Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Multi-Culti Info Goddess

Yo, Hip Hapa Homeez! Wazzup?!

Welcome back to Watermelon Sushi World. As we know, life is all about change; so, after tonight Your Hip Hapa will no longer publish this blog on a weekly basis. Change is on the horizon for our projects--including the Watermelon Sushi film and a book ready for publication--so we’ll only be here every other week from now on. Won’t you join our Facebook Fan page to keep updated about the Watermelon Sushi film? And, while you’re on Facebook, please navigate to the Hip Hapa Homeez group page and sign up to stay in the know with news by and about multiethnic and mixed-race folks, transracial adoptees, and anyone involved in cross-cultural activities. You can also follow Watermelon Sushi on Twitter. And, if you’d like to throw your support behind the film, please purchase a Hapa*Teez t-shirt. Not only will you help move the film production forward, but you’ll also get a rear crawl credit when it’s done and in theaters!

Early Warning: The amazing African American Japanese enka singer, Jero, will be performing on the West Coast next month! Stay tuned for more info.

Speaking of info, Your Hip Hapa can think of few people who are more informative than Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. We originally met many moons ago as Contributing Editors at, Asian American Village. These days, Frances is still with the site as an Asian American Village Editor, but she also writes for numerous other publications. Check out the links below that appear in her standard email signature. Above is Frances smiling despite dozens of deadlines piling up on her. Asian American Village Editor

Ann Arbor Chinese Center of Michigan Outreach Coordinator

American Citizens for Justice Advisory Board

Adventures in Multicultural Living column at

Japanese American Citizens League, and more!





and so on...

Q: In your standard email signature, you list no less than 15 links to your work, with the addendum “and so on…”

How can you possibly stay on top of everything?

A:I don't sleep. Seriously. My alarm is set for 4:30 every morning, but often I wake up before the alarm, around 3, and try to get some work done before the kids wake up.

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I've been writing since seventh grade, really, funny little essays, writing contests, newspaper press releases for 4H, literary parodies for a college humor magazine. But officially, I have been writing for 17 years, since I lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, and worked in international development and for local English-language publications. Right before I left graduate school, a professor asked me, "Why are you in academics? You can write! The only reason other people are in academics is because they can't write." When I was recently reconsidering academics, another professor said the same thing again, "You are a writer! Why don't you write instead of going back to school?"

Q: Today, you not only write, but you’re also a popular public speaker. Did you always know what you wanted to do career-wise?

A: I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

I do love public speaking, though. I used to compete in public speaking in high school and college, and it is the single best skill that I have. If anyone needs a keynote speaker...

And I love to write, to research, to think about all these issues, and to create a little art with my words. It takes such ego, however, to say the words, "I am a writer." For years, I said, "I write essays." Then, "I am a writer and an editor" (which mitigates it somewhat). But to be "a writer" is really cool. I still can't believe it.

Q: Who are your parents, and how did they meet?

A: My parents were born in China, grew up in Taiwan, met in college, and came to the United States for graduate school, after which they married and stayed. Pretty standard pre-1965 immigration pattern. My dad is a retired electrical engineer (also pretty stereotypical), and my mom is a retired second grade teacher (even stricter than stereotypical Asian moms).

Q: Did growing up in Cali provide you with a culturally rich upbringing or was it because of your parents?

A: I do not think my parents had an intentional plan to give me a culturally rich upbringing, they just were who they were. We spoke Chinese and ate Chinese food. They had Chinese friends. When it came time to lecture me, the reference points were Confucian rather than American. But a lot of things were not explained to me, so I had to figure it out. I often felt like I was not Chinese enough for the Chinese, not American enough for the Americans, but I could never tell what I was doing wrong.

I also went to Catholic Schools, so I grew up with Italians, Irish, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, etc. Most of my friends were bilingual and bicultural, although we never talked about it.

As an adult, I have intentionally tried to fill in the gaps and learn more about my culture and other cultures, and I have taught my children the details so they know what they are supposed to do, how to read people/situations, and how to codeswitch cultures and create something new.

Q: Did you ever think you’d end up in an interracial marriage?

A: I did not intentionally seek out an interracial marriage, because I was brainwashed all my life that I should marry a Nice Chinese Boy. Only problem was that I was also brainwashed all my life that no Nice Chinese Boy would ever want me. I was too tall, too outspoken, too smart, spilled tea all over the table. Add on the effects of the mainstream media brainwashing me that the handsome prince is a tall white guy (with a geeky Asian manservant) and the demographic reality that there were not a lot of Asian American guys my age from which to choose, and so I ended up dating who I dated, marrying who I married. In the end, it is just the two of you, not your politics or your parents.

Sometimes I think it would be different if I did it again, that I would definitely marry Asian.(No, I don't have Tiger Woods Identity Issues. Really, I don't. I don't, I don't.) However, I think that the reality is that instead of simply overcoming the brainwashing against Asian male stereotypes, my eyes have opened to the beauty of men of all races and ethnicities--African American, Hispanic American, Native American, Arab American, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Northeast Asian, Pacific Islander, Southern and Eastern European--and most beautiful of all--hapa men.

Excuse me while I faint. There are a lot of beautiful men in this world.

My phone number is...

Q: Your Adventures in Multicultural Living column featured a very touching story about your children teaching your Chinese father about African American history. How do you envision the future for them especially since they’re multiethnic?

A: My kids are so cool, so much cooler than I ever will be. They’re Chinese, Greek, German, Scottish and English.

Because of the work that I do, they are well versed in multicultural issues and Asian American scholarship, and they read multicultural literature and media. When I drag them to seminars and documentaries at the university with me (for the food), they often get involved and answer the speakers' questions better than the graduate students. They understand what it means to be hapa, they have hapa friends, and they have hapa role models both local and famous. They are proud to be hapa.

We joke that they have self-esteem issues, too much self-esteem. They are going to conquer the world.


Wow. Is that just crazy-cool, or what? Thanks for sharing, Frances!

Parting is such sweet sorrow Hip Hapa Homeez, and Your Hip Hapa will miss connecting with you next week. But, just think, we’ll be pimping this blog with more bling for you. Please revisit us the week after next when we turn you on to The Bots, two musical blasian brothers on a mission. Until then, I am…

Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mixed Chick Lit Prized By Barbara Kingsolver

Hey, you Hip Hapa Homeez! Here’s a BIG UP for joining us on Facebook. Your love has helped move us towards getting our film, Watermelon Sushi, into production. For that, we send you our shout-outs. Remember, Watermelon Sushi is not just a movie—it’s a movement. Every single day, Your Hip Hapa gets messages from folks everywhere reciting stories about their multi-culti lives. Whether they are of mixed heritage, or have crossed cultures in some way, people are tearing down the racial barriers that have kept us from sharing for so long. Please keep on keepin’ on by joining our Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook where we post information affecting us and our agenda; and, the Watermelon Sushi Fan page where we keep you updated about the film. There are also t-shirts available at Hapa*Teez, and with every purchase you earn a rear crawl credit on the film.

As for this Watermelon Sushi World blog, Your Hip Hapa has big plans in the Year of the Metal Tiger. So, for now, we’ll be moving to an every-other-week publishing format. Next week, we’ll post an interview with another Hip Hapa Homee, but the one after that will be published on March 10. If you, or someone you know, would like to be profiled here, please drop a line to

Your Hip Hapa first met Heidi W. Durrow (pictured above) along with her partner, Fanshen Cox, in July 2007 as a guest on their half hour podcast called Mixed Chicks Chat. And, last year, Your Hip Hapa facilitated a panel about mixed race relationships at the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival also hosted by Heidi and Fanshen. Yesterday, Heidi’s highly anticipated book, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books), was released. Below, Heidi discusses the process of writing and publishing this important story about being multiracial.

That’s a pix of Heidi's book here. Below, she and Fanshen pose at the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. And, below that, her parents exchange vows on their wedding day.

For more information, check out Heidi’s website at:

Q: What's a nice multiethnic girl like you doing writing such an acclaimed work of fiction?

A: I’ve always wanted to write, and for a long time didn’t believe that it was worth writing because no one would be interested in a story about the Mixed experience. But when I gave up thinking about what “they” (agents, editors, literary journal editors) wanted, and decided to write what I wanted to read or wish I could have read; then, the writing started flowing.

The story, though, of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky was inspired by a real event that happened about 15 years ago. A family died in a terrible tragedy, but a miracle happened and the girl survived. I became haunted by what her survival might look like. I didn’t know anything about the girl but the barest facts of her biography. And so, I filled in what I knew--the story of a biracial and bicultural girl who suddenly discovers that her identity isn’t “American”, but a race.

Q: Had you written a novel before, and do you plan to write more?

A: This is my first novel. It took 12 years to write.

I’m working on some other book projects now, and I’m hoping they won’t take so long to complete.

My journey to publication was very long in part, I think, because I didn’t know how to get published. I was a journalist, and then a lawyer, and I thought if I just wrote then I would get published. But there are a lot of things that you need to do as a writer that are not writing. You need to cultivate mentors and advisors who can help you with recommendation letters. And, you need to get to know people (other writers and publishing professionals). Just like in any business, it’s easier to get published if you’ve met the editor. That’s not to say it’s the only way. My first publication, which appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, was a blind submission. The same story had been rejected by two-dozen other literary journals. I had a rule that I had to send out the story to two more journals for every rejection I received. I’m surprised I didn’t have more rejections in hand by the time I got the acceptance. The rejections were discouraging, but I also needed to keep pushing forward.

I found my agent through a connection with my mentor, writer Michael Pettit. He had judged a contest I won and took an interest in helping me with my career. He’s been a huge support and I’m terribly grateful to him.

I found my publisher, again, just by a blind submission. My book won the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change, an award created and funded by Barbara Kingsolver. Along with the prize came a contract for publication. Voila! You can bet I was excited when I got the call from Barbara Kingsolver that she had chosen my manuscript. It felt like magic--like I was an overnight success. But really, I had put many years of work into the manuscript. I got lucky that I found the one gatekeeper who said ‘yes’!

Q: Do you think that there's such a thing as a mixed-race genre for authors?

A: I think there are stories of the Mixed experience. I don’t know whether there is a mixed-race genre, but maybe there is. If so, I would call it the Creole Aesthetic. I chaired a panel on that at the Loving Conference--looking at the similarities between different types of art dealing with the Mixed experience. I’d love to have that discussion again.

Q: Will your book cross cultures?

A: Yes, I think so. At bottom, the book is about a young girl who’s trying to learn how to be a woman without her mother. She’s looking for role models; trying to figure out what kind of woman she’s going to become. I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Q: Are mixed people hungry for stories about themselves?

A: I can speak for myself and say ‘yes, I definitely am’. It’s one of the reasons, my partner Fanshen and I started the Mixed Roots Film & Literary It’s an opportunity for mixed people, mixed families, and people in mixed relationships of every stripe and sort to see themselves reflected in film and in readings and performance. We’re putting together the 3rd Annual Festival now. It’s set for June 12-13, 2010, at the Japanese American National Museum. And, it’s free! I just want to put in a little plug here: Please donate to help keep the Festival free. It’s a fiscally sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts and, your donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Donate on-line now!

Q: How did your parents meet?

A: My parents met in Germany in the 1960s. My father was in the Air Force and my mom (who is from Denmark) was working as an au pair to an American military family. They were married in Denmark because it was illegal for them to marry in South Carolina, where blacks and whites could not marry and, where my father was about to be stationed.

Q: How much are you affected by Danish culture?

A: My Danish family is my heart! I love them so much and they were such a big part of my growing up. My mom—the smart woman that she is—decided to raise us speaking Danish. We only spoke Danish with her and spoke English to our dad. Being Danish is such a huge part of my identity, even though I never went to school in Denmark or lived there for more than a few months. It’s just part of who I am.

Q: How did you become so involved with the mixed-race community?

A: I became involved in the mixed-race community because I felt isolated. It really did just start with my longing and need to talk to my friend Fanshen about these issues. We realized that every time we saw each other (which wasn’t much) we’d talk about these issues. We started the podcast, Mixed Chicks a way to connect more often. We didn’t really think that people would start to listen! The Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival was a natural outgrowth of that. We wanted to create a space for artists to share their work. We wanted to offer a forum for their stories.

Q: What has changed for mixed people since you two began your podcast and festival?

A: The fact that people who are not mixed simply say the word biracial--I think just that is a huge step. That is of course because of President Obama. Thank you, Mr. President! Because of the One Drop rule, people hadn’t even been allowed to think about mixed-race identity—the lines had been drawn. I think people are more likely to share information about their blended families or relationships now. And, I think mixed families are starting to look like families to outsiders. People aren’t trying to do the math of how the kids belong with the mom or dad. That’s the best. I think that’s progress.

Congratulations, Heidi! Here’s to good fortune with your book.

Remember, Hip Hapa Homeez, find us on Facebook and Twitter. And, don’t forget to write!

Your Hip Hapa,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mixed Arts, Mixed Marriage, And Riding The Metal Tiger

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Sun Neen Fai Lok!

HAPA Lunar New Year of the Metal Tiger, my Hip Hapa Homeez. Are you ready to ride the tiger yet? Grrrr, so are we! This Saturday, the planet celebrates Lunar Year 4708 so Your Hip Hapa thought it appropriate to feature painter, poet, author, newspaper arts editor and produce worker Alan Chong Lau. Every single year, no matter where in the world Your Hip Hapa calls home, Alan sends her a hand-painted Lunar New Year card from his Seattle digs.

That’s Alan with his grandmother in the photo here taken in 1955 in California, and below are three of his paintings. The first one, a self-portrait of him working at his produce job, appeared in his book Blues and Greens: A Produce Worker’s Journal. The second image is called Gods of the People and the third, Bittermelon Achieving Overripeness.

You can find out more about Alan’s artwork by going to the gallery link where Alan’s artwork is featured and clicking his name:

To learn more about his poetry and published work, drop us a line at, and Your Hip Hapa will hook you up with Alan.

Q: How did your family end up in California?

A: My father was originally from a small village in Guangdong Province in Southern China. He left his village as a young boy and lived in Hong Kong with a relative, eventually joining the merchant marines and sailing numerous times to the U.S. One day, he just decided to "jump ship" and when the ship docked for a few days in San Francisco, he got off and never returned. He became one of hundreds of illegal immigrants working the fields as a laborer in the Sacramento Valley. Eventually, he enlisted in the Army when World War II broke out and was granted a pardon for enlisting, becoming a naturalized citizen.

My mother is a second generation Chinese American who grew up in Stockton where her folks had a Chinese restaurant on El Dorado Street. Both of my parents are Haka Chinese. Eventually, my folks settled in Paradise California, which was then a small, conservative, mostly-white retirement community in the upper Sacramento Valley just at the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas--15 miles from Chico. My father often said, "I wanted to start a Chinese restaurant where there wouldn't be any competition."

Q: What was it like for you, a Chinese American, living in Japan?

A: Having an Asian face in an Asian country at first is totally liberating! To go from being a minority in the U.S. where it seems, at times, your every move and action is scrutinized and where you feel you have to explain yourself constantly to being part of the majority where you can just be yourself is initially an exhilarating feeling. But your cover is blown as soon as you open your mouth, or your body language gives you away. “Asian American” was a difficult concept for Japanese to fathom when I was there in the late 1960's to early 1970's. Right away, they try to relate to you by speaking of China; the older folks will speak of the wisdom of Chinese culture or the time they spent in the Japanese army in China during WWII. I lost count of the times I was serenaded by well-meaning old Japanese guys once the sake flowed freely with their rendition of "China Nights" (Shina No Yoru), a nostalgic old song that reminded them of their time spent in China. I think the younger Japanese understood more clearly when you said you were “Asian American”. The way Japanese feel about their place in Asia and their relationship to the U.S. is complicated and definitely colored by history and colonialism. I still remember once, in my morning English conversation class, when one of my students corrected me as I read out his name. He said, "Oh, that's my Japanese name. I am actually a Korean living in Japan." There was dead silence in the room from his fellow Japanese students. I mean, you could have heard a pin drop. Like I said, it’s complicated and something that is being worked out continually.

I spent six months hitchhiking around Japan in 1968-1969 during a leave of absence from San Francisco State University one semester. The second time I ended up in Japan was at the tail end of a trip that took me to Copenhagen to represent my family at my sister's wedding to a boy from Bangkok. They met at the Royal Hotel. He was a busboy and she was a maid. After the wedding, I just kept traveling overland across Europe, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and eventually landed back in Kyoto totally penniless. It was the early 1970's and I ended up staying for 3 1/2 years studying brush painting and meeting my wife Kazuko.

Q: How did you two meet? Were there any cultural clashes between your families?

A: The only jobs most foreigners can get are as English conversation teachers. A friend whom I met on the boat to Japan (my first trip was from San Francisco to Yokohama on a cruise ship) had gone to U.C. Santa Barbara and loved Bob Dylan, becoming a Japanese folksinger himself. He got me a job teaching beginning English conversation at Kyoto Unesco. Students would take the class at 7 a.m. before going off to their office jobs. My wife was one of those early morning students.

At the time, I did not speak much Japanese and her parents spoke no English and through that wall of non-communication, somehow we got along. The first time my mother met Kazuko, she told her, "If my mother were still alive, she would be shocked that her grandson married a Japanese woman like you." She was referring to my grandmother's very real hatred of the invading Japanese army who came to her village in China. She once told me about her memory of seeing a Japanese soldier bayonet a pregnant woman, which haunted her for years.

Q: Do you two eat mostly Japanese or Chinese, and who does the cooking?

A: A little of both and all of the rest, although since I am partially vegetarian (I eat fish once in a while), that limits what we eat at times. Kazuko does most of the cooking although at times it really comes down to who gets home first and who's the hungriest. I pick out the produce at work if I am not in a big hurry to go home.

Q: Is Chinese or Japanese spoken at home?

A: I would have to say we speak kind of a "baby" version of both languages. It's strange, but I can speak more Japanese than Chinese. But I think my comprehension of Chinese (in my own Haka dialect) is more thorough than my comprehension of Japanese. Plus, I probably speak Japanese like a girl since I learned it from my wife and some of my female students. So, sometimes Kazuko will say key words in Japanese and fit them into an English sentence or vice versa. Or, sometimes when we don't want to be overhead in a crowd, i.e., when riding the bus, I might say in Japanese, "Someone just cut a fart. Let's move to the back of the bus."

Q: How do you juggle so many careers—poetry, painting, editing the arts section of a newspaper, being a produce worker?

A: I guess my life is a jigsaw and every piece contributes something to make me whole. I am in awe of poetry and just amazed at the magic and power of words. Poetry in an oral sense may have been one of mankind's first utterances--feelings and emotions put to song, notes going out and up into an empty sky. Painting is something that to me is very immediate. You may not have a clear idea in your head, but you can just start splashing ink on paper and before you know it you follow where the painting takes you and wants you to go. I love that feeling when you can't totally control where the journey takes you. Growing up during the Asian American student movement left an indelible mark on my consciousness. I came away from that experience feeling that some part of what you do has to contribute to society and that you have to give back, if only to give thanks to those who came before you and paved the way. So, working on a non-profit community newspaper like the International Examiner is my way of contributing to that dialogue. Plus, I feel it's important to make sure that people realize the importance of the arts in society. And working in the community, in an Asian produce market, keeps you grounded and keeps you real. Plus, it's a great way to interact with and meet people as they go about one of their most important functions, shopping for food to eat.

Q: Any upcoming exhibits or readings?

A: Current and upcoming projects include the following: I have new work in a group show currently at Francine Seders gallery (which represents me locally) that celebrates the owner's birthday until February 14. I had a recent one-person show there in the fall of 2009. I’m writing poems in response to the work of sculptor Marc Wenet. I have also been asked by American poet Cralan Keldar, who lives in Amsterdam, to do the artwork for his first book of poetry due out later this year. And, my work is being considered for a group show on the theme of artists who live and work in the International District for the fall at Wing Luke Asian Museum. Finally, I have been invited to participate in a group project for Richard Hugo House next year where writers will be commissioned to write and read totally new work around the theme of "Born in the U.S.A."

Q: Every year, you hand paint Lunar New Year cards and send them to all your friends. What’s your inspiration?

A: I got that idea from living in Japan and just thought it was a nice way of keeping in touch with friends whom you may never see again or who live far away or that you don't get to see that often. It's my way of staying in touch and saying, "Hello, my friend! I am still thinking of you and wish you the best for the new year." I do around 300 and each card is hand-painted and it's labor intensive. Every year I say I gotta quit doing it, but I haven't yet. What am I going to do--send everyone a generic email card listing all the things I did in the past year? Plus, there are so many religious holidays that separate us or make us different, but "happy new year!" is a sentiment that has a universal commonality and I like that idea.

We like that idea, too, Alan. So, HAPA New Year Hip Hapa Homeez!

Here’s the usual spiel: Please join our Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook where we keep you posted about the latest news affecting blendies, mixies, transracial adoptees and interested parties. While you’re there, check out our Watermelon Sushi Fan page and sign up. This is where we keep you updated about our film’s progress. We also post dialogue from the Watermelon Sushi script on Twitter. If you’d like to participate, check out our Hapa*Teez t-shirts and earn a rear crawl credit on the film with your purchase.

In closing, here’s what Alan replied to our inquiry about his prediction for the Year of the Metal Tiger:

“Living in the moment is always a challenge. I do feel we can influence part of what happens by our actions, and other things we just have no control over.”


Your Hip Hapa,