Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Born In Japan, But Made In America

Big-ups and shout-outs to all you Hip Hapa Homeez for keepin' it real with your comments and emails. We love hearing from you so keep on keepin' on. Remember, if you're an actor, we still want your headshot for our Watermelon Sushi fan page on Facebook. And, join our Hip Hapa Homeez group while you're cruisin' Facebook. Plus, don't forget Hapa*Teez t-shirts for you, your family and friends. Every purchase helps support our Watermelon Sushi film and earns you a rear crawl credit, too. Be a big shot film producer while looking like a hot, haute, hip hapa homee!

Speaking of, this week's featured HHH is award-winning filmmaker Katsumi "Tim" Nagae of Ann Arbor Michigan. Originally from Fukuoka Japan, Tim came to America for school and liked it here so much that he stayed. That's him in the photo above tweaking some knobs in the studio and with Austin, below, the subject of one of his films.

First, check out these links to Tim's films, then join us in the Q&A following.

Austin's Movie

Haley and Madonna

Q: Tim-san, what's a nice Japanese guy like you doing making documentary films in America?

A: Thank you for describing me as "a nice Japanese guy", but I try to be as friendly as possible in terms of communicating with others. In order to make documentaries, I have to meet lots of different kinds of people to interview them. It's my job to make them feel comfortable with me. Also, the fact that I'm an international person definitely helps. For example, Haley and Madonna is about the Miss America pageant--which is very much an American thing. When I started this project, I didn't know anything about beauty pageants because I didn't grow up in this country. So, I didn't have a bias against pageants like a typically liberal person does, and it worked out well for me.

Q: You're known for tackling difficult subjects like autism and physical disabilities. Why do those topics interest you?

A: To be honest, I didn't really choose the topics of autism and physical disabilities. The subjects, Austin and Haley, are interesting individuals who happen to be affected with those disabilities. Both movies are not really about their disabilities, but about themselves. However, I'm glad I underscored those issues which makes the subjects much more interesting and significant. I believe those movies have contributed to public awareness of disability issues. If Austin's Movie was about a talented boy photographer without autism, I don't think it would've gotten so much attention.

Q: How does Japanese and American documentary filmmaking differ?

A: Since I learned how to make films and videos in America, I don't know much about Japanese documentaries. In general, filmmaking in Japan is not as business-oriented as in America. So many Japanese filmmakers try to create their own styles. For example, some directors use
only long shots for everything (like Michelangelo Antonioni's films) no matter what kind of movie they're making. This "I'm an artist" attitude somewhat works out, especially for independent filmmakers, but it also makes it hard for them to produce "everybody's cup of tea" movies. On the other hand, many American mainstream moviemakers and companies take extra efforts to make movies that don't bore the audience. Those movies are fast with a lot of cuts, keeping the audience's constant attention, but many are over exaggerated and make us think, "What's the point of this movie?" I go to movies probably 30 to 40 times a year, and enjoy them. But I wonder how many movies I can honestly call "good".

Also, because of public accessibility to computers and digital video technology, moviemaking is much easier than it used to be. Everybody can make movies now, especially documentaries. Even a movie about next-door neighbors may draw enormous attention if made right. Haley and Austin were just kids in your neighborhood before their movies came out. I feel good about contributing to the discovery of these very interesting individuals who, I believe, should be acknowledged in the community. This is the true mission of an independent filmmaker.

Q: Your next documentary is about an African American artist who went to Nagasaki shortly after the atomic bomb was dropped. How will you tell his story?

A: My purpose in making this film is not to point out who has the responsibility for the atomic bombs. Who is right or who is wrong is not the issue here, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be accepted as a tragic event that happened in human history. However, I do know many people will be upset with this movie so I have to be ready for that. But I also hope many people will look at it as a must-see "American movie" and change their views on war and humanity.

Q: A lot of people think that Japanese are intolerant and prejudiced against other ethnicities. True?

A: Where did you get that idea? If you go to Japan, you'll be surprised to find an intense eclecticism of cultures from around the world. Modern Japanese love American movies, pop music and ethnic food. They love major league baseball, too. Japanese have traditionally been very good at accepting other cultures, interpreting them in their own way, and re-inventing something new for themselves. Unfortunately, it's true that some people--especially in the countryside--are prejudiced against other ethnicities, particularly Koreans, Chinese or other Asian people. But things have been better, especially after Korean television drama became hugely popular in Japan. I wasn't in Japan then, but I heard there are fewer racists than there used to be.

Q: What is the most significant Japanese thing you've had to give up since moving to the U.S.?

A: Japanese people are always concerned about their own position, power and authority. For example, my brother who is only three years older is always arrogant with me only because he's older. I have to call him "Brother" yet he calls me by my first name. He can tell me what to do by demanding, "Do that". Nobody thinks that's rude. But I can only ask him to do something by asking, "Can you do that for me?" If I tell him, "Do that", it will be considered breaking a cultural rule. At work, in both Japan and the U.S., you have to show respect to your boss. But in the U.S., once you leave work, it's up to you to ignore or be friends with the boss outside of your workplace. That's not acceptable in Japan. In my opinion, it's much more stressful to live with Japanese culture than in the U.S. I don't have to follow Japanese customs as long as I live in this country, which is healthier for me.

Q: Can you envision a time in the world when race will not matter?

A: That's a hard question, but I would say race should matter in a positive way. Each culture, whether Japanese, Asian, black, Hispanic or white, has its own cultural heritage that should be treasured by everybody--which means people should respect each other. You may think this is an elitist and overly idealistic answer, but I don't think it's necessary for me to twist my comments over racial issues here.

If I may share my strange idea, I'd say if we found some creatures living outside of this planet, whether or not we saw them as friends or enemies, we'd consider all human beings as one group of creatures and race wouldn't matter anymore. Then, we would stop fighting wars.

Peace, Tim-san! Domo arrigato gozaimashite for sharing. For you budding filmmakers, contact Tim here:

Until next week, when we present another multi-culti Hip Hapa Homee,
I am...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jamaica Mi Proud For Wayne Chin

Greetin's Hip Hapa Homeez! I'm feelin' irie tonight hangin' out here with all my Jamaican friends. Roots, come forward!

Recently, the lovely Corene Antoinette posted some intriguing video clips at her blog called Jamaica Mi Proud. Corene is all about her island culture, so check her out here:

When I saw her piece about Jamaican musician Wayne Chin, photo above, I knew I had to feature him as a Hip Hapa Homee. Born in Spanish Town, the biracial Chin grew up in Harbour View and moved to New York in 1980. Today, he's a radio host, sound engineer, singer, songwriter and music producer.

Q: What's a nice multiracial Jamaican guy like you doing fielding questions about being Hawai'ian or Puerto Rican?

A: I have been asked that question many times. About 90% of the time, I am mistaken for Hawai'ian and, a few times, Puerto Rican. But my answer--as always--is, "I'm a Jamaican". As all Jamaican people, we don't categorize ourselves as Chinese Jamaican, African Jamaican, Caucasian Jamaican, or Other. We are just plain Jamaican.

Q: Why do so many people not realize the great numbers of Asians living in the Caribbean?

A: Probably because we are just Jamaican or Caribbean, and we never felt the need to be categorized.

Q: How did your family end up in Jamaica?

A: Well, as for my mother's side, we all know how the slaves came to Jamdown (Jamaica), and my father's side was from Chinese people trying to run from persecution back in the days of the Communist regime.

Q: Have you retained any of your father's Chinese culture?

A: Only the food and the lust for life. LOL!

Q: How long have you been involved with music, and what are some of the things you do with it?

A: Well, from the age of self-recognition, you know, I walked and talked and sang. But, as we all know, the world seems to think that music is only for the youth. So nowadays, I only produce a few artists. I also write, engineer and remember the good old days of touring. LOL. However, I am about to reintroduce myself to the world with a new album with my group CHINAFRICA, and also my lover's rock group, Foreign Intrigue. I am the lead singer for both.

Q: What's your day job at the United Nations?

A: I am a sound engineer.

Q: How has having a multicultural background helped you at the U.N. where you're surrounded by so many different ethnicities?

A: I never thought about that. I guess that music and people of inner beauty just take up all my thoughts.

T'anks, mon, for sharing. To learn more about Wayne, check him out at Corene's blog or at his mySpace page:

Personally, I was surprised to discover large populations of both China and India descended people in the Caribbean. But when one stops to consider that those two countries have the most people on the planet, it makes sense. Besides, a lot of Asians came as indentured servants to European colonizers who also brought African slaves to islands previously populated by Indigenous tribes like Arawak and Taino. The West Indies is definitely a melting pot!

Hey, here's a big, fat shout-out to all of you who have joined our Hip Hapa Homeez group and our Watermelon Sushi fan page on Facebook. Both communities are growing daily, and we're excited to keep you updated with the latest info about multiracial folks as well as news about our film. Remember, we still have Hapa*Teez t-shirts for you, too. And, don't forget to follow us on Twitter where we post dialogue from the Watermelon Sushi script.

Until next week, when I'll feature another Hip Hapa Homee, remember that I will always be...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Natives Matter With Native Matters

Hey to all you Hip Hapa Homeez and Watermelon Sushi fans! Welcome back to Watermelon Sushi World where we're featuring another Hip Hapa Homee.

This week, meet Vanessa Girard better known as Dr. Ness, the author of a book for Native American and multiracial teens called High School Survival Guide.

Q: Dr. Ness, how did a nice girl like you end up with a Honduran Mayan Indian father and a black, white, French and Cherokee mother?

A: My father worked on a ship that delivered mahogany from Belize (formerly Honduras) to the United States. He was in port in New Orleans and my mother was hanging out with her cousin at a hotel cafeteria. Her cousin's wife, Della, saw my dad sitting at the counter. She introduced them and gave him my mom's phone number.

Q: How did you experience all those unique cultures while growing up?

A: We moved from a neighborhood that was predominantly black (with a large mixture of medium to dark-skinned Creoles) to one where we lived across the street from whites and our next-door neighbors were light-skinned Creoles who could have passed for white. Our ethnic makeup was a secret; my grandmother refused to talk about it other than to say we were not black. My father could barely speak English when he came to the states and married my mother. He was 22; my mom was 14. Unfortunately, when she was pregnant with my brother, child number six, my father walked away and never looked back. I was four-years old at the time, and none of us was allowed to ask why or if he was coming back. So, the only culture I know is the Creole culture of foods like gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding, and stuffed peppers; strict Catholicism; dancing the second line; and jazz and zydeco music.

Q: What do you know about the Mayan Calendar and the significance of 2012?

A: I only learned of my Mayan heritage within the past year, so I am not familiar with any of it.

Q: How did you end up working with the Pima Indians in Arizona?

A: I had quit my job as a high school English teacher after six years--five of which included advising both school publications and a life of constant deadlines and fundraisers. I substitute taught for a year after that and became desperate to get back to "work". My daughter is a born athlete. She played basketball with a Pima who asked her if she would be interested in teaching on the reservation. She had a bachelor's degree, but not in teaching. She replied, "No, but I know someone who would!" I got the job as an English teacher at the alternative school, grades 7-12. The structure was a joke. There was no discipline policy. I would send a disruptive student to the office only to have the student return saying the office said they did not know what they were supposed to do with him. There was no bell to alert the end of classes so teachers would let students out of class arbitrarily and the students would go around banging on classroom doors, scaring the crap out of everyone and disrupting the lessons. And, the buses arrived at the school anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes late! I was ready to resign when the tribal Education Director offered me a promotion to Dean of Students. I got the school organized and the students on track and was promoted, in the next six months, to Community Educator--which took me out of the school and into the community.

Q: Where did you get the idea of writing High School Survival Guide?

A: The Tribal Education Department was comprised of several divisions that offered resources to every age group except K-12 students. As community educator, I redefined my role and began meeting with the K-12 administrators on the reservation. We assessed needs and formed strategies on how to best help the students succeed. I wrote proposals and attained funds from tribal leaders to implement all the programs that were suggested by these professionals. But, in 2006, 50% of our freshmen failed at one of the local high schools. Every suggestion I made to the middle school administrators to prevent this from happening again was shot down as unfeasible, so I wrote the book because I realized that these students were culturally and socially unprepared for high school environments off the reservation.

My multi-ethnicity, combined with my work with this Native American tribe, sparked a compulsion in me to understand cultures and identity, so I entered the doctoral program at the University of Phoenix and studied diversity and leadership. It was an amazing experience! I performed a qualitative phenomenological study because this, in my mind, was the only way to get to the essence of the issue. I was fortunate enough to interview 20 diverse leaders comprised of four Hispanics, four Asians, three whites, three blacks, three Native Americans and three Creoles. The themes that arose were self-esteem, identity, stereotyping, perception and oppression. Lessons were learned for each theme that directly applied to the problems my students were experiencing, so I used the findings from my study as the foundation for the book.

I lost my job because I refused to submit the book as a work product, which would have limited it to that tribe. I wanted to help as many students as possible. I wrote the book on my own time; it did not belong to the tribe.

Q: What was the worst incident you experienced as a teenager attributable to your multiracial heritage?

A: My African American brother-in-law used to tease us all the time, telling us we "didn't have a flag". We would eventually begin to cry, saying it wasn't our fault, and he would immediately apologize and say it was cool--that we could "ride the fence" and be whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. I didn't get it; I just wanted to belong. He wasn't being mean; he just loved to tease--it's a guy thing. He was great!

Throughout my developmental years, I experienced deep, underlying resentment from black females who looked at me with venom and felt compelled to tell me I was black no matter what we were talking about. And, they would say it accusingly, as an insult.

I'd like to add that I have attended many mono-ethnic conferences and have always felt welcomed, except for one: at an African American Women's Conference. I attended it with a white woman. The black women smiled at her and glared at me.

Q: You've been an English teacher, dean of students, assistant director of education, dean of academics, and now you're a consultant for diversity and leadership. Is there one role you've enjoyed more than the others?

A: They all had their places and I enjoyed each one because with each I felt like I made a difference--which is what teaching is all about! I guess I'm a born educator. I'm enjoying writing. This is the next step to my ultimate calling. I want to reach the masses and impact them positively; to instill healthy self-esteem and well-being in all people, but especially people of color and, particularly those of mixed races; and, most especially, the young people!

Q: Dr. Ness is a cute way to use your name. How did you come up with such a clever way to identify yourself?

A: We southerners have a habit of shortening first names as a term of endearment. I don't like to be called "Vanessa" because it seems formal and "cold". Friends and family have always shortened my name in various ways: Ness, Nessa, V, Van. After I earned my doctoral degree, being called Dr. Girard was weird and, again, a bit formal. I wanted something catchy, easy and still "me". When I tried to get a personalized license plate, DrNess was the only combo that was available and it stuck!

Thank you, Dr. Ness for your insights. Check out our girl in the pix above, and her website at:

The prolific Dr. Ness has also written a screenplay about two princesses--one black and the other Creole. Her goal is to get it onscreen within a year so if you're a producer with an interest, please visit Dr. Ness' website for more info.

Now, on to some other mixie news: I'm sure some of you receive the Ikea catalogue. Besides selling some really cool, cheap furniture, these guys tend to be politically progressive, too--that is, judging by the models used in their advertisements.

For instance, turn to page 21 and tell me what you see. Does that look like a light-skinned man of African descent sitting with his laptop while his biracial son plays piano and his white wife strums a guitar? Could be. But, unfortunately, all three are sitting so far from each other that it's hard to say. That, plus the father looks like an accountant or something else serious while the mother is a mismatched hippie flower child. So, are they a family or just three neighbors having an impromptu jam session? Ikea, talk to me!

One thing I like about this outfit is their boldness in presenting single folks as consumers. Of course, singles are probably their best demographic. Still, how refreshing to see two different individual males on pages 119 and 129 both messing around in the kitchen!

Finally, on page 363, there's what appears to be an interracial couple working on some floor plans. While the black woman hovers over her laptop, the white man marks on some drawings. Both look happy, but not exactly in the throes of romance. There's still a little space between them on the couch so it's difficult to say if they live together or just work together.

In any case, Ikea, thank you for recognizing diversity.

Hey, over at our Watermelon Sushi Fan Page on Facebook, we're still collecting headshots. If you'd like to be involved, please join the Fan Page and send your headshot to

Our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook is growing, too. There, we post links, photos and videos that are relevant to the mixed-race experience. Remember, you don't have to be multiracial to join us--just supportive.

And, don't forget to check out our film and Hapa*Teez t-shirts, too.

Until next week, I am devoted to being...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Magnificent, Multi-talented, Mother Terumi Todd

Greetings to all my Hip Hapa Homeez! Mahalo nui loa for continuing to grow our Hip Hapa Homeez Facebook Group and Watermelon Sushi Facebook Fan Page. If you haven't joined us yet, please do. And, check out our film, Watermelon Sushi, and Hapa*Teez t-shirts, too!

Our guest this week is Terumi Todd whom I first became aware of while watching Yohei Suzuki's documentary, Our Pride. A film about two Atlanta families with Japanese mothers and black fathers, it focuses mostly on their adult biracial children. But whenever Terumi appears onscreen, her magnetism easily captivates the audience. Larger than life, Terumi is optimistic, funny and charismatic. Imagine, if you will, a multi-talented immigrant artist who speaks English with a Southern Ebonics Japanese flavor. A mix of many cultures, Terumi is that fascinating blend of East meeting West.

Q: What's a nice Japanese girl like you doing being an artist in America?

A: After graduating from Kitasato University in Tokyo with a B.S. in medical technology, I came to America to go to school. But in between I got married, had a kid, and did other stuff. I wanted to be an architect, but my parents wanted me to be a medical technologist. I always wanted to come to America. It was always in the back of my plans some kind of way to get here. I wanted to stay for a little while, but I got married and that changed the whole plan.

In Japan, in high school and in middle school, I joined art clubs, dance clubs, a Hawai'ian name it. I always had a background in art.

Q: You have so many creative interests--visual art, photography, acting, singing, dancing, sewing and quilting, playing guitar and ukulele--is there any one pursuit you prefer over the other?

A: Today, it may be art. Tomorrow, it may be singing. But usually, everything is a part of my life. I paint with music on. I used to do Japanese dance in church. I can't really take one from the other.

Q: Before you came to this country, were you aware of how black people were treated here--especially in the South?

A: After graduating from college in Japan, I worked for one year in a clinic research lab run by the American Army. There, I had contact with both black and white Americans in a military setting. I spoke some English and got to know some Americans before deciding to come to America.

The first place I went to was San Francisco. I came to Atlanta in 1975. That was just a couple of years after they still had "for white" and "for colored" signs. Our family moved to a community outside of Atlanta where we were maybe one or two of the first minorities to move into that area. Many white people (consequently) left. That's when I noticed that something was not quite right. But I married a man who was a doctor so he was given a different status (from other blacks). Because of his position, (white people) treated me differently.

Q: How did being a part of Yohei's documentary change your life?

A: We've shown twice in the Atlanta area. Both times it was a packed house. One screening was at the art center where I worked. A lot of people wanted to purchase the DVD. The second time, we showed it at a black museum--APEX, the African American Panoramic Experience museum. We had a very good response.

Sometimes people see me and remember me from the film. They ask if it's going to be shown again. We've met a few mixed-race young ladies that stuck around and talked to us. My son is in their age group. Maybe we can expand the story to include the (biracial) female side (in a future documentary).

Q: What does your Japanese family think about how your life in America turned out?

A: My immediate family includes three sons who live here in Georgia and three stepchildren in Atlanta. Two girls live in California. I don't have any brothers or sisters, and my parents passed away 11 years ago. I'm very fortunate that so many women I befriend adopt me into their family so I have an extended family. Many of them are African Americans. I call them my sisters. All of them support me. All of them are glad to see me active in different things. Out of different cultures, I embrace American culture--especially African American culture.

Q: What one thing do you miss the most about Japan?

A: I miss a lot--like real Japanese food. I was laughing because of the young lady you featured a few weeks ago, the African American sushi chef. We have a lot of Japanese restaurants here run by Koreans with Mexican chefs trying to make sushi. It's not sushi. There are only a few Japanese chefs here compared to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

I've only been back home to Japan once. After I got divorced, I found my cousin on my father's side. I've lived in Atlanta for 35 years--longer than I ever lived in Japan.

Q: Career-wise, where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

A: I do it all, but I hope to be able to concentrate on visual art. There's nothing stopping me. Ten years from now I'll be 74. When I hit 50, people asked, 'Aren't you going to retire now?' There's no such thing as retired for visual art people. When I stop is when I die.

Arrigato gozaimasu, Terumi-san!

In the link, below, you can see Terumi with a student she taught at summer camp last year.

By clicking her name in the next link, you can view Terumi's artwork.

And, finally, some of her artwork is featured in this current show.

In the photo at the top of the page, Terumi poses with her three sons. In the one below, she performs in the play Carmen J.

As always, it's been a pleasure introducing you to a Hip Hapa Homee who advocates a cross-cultural perspective. Please stay tuned to meet more who will share their stories of life in a Watermelon Sushi World and beyond. Hey, any kimchee and mashed potatoes out there? How about some chow mein on white bread? Hollah!

Your Hip Hapa,