Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Between

Greetings, my Hip Hapa Homeez! Welcome back to Watermelon Sushi World, dude.

While the majority of interviews posted on this blog involve biracial people, we also like to include stories of transracial adoptees and those who promote crossing cultures. In other words, we are all about mixing it up.

Like multiethnic folks, this week's guest has also experienced a sense of not belonging. But instead of ethnicity causing her discomfort, it’s generational. Pei Ju Chou considers herself “in between” two generations. Among Asian Americans, those who arrive in the U.S. from another country are referred to as being “first generation”. Their children who are born here are called “second generation”. But, sometimes, families migrate to America after their children have been born and raised in their birth countries. Those kids arrive in the U.S. steeped in their original country's culture and speaking English with accents because their first language was that of their parents. For them, developing a new identity is a complicated process. And, the older they are when they move here, the more adjustments they must make to fit in.

Below, Pei Ju Chou explains what she means by the term “1.5 generation” and the documentary film, Stuck on the Boat, she made about the subject. That's the filmmaker in the photo, below.

Q: What's a nice “1.5 generation” girl like you doing making a documentary about the “1.5” generation experience?

A: I wanted to provide some sort of explanation, or even affirmation, to other struggling “1.5 generation” kids. Growing up, it was always tough for me to find a place to fit in. I was never quite "American" enough to my friends in the U.S., but in the eyes of Taiwanese people, I was too American. What is this identity of being “in between”? What the hell am I then? That was the question I would ask myself everyday when I looked in the mirror during high school. Through talking to a few friends while going to the University of Washington, I started to notice a pattern of experiences for people like me. It was a shared pain and a shared confusion. And, there was my inspiration. I wanted to share this collective voice and experience with others who did not understand. I wanted to use this documentary almost as a shout-out to those other “1.5 generation” kids out there and say to them, "Hey, it's alright to be stuck in between...We are the ‘1.5 generation’ and proud of it!"

Q: Who are your parents and how did you grow up?  

A: My parents are both Taiwanese. I was born and raised in Taiwan until I was 10-years old. It’s kind of funny to think about it. I remember when I was eight, I found out I had a whole bunch of aunties and cousins that lived in the U.S. I remember asking my dad, "We have American relatives?!" After that, we flew over for a few visits over the next couple of years. Finally, my dad decided to move us all there. Both he and my mom believed that it would give my brother and me better educations and better opportunities. That's my grandmother, mother and me above. And, in the photo below, I'm with my father.

Q: Why do you refer to yourself as “1.5”?

A: I wasn't born in the U.S. so I'm not considered second generation. But I'm not quite like my parents--they were born and raised completely in Taiwan and are first generation. So, I felt like I was stuck in-between just like the title of my documentary, Stuck on the Boat. The boat has arrived in America, but the people are still stuck on it. I wanted to be proud of this uncertain identity, and I am comfortable with who I am. The “1.5 generation” is a title I have chosen to claim as a form of empowerment and statement of who I am. Here I am with my brother and cousins in the picture below.

Q: There are mixed-race people, people who are first generation, and people who cross cultures that all experience isolation. What makes it so difficult to be “1.5”?

A: I believe in “intersectionality”. We all come from different backgrounds. All of those specific backgrounds make our experiences as a group unique, and we have our own struggles and difficulties. The “1.5 generation’s” struggle is different in the way that we were once accepted by our home country, and all of a sudden we went from the "in-crowd" to being an "outcast". It is this shift that makes it difficult for most people to accept. Think about it; you grow up thinking and knowing you are one thing, and one move within a short period of time shifts the whole reality around. What you think you know is no longer valid or true. You're kind of stuck in this third space--what I call "cultural limbo"--where you don't really know how to be nor act. It's a tough place to be. I think a lot of mixed-race people and those who cross cultures can resonate with this "limbo" experience one way or another. Like I said, each group has a unique place in society that makes all our experiences different. We all struggle. I'm not saying anyone is struggling more or less. It's a matter of sharing and understanding these pains.

Q: Who were some of your interviewees?

A: Most of them were my personal friends who agreed to share their stories after I told them about what I was doing. Most of them were happy to learn about the “1.5 generation” as a term, and happy to be able to identify themselves as part of that group. 

Among them, Areum Chong, with me below left, was the girl who first told me about “1.5 generation”. She and I shared very similar backgrounds. She moved here from Korea when she was 14, and grew up in Olympia with her aunt and uncle. She told me how the “1.5 generation” was a special generation. She said that we are the only ones that can still absorb the best of both worlds. We have a foundation in our roots because we grew up in Asia, and we learned to absorb western concepts as we grew up in America.

Another interviewee I had was actually born here, but he felt so strongly connected with his Asian roots he personally requested to be part of the documentary. This was how Derrick convinced me: He said, "It's not necessarily 1 is 1, 2 is 2. The 1.5 is everything in between as a matter of a continuum. It is also about a shared experience that makes a person 1.5." Even though Derrick was born in the U.S., he always felt like an outcast at school and among his peers. This is the experience that convinced me to interview him. That’s me with Derrick below.

Q: What is the most significant thing you learned from making this film?

A: We all have some form of struggle to belong somewhere growing up whether we're part of the “1.5 generation” or not. But it’s really what’s in your mind that makes you or breaks you. One common pattern that kept recurring when I was making this film was how the interviewees all said something about "acceptance". There will always be this uncertainty with our identities, and there will always be a struggle between our American peers and our Asian parents. Eventually, we just get used to it and accept it as what it is. It's about embracing ambiguity and being comfortable with who we are. I really hope this theme will resonate with other “non-1.5 generation-ers”. It's about embracing our identity and finding our places.

Q: What are your future plans with Stuck on the Boat?

A: I haven't thought all that much about it. I just want to move forward and capture more genuine Asian American experiences on film and share them with the world. Like my tagline on Pookii (my blog), I want to depict Asian America one story at a time. I’m finishing up my next film about my family restaurant experience, which I think will be a more upbeat and fun documentary. I just hope my “1.5 generation” film has made a difference to someone out there, even if it's just one person.

Thank you, Pei, for enlightening us about “1.5 generation”.

Below are Pei’s links:

And that, Hip Hapa Homeez, is going to be it until January 2011. Your Hip Hapa is taking the next month off to reorganize and regroup. We’ve got multiple projects in development, so please stay tuned to learn more about them.

Please “like” our Watermelon Sushi Fan page on Facebook to keep up with the latest on our film. You can also support us by buying a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, like the one worn by Cassie, below. Besides showing us love, you’ll also earn a rear crawl credit. Just make sure we have the correct spelling of your name once you make your purchase. While you’re on Facebook, please join our Hip Hapa Homeez Group page where we post news of interest to our multi-culti community. You can also follow our sporadic tweets on Twitter.

Along with partner Robert L. Taylor, Your Hip Hapa now hosts a biweekly YouTube show called Sexy Voices Of Hollywood. You can follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and watch the Event page to stay up to date.

Until January 5, I will still be…

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Being Blended

Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez! Many, many thanks for your unending support.

One of the best ways to keep our multiethnic agenda alive and on the table is by joining and supporting organizations that represent us. Unlike a biweekly blog with its limited reach, these specialized groups can often spotlight our particular issues and educate people en mass. In the Q&A below, one of the founders of BPA (Blended People of America)—Chris--discusses how that group nurtures and upholds our multicultural and mixed-race existences.

Q: What was the motivation for creating the BPA website?

A: BPA was founded by a group of five people. We initially created the site to fulfill a gap in informative news directed towards the mixed-race and/or multiracial, multicultural audience in the United States. Later on, we added a blogging section where everyday people can share their own experiences or discuss topics of any kind related to the mixed-race and/or multiracial, multicultural experience. This blogging section, which we now call Chameleon, serves to connect people with a more realistic approach from opinion writers throughout the community.

Q: Please share the ethnic backgrounds of your staff.

A: The main founders of the site are Jenn, Joe, Shaka, Chris and Reisling. Jenn and Shaka are both a mixture of black and white. Jenn has strong family roots in the United States with her ancestry being based here from way back in the Colonial period. Shaka's father is African American and his mother is of white German descent. Joe is Eurasian (white and Asian mix) with roots from here as well as in China. Reisling is blasian (black and Asian mix) with strong cultural roots here, but also elsewhere. Her father is of Caribbean descent while her mother is of Chinese/Mongolian descent. Chris is a tri-racial mix of white, Asian, and black with roots not only here but also that of the Caribbean, Philippines, China, England, Spain and Scotland.

Q: What have you discovered about your contributors and readers that has really surprised you, disappointed you, or moved you in some way?

A: I'm sure your readers are accustomed to reading about surprises. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case for us. When we created the site, we knew there could be reactions of all sorts due to the nature of it. After all, topics centering on mixed-race matters are still considered somewhat sensitive by the general public. With that said, we've received all sorts of reactions from our readers and contributors--some more "elegant" than others. Overall, the reaction to the site since we launched in late 2009 has been fantastic. We continue to make gains in our readers, traffic, and overall support. There isn't anything like having an email forwarded to you from a high school freshman thanking your organization for creating a website that not only informs and allows people of mixed races and multicultural backgrounds to interact, but is also there to support and enrich their own personal experience.

Q: Your site says "...of America", but it appears you have a broader audience. Are mixed-race issues fundamentally different or the same worldwide?

A: Though there are similarities globally, ultimately mixed-race issues are unique in each country. Of course, some countries are more similar than others in the issues they face. Take for example, the United States and the U.K. In this example, it's no surprise that BPA gets a lot of contributors and readers from the U.K. On the other hand, there are many cases where situations are very different--the U.S. and Brazil, for example.

Q: In your opinion, are things changing for blended people? Is humanity evolving to the point where we will no longer need to identify ourselves by ethnic group some day?

A: Overall, yes they are positively changing for blended people. Just a while back in the 1990's, it was almost taboo for some people to discuss or share their experiences as a mixed-race person in America, especially those mixed with black to some degree. These days, it's like a walk in the park in many places. Regardless, there are still many obstacles that mixed-race Americans need to overcome--much of which is highly attributed to the uniqueness we face.

Q: What are some future plans for the site?

A: At this time, we are satisfied with how things continue to unfold. At some point, however, we would like to expand upon it in many different ways beyond informative news content or opinion blogs. We continue to create partnerships with others in the community adept in a number of skills, from radio to podcasting and so on. It's our goal to, hopefully, be a premier provider of rich content and media to the mixed-race and multicultural community in the United States.  

Thank you, Chris and Blended People of America!

Remember, dear readers, when you buy a Hapa Teez t-shirt, you support our Watermelon Sushi film. You also get a rear crawl credit, so please drop us an email after your purchase so that we can spell your name right. You can also follow Watermelon Sushi on Twitter and “like” our Watermelon Sushi fan page on Facebook to stay updated about the latest on the film. And, join our Hip Hapa Homeez group page for more blended and mixed news. Finally, Watermelon Sushi producer Robert Taylor and Your Hip Hapa have recently launched a new YouTube show called Sexy Voices Of Hollywood. Check us out:

‘til we touch in cyberspace again, please stay hip, my hapa homeez!

Your Hip Hapa,