Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Lonely Planet When You're A Fish Out Of Water

Today, while I was screening a Chinese-made film titled 24 City, it really hit me how homogenized that country's citizens are. I kept trying to put myself into the picture and wondering how I would fit in living somewhere where everyone looked like everyone else, except me. Certainly, I have felt that before in America, especially whenever I've attended a particular event that didn't draw other folks of color. But on a daily basis for the rest of my life? I'd be crazed.

I remember visiting Japan with my mother and sister years ago. We spent nearly a month traveling in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, etc. At first, it was absolutely fascinating to attempt deciphering the language that I heard all around me. Even with a Japanese mother from Japan, I only know mostly nouns so I was trying to pick up on entire phrases. But after awhile, to my shock, I began to miss the sound of English which I only heard whenever my sister and I were having a conversation. Most of the time, she and I were together. So, I did have someone to talk to without having to search for the correct Japanese words to communicate. Still, there was a deep sense of loneliness that enveloped me whenever we were out in public and I couldn't understand anyone else around me. That's a picture of my sister in Tokyo, above.

Being that one different person in any group can be an uncomfortable experience. But most monoracial people don't have to deal with that situation unless they travel outside of their communities. Not long ago, I asked a good friend of mine--who happens to be a monoracial Caucasian man--if he wanted to attend a black arts festival in Atlanta with me. Now, I've known this friend for years. We often talk politics and he considers himself extremely liberal and progressive. Besides visiting each other in our respective home states, we've also travelled to other distant locales to attend various events. So, I was totally unprepared when he answered my question with, "No. I don't think I'd be comfortable at a black festival." I was stunned and replied, "So how do you think I should feel? I have to be a person of color every day when I walk out my door, and where I live 75% of the population is white. Should I just stay in the house so I don't have to feel uncomfortable?" My friend didn't answer. I really don't believe he understood what I was getting at, and it really saddened me because if someone as bright and aware as he is doesn't get it, then there's no hope for the rest of humankind. Or, is there?

Hey, we're moving closer to making our Watermelon Sushi film. In June, we'll be auditioning talent for the principal roles. So, if you live in L.A., please be sure to send your reels, resumes and headshots according to the breakdowns on the Hip Hapa Homeez group page at Facebook. That way, we can schedule you for an audition. Most likely, auditions will be held in Hollywood and the fabulous nissei rapper Miwa Lyric will be on hand to assist (

Shout-outs to Lily Anne Welty for sending the DVD about Japanese/black kids in Japan. I'll report on it as soon as I watch it. btw, if you're in Asia and you're AfroAsian and you're interested in being interviewed by Lily Anne, let me know. She's on a search for biracial babies born between the 1940's through the 1960's.

Mahalo nui loa also to Paulette Thompson for remembering that The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai had "good" aliens that were all of color and "bad" aliens that were all monoracial Caucasians named John. Paulette also sent me two links that I'll try to post next time. One of her comments was that actress Meg Tilly was born Margaret Chan, but after her white mother divorced her Chinese American father, Meg was taught to keep her Asian ethnicity a secret. The other is about a woman in an interracial relationship.

Now, here's an interesting article that flips the script. It's about a black family who adopted a white child.

In honor of my transracial adoptee buddy, Anjulie, I have posted her beautiful-ness, above.

One Love!
Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sakura Seasoning

Yo, it's hana-mi (flower watching) time!

Last weekend, while pink petals fell like silent snowflakes from cherry trees lining the Seattle Center, I made my way over to its grounds. Just past the Experience Music Project (Microsoft partner Paul Allen's dedication to Jimi Hendrix), I found the Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival in full bloom (yeah, pun intended). A three-day cultural event sponsored by the Japanese Consulate, this matsuri is an annual shindig. But this year, besides the usual activities of dance, ikebana (flower arrangement), judo, kimono dressing, shodo (calligraphy), and taiko (drumming), the festival also featured a Hapa Booth.

A friend on the committee who knew of my passion for blendies invited me to help out at the Booth. So, for three days, I mixed and mingled with hapas, their parents or other relatives, and their friends. Through a whirlwind of exchanges, I felt a spiritual connection with so many multiracial folks who willingly shared their stories--some sad, some glad.

The Hapa Booth itself was simply decorated with photocopied pictures of mixed-race Japanese. After all, it was the Japanese Consulate's event so no other hapa Asians were featured. But that didn't deter hapas of all combos from approaching us to "talk story". Since the Japanese community has one of the highest out-marriage rates, numerous visitors started their sentences with, "My mother's Japanese and my father's..." Or, "My father's Japanese and my mother's..." And, the numbers of hapas hailing from Hawai'i clearly outnumbered everybody else.

Besides photos, there was also a laptop looping video clips of Jero's (with his obachan in pix here) performances. Although curiosity from those who'd never heard of him was strong, their interest sometimes bordered on incredulity, and I wondered if they saw him as a novelty rather than as a serious enka singer.

I also discovered that, unfortunately, a lot people still have a misconception about the word hapa. Many think that it describes someone who's half Asian. I know I've written this before, but hapa is simply the Hawai'ian mispronunciation of the English word half. Being limited to 12 alphabet letters, the Hawai'ian language does not provide phonetics that would permit a Native to say h-aaa-lll-fff, so the word was softened to ha-pa. Native Hawai'ian language also ends every word with a vowel so it would be impossible to say h-aaa-lll-fff anyway. Initially, when the first Europeans arrived on the islands, they were referred to as ha-ole, or "no ha". Ha is the sacred breath that was expelled before the Hawai'ian king, but Europeans didn't know that so they didn't do it. Thus, "no ha". Hapa haole were the offspring of Native Hawai'ian and European parents. These days, haole is pronounced by locals as "how-lee" and is sometimes used derogatorily against whites. But back in the day, even Princess Ka'iulani was hapa haole with a Native mother and Scottish father.

Besides trying to come up with a quick definition of hapa that was palatable to the surging crowd, I also dispensed information about mixed-race organizations to those requesting resources. It's all good and well to point to photos that show that the world is rapidly blurring its racial lines, but for those who are still having a rough go of it, it's nice to know that there are organizations out there for us. Shout-outs to and!

Among monoracial people drawn to the Hapa Booth, most of the responses were positive although some clearly appeared puzzled about the very notion of race mixing, or why it would even be celebrated or publicized. A board set up on an easel accompanied by post-it notes and pens invited comments from the audience. Some were ordinary; some profound. But one actually said, "Hapas? Get over it."

Well, the only thing this hapa is getting over tonight is finishing this blog post.

btw, in celebration of my upcoming birthday during the first week of May, I'm planning to add quick interviews with various hapas here on this blog. If you'd like me to talk to you, please drop me a line. It doesn't matter where you live, or what your combo flava is, I want to hear from you.

And, here's a reminder that our Watermelon Sushi producers are still on a talent search. If you haven't already sent us your DVD or headshot, it's not too late. Check out the breakdowns on the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook. And, sign up to join us while you're there.

Also, if you've purchased a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, let us know so we can give you credit for contributing.

Meanwhile, can you stand one more photo of cherry seasoning?

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Insults Or Ignorance?

Honestly, the amount of insults hurled toward me by monoracial folks lately seem to be growing exponentially. It makes me wonder if something's been added to the drinking water.
Last week, I wrote about two people who attributed my ability to earn good grades and academic achievement to my "Asian side". In both instances, I was flabbergasted by their thoughtless remarks.

Well, there's more. Earlier this month, I attended a monthly get together of artists, writers and other creatives. Walking in late, I spotted a friend at the large table so I sat across from her. During lunch, most of the attendees chatted with others they knew, too. But towards the end, a couple got up to leave when the Caucasian man suddenly leaned over to introduce himself. As always when speaking to Westerners, I spoke my name with clearly enunciated syllables. I watched as the man visibly wrestled with a question gnawing at him.

"Where's that from?" he said, before changing his query to, "What kind of name is that?"

Warily, I answered, "Japanese."

Most of the time, the response I get when I reply with that answer is, "Really? You don't look all Japanese."

So, that's what I was prepared for when, instead, the man looked at me intently. "That doesn't sound like a Japanese name," he told me with an air of authority. "It has too many consonants. Most Japanese names start with a K or M," he added.

Incredulous, I looked over at my friend sitting across from me but she, herself a monoracial Caucasian, said nothing.

"Actually, a lot of Japanese names start with Y," I replied. "My mother's name is Yuriko, her mother's name is Yone, and..." I trailed off as I realized that I had no obligation to explain anything to this stranger who already thought he knew it all anyway.

Since he had the nerve, basically, to let me know that he knew more about Japanese culture than I did, I wanted to respond with something really flip, like; "Tom? What kind of name is that? Is it English, because most English names have two or more syllables so your name should be Thomas, shouldn't it?" Alas, I'm a peaceful type who doesn't like confrontation so I just smiled weakly. After the man left, I leaned in to tell my friend how insulted I felt, but it was too loud in the restaurant and she didn't seem to grasp my agitation.

Then, last night on a thread that I was a participant of, one of the women became upset over some of my stated opinions. In a final hurrah, not only did she call me the "B" word, but also flung at me her conviction that I was a coward who hid behind, quote, "all that ridiculous hip hapa stuff". Ridiculous? Since she's a monoracial African American, I had to wonder what she had against mixed-race folks.

On to better news. The producers of Watermelon Sushi in our Tokyo office are revving up for more action so keep checking back for updates. Meanwhile, calling all talent, get your submissions to us by visiting the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook. There, you can read the breakdowns and get the address to send your headshots, resumes and DVD's. And if you sign up to join us, you'll be in a group that includes luminaries like Todd Bridges, Kool Mo Dee, Professor Griff, Jasmine Guy, Oran Juice Jones, Patti LaBelle, MC Lyte, Biz Markie, Lonette McKee, Bern Nadette Stanis, and more. We're about to get real serious here, folks.

Finally, it appears that haru (spring) has arrived. Check out the pix of sakura (cherry blossoms) in my 'hood, above.

Funny, that my mom likes to make gohan (rice) with ume (plum) which turns the rice a little pink. I started calling it sakura gohan. At the left is a pix of the sakura norimaki we recently ate.

And, below is a photo of my Mom cutting her birthday cake last week. Notice her red eyes caused by haru allergies. As for her age, well...if you're that interested, please drop me a line at

Your Hip Hapa,

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bad Comcast, Insults, Interracial Alien Abductees, And HAPA B-day!

Thanks to Comcast, my post is a day late. I don't know why they started messing around with their servers at the exact time I was finishing up, but they did and now I have to start all over. Apologies.

Yo! Hip Hapa Homeez,

It's been another busy week of dismantling misinformation about multiracial people, and I'm exhausted. Sometimes, I get so tired of preaching and teaching that I just let stuff slide. How about you?

A couple of days ago while out walking, I ran into the bus driver with whom I had shared my woes about a difficult class I took last quarter. Since he drove the bus to the campus daily, I often complained to him about the homework that I struggled over. Coincidentally, he was familiar with the subject and tried to encourage me. When I had last seen him, I was sweating a bad grade. Surprisingly, I ended up doing better than I anticipated. Spotting him on my walk, I expressed my delight at earning a decent grade. Laughing, the driver replied, "Well, that's the Asian half of you." I was speechless. Since he's Asian himself, I wasn't sure if he was just attempting to create a bond through our cultural connection. I wanted to ask, but didn't, if he thought it possible that my black relatives might value education more than my Japanese ones. I'm sure he meant no harm by his statement. After all, Asian immigrants in America do have a reputation for being academically inclined. However, I've read articles that indicate the true model minorities are Haitians. That's right; those refugees that arrived packed in rickety boats off the shores of Florida are considered to be the most achievement-oriented in this country--counting numerous doctors, nurses and lawyers among them.

Awhile back, a Caucasian man made a similar remark when I mentioned some academic accomplishment I'd realized. "You're so smart," he said. "It must be the Asian in you." Of course, I was stunned. Was he saying that the black in me was not as bright as the Japanese? I wanted to ask if he knew who invented the traffic signal light, or who came up with the idea of blood transfusions that saves millions of lives worldwide. Hint: Neither were Asians.

And, what about Obama then? Do you think world leaders sit around thinking, "That guy is so smart. It must be the white in him." Is it a good thing then, that Obama identifies himself as an African American?

I suppose there are worse things that monoracial people can say to us mixies. Yet, I find myself often thinking that as a whole (pun intended), we humans have a long way to go.

Recently, I ran into a former classmate who is half white and half black. As we discussed being biracial, he revealed that he and his brother were treated differently as they grew up. My friend is "high yella"--golden skinned with green eyes and "good" hair. His brother, he told me, had darker skin and tighter hair. I explained that my film, Watermelon Sushi, is about this very issue--how people are perceived to possess certain traits based on nothing more than their appearance. Just when did having a darker shade of skin become an open invitation for scorn, anyway?

Earlier in the week, I was at a local copy shop when I began conversing with a young African American woman who was assisting me. Reading her name tag, I mentioned that I had a friend who shared her unusual name, but who lived back East. The young women then shared with me her complicated family history and all the places where they had resided. Then, very casually, she explained that her father had not been raised by his own mother (her grandmother), but by his grandmother (her great-grandmother) because--here the young woman lightly brushed the back of her arm with her fingers--his skin was too dark.

Can you imagine being rejected by your own mother because of something so irrelevant as the shade of your skin? If your own mother won't accept you, what hope is there for the rest of the world embracing you? Folks, we just suck.

On another note: Thanks to the quick eye of Rachel Herault, I had to revisit my March 19th blog post titled "Where Are the Extraterrestrials of Color?" If you recall, I was in a tizzy after viewing the Hollywood film Knowing, starring Nicholas Cage as an MIT prof who unravels a series of numbers that add up to doom for planet Earth. While he's busy figuring out that we're on a collision course with the Sun, several aliens (all monoracial Caucasians) intervene. I was miffed that none of the aliens were of color, and posed the question; how come the future is so white when there are more Chinese on the planet right now than anyone else? I even insinuated that Hollywood is sending a subtle message that aliens can only be Caucasian because they possess a superior intelligence proven by their ability to travel all the way to our planet. Anyway, Rachel reminded me that a couple who was actually abducted by aliens in the 1950's was interracial. Barney Hill was black and his wife, Betty, was white. In the TV movie based on their story, they were played by actors James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons. The fact that I remember the most about the Hills' adventure is Betty's drawing of where the aliens had come from. Although she drew stars that didn't exist at the time of her kidnapping, years later scientists discovered them in the sky.

Please keep your cards and letters coming, Hip Hapa Homeez. I love hearing from you! And, don't forget to sign up to join our Facebook group--Hip Hapa Homeez. Remember our Hapa*Teez t-shirts and our open call casting for Watermelon Sushi, too.

Last, but not least, here's a shout-out to Moms. HAPA b-day! I tried to wish it on your special day, but see 'bad Comcast', above. Omedetto gozaimasu! The photo above is one of Moms at the earliest age we could find. Here (bottom left), she's a 16 year-old nanny, out boating with her employer's family.

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

New News And Old

That matriarchal maven Madonna is back in the news again. Once again, the controversy revolves around her attempts to adopt a Malawian child. The adoption of her now three year-old son, David Banda, whom she acquired in 2006 caused a ruckus because it was felt that Madonna used her big name and big bucks to bypass Malawi rules and regulations about adoption. It seems she was allowed to have David without being a resident of the country for at least one year, and circumventing the required 18-24 month waiting period which applied to everyone else.

Further, it was downright weird since David's father was still alive. Instead of giving David's father money so he could raise his own child, Madonna seem to be playing the role of a rich white woman purchasing a poor black boy. Now, that may not be the case at all, but anyone who is sensitive to the enslavement of black Africans by white Europeans would be alarmed at the implication. Even with David's father waiving his rights and insisting that he wanted Madonna to raise his son, one has to wonder why. Why would any father of any child prefer to have his own son reared by a stranger?

This time around, Madonna has her sights set on a young girl whose mother is also dead. But like David, the girl has a living father. Just when is it okay to adopt a child, anyway?

I have a friend of Indian descent who was adopted by a Caucasian couple who also adopted other children of color. Although my friend had birth parents who were living, she was a sickly child and her family couldn't afford her costly medical expenses. Now in her 20's, my friend recently met her birth family. Since this wasn't my experience, I can't say what is right or wrong. But I know if I had been raised by other people and later, in my adulthood, discovered that I had a living parent or parents, I'd be mighty mad. I'd wonder whether or not my folks did all they could to keep me. I'd probably even wonder if they really loved me. But like I said, I don't know the complete circumstances. Maybe you have a similar story you'd like to share. If you're a transracial adoptee, please drop me a line at and unload.

Also in the news is a resolution proposed by Senator John McCain, of all people, requesting a presidential pardon for the now dead boxer, Jack Johnson. Johnson, an unbeatable black champ, was arrested in 1913 for violating the Mann Act--"taking women across state lines for immoral purposes". Although the Act was meant to prevent pimps from pimping prostitutes, it was used against Johnson because he dared to date and marry white women. Besides knocking out so many white boxers, he had the nerve to collect the spoils, aka white women. Johnson spent a year at Leavenworth prison and his record was tainted. And now, McCain, who personally voted against honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. with a federal holiday, has introduced this potential pardon to Obama. Life. It's so cyclic, ain't it?

Finally, I want to thank all of you, my supporters, for hanging in with me and continuing to read this blog, buying Hapa*Teez t-shirts, and keeping in the mix with our Watermelon Sushi film. And, a very special thanks to Amina Kangiwa of for such an incredible interview session this evening. Although her site won't be up until this summer, I'm confident it's going to be all we mixies want. Amina, who is Filipina and Nigerian, is a journalist who knows how to get to the heart of race matters. We spent hours on the phone tonight talking about our similar AfroAsian ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Until next week, stay hip, stay hapa, stay homeez! And, don't forget to send me a Friend Request on Facebook--and join our Hip Hapa Homeez group, too. The last time I checked, Bern Nadette Stanis--Thelma--from Good Times was a member!

Above is a pix of our matriarch, my sister and me in the German woods.

Your Hip Hapa,