucasians. And, so are the aliens. In the scenes that take place 50 years earlier, it's historically accurate to show an all-white school. And later, most of the crowd scenes correctly feature various ethnicities. But as far as the aliens being portrayed by four white actors, three of them male, all I can say is why? This lack of colored folks as extraterrestrials bothered me so much that I posted the question on Facebook: Why are there no aliens of color in American films? Besides Brother From Another Planet, I couldn't think of any others. Several of my friends, however, came up with names like Damon Wayans in Earth Girls Are Easy and Louis Gossett, Jr. in Enemy Mine. There was mention of Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones in Star Wars, and Whoopi Goldberg in Star Trek, too. Still, the names of actors of color were rare. Besides, all the ones mentioned were black, and my question was meant to address all people of color including Asians, Indigenous folks, Latinos, and even biracial people.

Are we to assume, based on the film Knowing, that there are no people of color in the future? How does that compute when people of color dominate the world population right now? What happens to all of us then? If anything, futuristic films should heavily feature the Chinese.

One thought that persists in engaging my mind is that extraterrestrials are, in Hollywood's eyes, synonymous with superior intelligence. After all, they manage to find their way to Earth while earthlings haven't, so far, visited other planets. Is there some subtle message emitting from Tinsel Town that says people of color aren't smart enough to be a part of the future? Of course, a progressive director like John Sayles, often flips the script. Thus, the irreverent Brother From Another Planet.

I've been so disturbed by this lack of colored aliens issue that I vow to write a script about space creates of various hues, especially biracial ones. That's how I see the future, don't you? With so much race mixing going on these days, multiracial people are bound to be the dominant majority some day. So, why not aliens?

Meanwhile, friends, fans and family, we're still casting for Watermelon Sushi, we're still selling Hapa*Teez t-shirts to finance the film, and we're still recruiting members for our Facebook group called Hip Hapa Homeez. Join us today. Where else can you have rapper Kool Mo Dee as your Veep and group members like MC Lyte and Patti LaBelle?

Speaking of aliens, that's my sister and me in the pix above on a subway train in Tokyo. Note the flash of light around my head. Could it be my aura, or my alien antennae emerging?

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Racial Responsibility

Aloha all,

A Facebook friend recently posted an article asking whether people of color are held to a higher standard than whites whenever something bad goes down. Like when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna and news sources cited O.J. Simpson and Ike Turner, other black men known for violence against women.

"What about Jean Claude Van Damm?" someone asked. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't advocate any man hitting any woman (or anyone else for that matter), but it did seem odd that media lingered on violent colored folks, and not so much on others who have also done damage.

The FB article posed the question of whether people of color are more responsible for representing their communities as opposed to whites. That posting was so timely because just this weekend I had a conversation with a white friend that blew me away. I was telling him about a documentary I watched called Crips and Bloods: Made In America, and how I thought the filmmakers left out an important chunk of history. Although this film features incredible archival footage, the storytelling seems a little hurried. We go from blacks leaving the southern plantations to joining the industrial revolution in Los Angeles' aerospace companies encouraged by World War II. After flourishing in segregated neighborhoods, blacks start experiencing job layoffs, absentee fathers, drug-addicted mothers, and voila! gangbangers. Well, after a riot or two, that is. Okay, I thought. What's missing here?

Years ago, I heard the late playwright August Wilson speaking at a Seattle theater. A white woman in the audience asked him what he thought was the worst thing that had happened to the black community. An audible gasp was heard as Wilson replied, "Integration." The biracial Wilson (his father was a white German) then explained that during segregation, blacks were forced to rely on each other--buying from each other's stores, hiring each other for various services, and keeping it all in the 'hood, so to speak. But with integration opening up doors that were previously closed, blacks who were more educated and affluent began exploring the idea of moving into previously all-white neighborhoods. In time, the black communities they left behind became neglected ghettos. Middle-class homes morphed into government projects. Black businesses folded for the lack of demand. Drug dealers became the new entrepreneurs. Other races moved in with liquor stores and pawn shops. Black people in black communities grew impoverished--leading to alcoholism, drug addiction and that elusive missing male parent.

Watching Crips and Bloods, I remembered Wilson's harsh words and thought that's probably what happened in the Los Angeles' black neighborhoods where those gangs were born. I said as much to my white friend, and his response surprised me.

"They should've never left," he replied.

"What?" I answered. "Are you saying middle-income blacks should have never left their black neighborhoods? Would you say that to a white person? Would you say, white person, you are responsible for your entire race?"

My white friend admitted that he wouldn't, and realized his error at suggesting it. But his words echoed through my mind for several days afterward. Why did he automatically think people of color should be more responsible for their own kind? My friend is a loving and generous person with no outward sign of racism. Yet his words had slipped so easily from his lips. Was he an unwilling victim of institutionalized racism?

As usual, I have many questions and no answers. Of course, the greatest irony is that without integration, neither I nor August Wilson might have been born biracial.

I do encourage you to watch Crips and Bloods if you get the chance. Some of the interviews with ex-gang members will chill your blood, but hearing their stories will also give you a greater understanding of the domino effect of racism that allows poverty to turn into a lack of respect for life--anyone's.

Speaking of films, Your Hip Hapa is in the research phase of launching a distribution company for films by and about mixed-race people. Hollah at for more info.

I leave you with a pix of beautiful Santa Monica, above. Located only miles from some of the most gang-infested neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it's a city that some residents of those very 'hoods have never visited in their entire lives.

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

HAPA Post-Hina Matsuri Day!

Omedetto Gozaimasu!

On the third day of this third month, Japan celebrated Hina Matsuri. A festival for girls, its major activities include bringing out dolls from the closet, dusting them off, and displaying them in neat rows on seven red felt steps for all to see. But these dolls are not just any dolls, and definitely not the type to be played with, since they are miniature depictions of Japan's royal family and their attendants.

According to Wikipedia, Hina Matsuri began during the Heian Period of 794 to 1185, but doll displaying wasn't popularized until the Edo Period of 1603-1868. Originally, dolls were viewed as possessing evil spirits and, when set afloat on a boat in the river, would carry said bad luck away. Today, Hina Matsuri is a way to wish girls good fortune, health and happiness, and to encourage their positive growth into women.

In our mixed-up house, we had dolls on display year-round. My mom's kind of a "sloppy" Japanese (see: naming me Yayoi when I was born in May) so she bent a lot of rules. Since her dolls weren't miniatures of the Emperor and Empress, I guess it was okay to have them collecting greasy dust on top of their heads and their cases, if they had one. Like every Japanese woman in America, my mother had what I call the sakura doll; a lady in a red kimono wearing a black pie-shaped hat tied under her chin, with a big branch of cherry blossoms (sakura) slung across her shoulder. Since I was the biggest neat freak in the house, it was my job to clean the case the lady lived inside with Windex. I also sprayed Pledge on all the kokeshi dolls (the armless, legless ones with bobbing round heads) that were stored inside my mother's china cabinet.

Even though I cared for my mom's dolls, I never entertained the idea of playing with them. That was reserved for the dozens of dolls my sister and I collected as Xmas and birthday gifts. I think we got at least two apiece annually.

We had our baby dolls that were all Caucasian since it was the only flavor dolls came in while my old a** was growing up. We also had a few toddlers, and even a high-heel wearing, grown lady with breasts.

Heavily influenced by our environment, my sister and I named our earlier dolls Mary Ann (she had a rubber ponytail), Mary and Sue (twin rubber toddlers), Linda (a baby doll that really wet her pants), and Lu Ann (pierced ears, pearl earrings and high-heeled feet). But our later dolls got more exotic names like Uneeda and Golly-a. For some reason, my sister and I were obsessed with our dolls' hair and ended up combing most of the synthetic stuff out so that they all became bald. Thank the stars, Mary Ann had a rubber ponytail. Even though my mother yelled at us for doing it, we just couldn't stop. I wonder now if our behavior was due to our inability to comb our own thick, wavy locks that my mom would, with her rough hands, deal with.

In all of our growing up years, my sister and I never once owned an "ethnic" doll, although I do recall seeing a few rare black ones around that time. Certainly, there were Japanese dolls that could be bought at gift shops or sent by relatives in Japan. But they were always so stiffly dressed up and expensive, that all we could do was gaze at them.

Nowadays, there are even mixed-race dolls which would've been a real treat for us. As I explained today to a grad student interviewing me about multiracial issues (thanks, Stacie!), not seeing your own face's likeness onscreen, in print publications, or even on dolls made me feel as if no one like me existed. But this lack of validation also gave me one wild creative streak and led me to draw people who looked just like me. Unfortunately, after graduating from art school, I realized that skill was a handicap because my freelance clients wanted me to draw only mono-racial people, particularly Caucasians. That's just the way it was in the 80's.

Hey, you're a doll for reading this. And, if you're on Facebook, please send me a friend request. We're getting ready to pimp our Hip Hapa Homeez group with more bling. With over 300 members, and so much action HAPA'ning lately with Watermelon Sushi, we'd love to invite everyone to get involved. Yes, we're still casting, and you can read submission details at the Hip Hapa Homeez group page. And, yes, we still have Hapa*Teez t-shirts available. This movie is a movement about us, ya'll, so please join us.

That's me and sis, b.r., above with Mary Ann and one of the Twins.

Your Hip Hapa,