Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ending Of A Year, Beginning Of A Dream

Aloha no, Hip Hapa Homeez!

With 2011 coming to a close, Your Hip Hapa is taking this opportunity to express her gratitude to all who have supported us throughout the years.

Although I started this blog in 2006, after only one post I immediately lost interest. It wasn’t until 2008 and the Year of the Earth Rat, that I began again and, on a nightly basis, wrote about being biracial. Nightly! What was I thinking? By the next month, I was only posting twice a week, but soon regulated myself to a weekly format to keep from boring you readers with my venting about multiethnic identity issues.

By 2010 and the Year of the Metal Tiger, I was posting bimonthly and, last year, finally went monthly.

Your Hip Hapa
At some point, I had nothing left to say about my multi-culti life, so I began interviewing some of you as my featured Hip Hapa Homee. I've never regretted it. Not only have I learned through your stories that we're more similar than different, but I’ve also enjoyed knowing you on a deeper level. Thank you for your willingness to share!

Tonight, I interview myself:

Q: Your Hip Hapa, who are your parents and how did they meet?

A: My Japanese mother met my African American soldier father while he was stationed in Japan. I lived in Tokyo until I was two; then, in segregated Texas before moving on to Germany and, finally, the Northwest. As an adult, I’ve resided in San Bruno, Pacific Grove, Santa Monica, Anchorage, Honolulu and St. Thomas USVI. I credit all that moving around and exposure to various people to my need for absolute diversity.

Q: What is Watermelon Sushi?

A: Watermelon Sushi began as a film, but has now grown into a movement. I first wrote the script about two Afro Asian sisters in 1997 and attempted to shoot it as an indie project in 1998. After a horrifying experience with an unscrupulous producer, I hired an editor to cut a trailer from the footage on hand (which wasn’t much) in hopes we’d raise enough money for a re-shoot. Over the years, we’ve buried this project in the closet, but it won’t stay put. People from all over the world have contacted me, begging me to remake this movie because, ultimately, it’s a story about clashing cultures, family matters, love and desire…in other words, about all of us.

Q: What are some of the other ancillary products that go with Watermelon Sushi?

A: Besides the film, we have a novel we hope to publish soon as well as a script for a staged musical. We’ve had a chapbook since 2000, and still print copies whenever we get requests for it. There’s a Watermelon Sushi vegan cookbook in the works—we’re hoping fans will send us their favorite recipes for watermelon, sushi, or both. Because there are some vegan characters in the film, the recipes need to be, too. We also plan to launch a package of paper dolls along with fashions featured in the film. Since the story takes place in the late 1980’s, there’s a hip-hop-glam-rock flava throughout. Think: “The Fresh Prince meets Prince”. Of course, the album soundtrack will go platinum, and we have several known musical artists--both old school rappers and Japanese enka singers--lined up for it.

Your Hip Hapa with enka singer Jero-san
Q: What else you got?

A: Well, we have this monthly blog where we promote other mixed-race people, those who are in interracial relationships, those who cross cultures, and/or those who are transracially adopted. If you scroll through some old posts, you’ll find a variety of amazing stories. Oh, and our “Official Cause” is Tyler Ransom, a multi-racial child with some health issues. He could really use our help so Watermelon Sushi will donate a percentage of its profits to him. Check him out here:

Tyler Ransom
Q: How can we help Watermelon Sushi get made?

A: Thank you for asking that! Wink, wink. The best way is to purchase a Hapa*Teez t-shirt at We make very little profit on these shirts, individually, so the more we sell the more likely we will raise the necessary funds to reshoot the movie. Right now, we have several international producers interested in joining us, but if we come to the table with some of our own money we can definitely make this production happen. And, by the way, each purchase earns a rear crawl credit. That means your name will appear onscreen at the end of the film. If you’ve already bought a Hapa*Teez, please make sure we have your correct name. Sometimes people make purchases with someone else’s credit card and we want to be sure that the right person gets the credit. Email us at Right now, during the holidays, it’s an excellent time to give your favorite hip hapa a Hapa*Teez. Remember, hapa simply means “half” in Hawai’ian pidgin, so you can be of any mix, or not mixed at all, to enjoy our shirts.
get your Hapa*Teez at Cafe Press

We’re also currently running an Ask My Cuz @Oprah campaign. Since Oprah is my kin, I’ve been tweeting about her several times a week. There’s a “twitition” that people can sign that we’ll eventually present to Oprah when our numbers reach in the thousands. Here are those links:

Finally, we would be thankful if you “like” any of the following Facebook pages:

Watermelon Sushi Fan Page

Hapa*Teez T-shirts Fan Page

Yayoi Lena Winfrey Fan Page

Ahem, apologies for that personal fan page, but I get so many Friend requests that I’ve been at the limit of 5,000 for a couple of years. I’m now attempting to make my Fan page my Profile page and transfer all my info to it so I can personally connect with more of you. I said, “attempting” so please give me some time.

We also have a Hip Hapa Homeez Group page where we discuss issues of interest to people who are mixed, transracially adopted, interracially involved or who cross cultures. You can request membership by going to that page on Facebook.

Of course, we’re on twitter and if you follow us, we’ll absolutely follow you back.

And, we’re also always on the lookout for more Associate Producers. Our AP’s are scattered around the world and keep us on alert for potential executive producers.

Jaz Dorsey
One of them is Nashville playwright Jaz Dorsey who has been instrumental in getting AAPEX (African American Playwrights Exchange) to recognize Your Hip Hapa. 

Here’s an award I recently received. Don’t let the applause scare you, and thank you to Dave Copeland:

Derrick Holmes
Our man in Tokyo, Derrick Holmes, is responsible for promotion and publicity of all our products. If you’re on any social networking site, chances are Derrick’s a member so drop him a friend request.
Andye AndinhaNiakan

Thanks also to Associate Producer, Andye AndinhaNiakan of Atlanta, who recently blogged this:

And, here’s a special shout-out to my long lost cousin Gregg Winfrey who has resurfaced to become an Associate Producer. Hey, cuz! got that direct line to the Big “O” yet?

Also, last year, Robert Taylor and I began broadcasting Sexy Voices of Hollywood, an Internet series of interviews with show biz celebrities. This is another means of support for Watermelon Sushi although we’re currently on hiatus.

Teri LaFlesh
Julia Baker

So many of you have been wonderful supporters and since I don’t have your permission to out you, I’ll only list those who’ve sent me photos for publication—except for Carol Sugihara who rocks! with her multiple purchases of Hapa*Teez. Thank you, too, to our perpetual poster girl Cassie, Eva, Teri LaFlesh, Julia Baker…and Robert Taylor for this:

Amina of Mixed Child, Arana of The Topaz Club, and the rest of you, please get your pictures in so we can post you here and on the Watermelon Sushi website.

Hip Hapa Homeez, we promise that 2012 and the Year of the Water Dragon beginning January 23 will make all our dreams come true. Best wishes for a HAPA holiday season and, until next year, I am and will always be

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Novel Novelist: Outsider Or In?

Word up, Hip Hapa Homeez! We at Watermelon Sushi World are so HAPA to call you our homeez. Because of your dedication, we’re moving towards getting our Watermelon Sushi film completed. One of the ways we’ve been doing that is by offering Hapa*Teez t-shirts to the mixed roots community. With every t-shirt purchase, you get us closer to our goal. And, you earn a rear crawl credit--your name will roll at the end of the movie.

Cassie as hip HAPA homee
When you do buy a t-shirt, please email us at with your correctly-spelled name. And, if you send us a digi photo of you wearing your t-shirt, we’ll showcase you on our Watermelon Sushi and Hapa*Teez fan pages on Facebook (like Cassie, here).

Hey, here’s a shout-out to Arana, The Topaz Club founder, for her recent purchase. Join The Topaz Club group page on Facebook where mixed-race women of African descent share their stories.

Speaking of stories, this week’s featured hip hapa homee is Dmitri Ragano who just completed his novel, Employee of the Year. Your Hip Hapa first met Dmitri after stumbling upon his interview with Japan enka star Jero. After corresponding for a while, we met in person--along with Dmitri’s beautiful wife and daughter. Below, Dmitri discusses his life and how he came to write a book about a multiracial character.

Q: Tell us about your parents.

A: I am a typical garden-variety white guy so I might be something of an anomaly in the Watermelon Sushi World. My mother came from an Irish German family and my father from an Italian family. They grew up blue-collar Catholic in Pittsburgh, then broke away from the church during the Vietnam War era. They gave me an exotic name that they liked from Russian literature.

Dmitri at AFI Fest
Q: How did the way you grow up affect your life?

A:  I grew up in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, a town on the edge of Pittsburgh that was predominantly African American. I had exposure to different cultures at a young age. I was often the only white guy in my elementary school class so there was exposure to art and popular culture that was different than my own. I remember very vividly when the early rap songs like "The Message" came out. That style of using rhythm and poetry to deal with real-world situations was a big influence on my fiction writing. Another influence was August Wilson, who broke onto the national scene when I was a teenager with plays about the African American experience in Pittsburgh.

During college in San Francisco, I went to Japan to study the language. For a while, I lived in a remote part of the country where I was the only foreigner in the town. The process of learning to communicate in a new language in a foreign country is slow, painful and humiliating. But once you get to the other side, the rewards are amazing. It unlocks certain parts of your brain and heart you didn't know existed. Charlemagne said, "To possess a second language is to possess a second soul."

So, the combination of these experiences created an openness and curiosity about other people's cultures. On the flip side, for better or for worse, it instilled this sense that I was an outsider and that it was sort of my destiny to go out and search to find my place in the world. Again, this is a theme with many characters in my book: they don't have a map for how to live their lives so they take scraps of maps they find along the way and try to piece them together.

Q: Were you accepted in every country where you’ve lived?

A: I have traveled to around 25 countries, but Japan is the only country outside the U.S. where I've lived. I lived in Japan several times for a total stay of about five years. It was a great experience, but you need to qualify the word "acceptance" when you talk about living in Japan as a foreigner. Japan is a very homogeneous and insular culture, and it's been that way for thousands of years. There's been no significant immigration in the whole recorded history. When you live in Japan, you live as a guest and you are treated with incredible kindness and hospitality. But like a guest in a hotel, you never really feel completely at home, you never expect to be completely accepted. You always feel like at some point you will overstay your welcome and have to leave. This is not everyone's experience, but I think it is a typical experience of most foreigners who live and work in Japan. The kanji characters for the word "gaijin" literally mean "outside person".

Q: Tell us about your interracial marriage and biracial child.

A: My wife and I met in San Francisco at a party held by these Japanese monks who lived by Haight and Fillmore. They would cook all this Buddhist vegetarian food and play reggae concerts in the basement. She was trying to learn English and I was trying to learn Japanese. We were friends for many years before we became romantically involved and decided to marry. 

Being from different cultures is challenging. You come at things from a different frame of reference. My wife's experiences being raised in Osaka are so dramatically different than what I knew growing up. The stories you tell yourself about who you are and how you should live are completely different. The good news is we love each other very deeply and share the same core values. But we've spent the early part of our lives learning to express the love and values in different ways. So it takes a long time to work this out.

For our daughter, I think this has pros and cons. She's exposed to a wide range of ideas and experiences and she knows we care about her more than anything. But I am sure sometimes it's got to be confusing for her compared to, say, having two parents who grew up in the same country with the same language, same culture and same socioeconomic background. 

Q: What motivated you to write Employee of the Year, about a mixed roots character in a multicultural workplace?

A: I think there are more young people growing up like my daughter, who are mixed roots and exposed to many different customs, values, languages and ways of life. Yet, I believe there is still a lack of stories in our popular culture that reflect this. So I felt there was an opportunity to write about characters that grow up straddling different racial and cultural experiences and how they negotiate their own identity. There's no tribal blueprint for the type of person they should try to become. It's a riddle they have to solve on their own. 
On top of that, my story is set in a big financial company in Los Angeles. In this city, on top of mixed roots experiences, you have mixed class experiences, interactions between people from different educational and economic backgrounds. These are all things we have so much trouble talking about in America. A company is a good setting for a story about this. In Los Angeles, the 1 percent and the 99 percent only set foot in the same zip code during working hours.
Dmitri channels Temo

Q: Is the main character, Cuauhtemoc McCarthy, based on your own personality and experiences?

A: In many ways, Temo is based on who I've tried to be. I've tried to be someone who retains a certain honesty and purity while being pragmatic about what it takes to survive and thrive in the modern world. Temo's job as a collections agent is to chase people down and convince them to pay their credit card debt. If he can't do this successfully, he loses the only way he knows how to support his wife and family. He feels ambivalent about this, just as most working people have mixed feelings about how they make a living.

Q: I first learned about you as a journalist from your interview with Jero. How does writing fiction differ from reporting?

A: The interview about Jero is a funny story about how lives and cultures intersect. My father worked for 30 years as a schoolteacher in inner-city neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. When my wife and I got engaged in 1998, we went back to Pittsburgh and visited my father's school. There was a woman from Peru who was teaching Japanese so we visited her class to talk about Japan. I remember there was a kid in the class who knew a little Japanese from his grandmother. For the next ten years, I had no contact with him, never thought about the visit to the school, et cetera. Then suddenly, in 2008, I was on a business trip in Peru and I saw something on the cable news about Jero, a guy from Pittsburgh who went to Japan and became a singing sensation. It turns out it was that same kid I'd visited at my father's high school! He remembered my father as one of his teachers. So, after leaving South America I had to go to Asia for business. My wife and I were in Japan and I decided to do an interview with Jero for the local Pittsburgh newspaper.

I think this is the best illustration of the difference between fiction and journalism. With fiction, you're taking the essence of the people and experiences from life and molding them into a narrative. With reporting, you end up discovering these real life connections and events that are so random and serendipitous that you couldn't make them up because no one would ever believe it. I mean, look at Obama. You couldn't write a fictional story about someone with his background becoming President of the United States. No one would find it plausible.

Your Hip Hapa with Jero in San Francisco
Thank you, Dmitri for sharing. Hip Hapa Homeez, you can buy a copy of Employee of the Year on Amazon or download it to Kindle for 99 cents.

Here are some of Dmitri’s feature articles:

Interview with Jero:

Interview with Howard Zinn:

Japanese cell phone culture:

And, books citing his journalism:

Andye deep in African Asian thoughts
Here's another shout-out; this one to Watermelon Sushi Associate Producer Andye AndinhaNiakan for this blog entry about Your Hip Hapa:

And, don’t forget, we’re still running our Ask My Cuz @Oprah campaign on twitter:

Until we cross ISP’s again, remember to fan us, follow us, or friend us, but please connect!

You can also request membership in the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook.

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Macs And Mestizos

Aloha Hip Hapa Homeez,

It’s a sad news day as we remember Steve Jobs and his monumental contributions to computer technology. I know that I, for one, am grateful for my iMac and MacBook Pro. It should be noted that technically (pun intended), Mr. Jobs was hapa as his biological father was of Syrian descent and his birth mother was Caucasian American. Add to it, the fact that he was also adopted; presumably by white Americans--making him a transracial adoptee.

In any case, Your Hip Hapa salutes the spirit that was (multiethnic identity or not) Steve Jobs.

This month’s featured Hip Hapa Homeez is James Daniel Lopez, a frequent contributor to the Facebook group Hip Hapa Homeez. Besides regularly posting interesting links to information and clips about multiethnic experiences, James often takes the initiative to respond to any group members who asks questions.

Along with these photos of James, please enjoy the Q&A below:

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

A: My parents, Luis and Diana, both came from Mexican-American families in Los Angeles. Ethnically, I identify as Mexican-American, Chicano, Latino, Hispanic/Hispano, American, and Mexican—altogether, and depending on the context I’m speaking of. But probably more than anything, I’m an American, both in the U.S. sense as well as simply being a citizen of the Americas. 

“Racially,” however, I identify as “mestizo” (mixed), or “mestizo-moreno” as a nod to Mexico’s African heritage (as well as my own). 

Q: How did you grow up?

A: I was raised for most of my life in South Central Los Angeles, which is where I still live. 

Q: How did you become so involved with multi-ethnic issues? 

A: That’s complicated, but I’ll try to answer as concisely as possible. I was informed at a young age, through my family as well as through history books at school, that being of Mexican heritage generally meant having a strong mixture of Spanish and Native American roots. But this was over-simplistic, as I found, upon doing my own research, that there were actually several ethnic roots that contributed significantly to the Mexican gene pool and culture, as well as Latin American culture as a whole. Also, as I got older, my phenotype began to change significantly, leading me to be visibly perceived by many people as having roots from various backgrounds, sometimes mistakenly so. 

And to top it all off, I was raised in an English-speaking household in an area of Los Angeles which had both a large Mexican-descended population and a large African-American population; because of this, I absorbed many cultural influences from the local African-Americans as well as my Mexican heritage and the cultural fabric of “Greater America.” 

Q: What propels you to be so active on the Hip Hapa Homeez Facebook group page?

A: I tend to gravitate towards various groups and websites that either study and/or celebrate mixed roots (both ancestral and cultural). I’m a fan of pluralism and multiculturalism in general, and as I celebrate these things and seek to understand them as a whole, I think its just fitting that I tend to align myself with organizations and individuals who do the same. 

Q: How do you see multi-ethnic communities evolving--are we all on the same page?

A: Well, I really think that depends on the context, mainly the specific society as well as the cultural climate of that particular society. Here in the U.S., I think there is a growing awareness of just how “mixed” America really is as well as an increasing appreciation for that mixture. I also think that the acceptance of mixed “racial” and multicultural self-identification is on the rise, but I still think we have a long way to go until it is fully accepted. 

Q: What do you feel is the biggest obstacle between multi-ethnic people and the so-called mono-racial community?

A: In the U.S., I think the biggest problem is that these communities don’t really understand each other. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 did A LOT of widespread damage to our social fabric, as it not only helped ensure that “mixed” marriages were illegal, but it also rendered mixed “racial”/ethnic heritages virtually invisible to many people in the United States. I think it is largely because of this that the idea of being of mixed ancestry and claiming an identity that refuses to choose or favor one of those ancestries in particular is virtually inconceivable to many individuals—sadly, this includes many people who are themselves of mixed ancestry. 

Q: Do you think that humans will move beyond racial, or even cultural, identification some day?

A: I really cannot say for certain. I think historically, in virtually any and every society, people have always found ways to divide and separate themselves from one another. But I also think that awareness and acceptance of multiple lineages is becoming much more prevalent today in many societies around the world. Also, as time progresses, we seem to be becoming global citizens (as opposed to simply national citizens), so anything is possible really. 

Mucho gracias, Senior Lopez, for your informative insight.

If our readers haven’t already done so, please join us at our Facebook group Hip Hapa Homeez where you can engage in meaningful dialogue about anything dealing with multi-ethnicity, transracial adoptions and crossing cultures. You can also “like” our Watermelon Sushi Fan page, which supports our Watermelon Sushi film. And, we have a Hapa*Teez t-shirt Fan page, too! The t-shirts, themselves, are available at Café Press.

And, we’re still running our Cousin Oprah Campaign via Twitter. Here’s the link to the HUB page and the "twitition".

Mad love and props to the folks at the African American Playwrights Exchange for bestowing the Trailblazers Award on Your Hip Hapa. Please support this great organization!

Until next month, I am and always will be

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hip, Hapa, Palooza!!!

What’s HAPA-nin’, Hip Hapa Homeez?

If you’re a supporter of great causes, here’s one for you. We’ve just created a HUB page for our Watermelon Sushi film with links to a “twitition” via Twitter to get Your Hip Hapa’s cousin Oprah to executive produce our movie. Although we’d still like to make Watermelon Sushi an indie flick, we need production dollars. And, Oprah--with her big heart and sharp eye for charitable missions--can make that happen. So, please, take a moment to check out these links:

Hey, can you believe that Hapa-palooza is finally here? 

While it’s the first one, we do hope to see many more in the future. Vancouver British Columbia is hosting, and there couldn’t be a better place for spotlighting diversity. We’ve always loved that city for its international flavor and focus on the arts. If you’re attending the festival, drop us a line at We plan to stop by this weekend, so maybe we can connect with you there!

Meanwhile, enjoy these interviews with two of Canada’s hippest hapas. Anna Ling Kaye is the co-founder of Hapa-palooza while Rema Tavares blogs about being mixed in Canada. 

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

A: My mother is Taiwanese, and my father Jewish-American. They met in Taipei, at a time when most Taiwanese associated Americans with U.S. Marines and G.I.’s. Her family was not amused by their union. Nor were they any happier to find out he was not a G.I., rather an anti-establishment quasi-hippy. Many of Mom's immediate family wouldn't speak to her for years afterwards: one of her sisters didn't talk to her for 8 years. My father's side, however, was thrilled. To this day, they can't get enough of Mom's Chinese cooking!

Q: Where did you grow up, and what was your upbringing like?

A: I was brought up bi-lingual, mostly as an American in Asia. Most of my childhood was spent in Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong and more), where I was considered a foreigner anyway. In 1997, I had a high school "year abroad" in New Jersey. This was the year that Time Magazine came out with the cover of the "Future Face of America", an amalgamation of the average demographic of the U.S. I was so excited. I did a directed reading that resulted in a paper about mixed culture. That was pretty much the biggest project I did about being mixed until the idea for Hapa-palooza came around.

Q: How did it come around?

A: Todd Wong organized a "Gung Hapa Fat Choy" banquet as part of his Gung Haggis Fat Choy series. I met Jeff Chiba Stearns and a number of other mixed movers and shakers, and we decided to get a festival going for Vancouver's 125th anniversary. The Asian Canadian Writer's Workshop, which Todd and I sit on the board of, voted to submit a formal grant application for the festival. We feel very honoured and stoked that the City of Vancouver thought this was a good way to demonstrate it's 125th anniversary!  

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this event?

A: My biggest hope is to build community and provide role models for the next generation of mixed kids. No matter what one's roots are, I hope Hapa-palooza will provide some tools or ideas for how to honor and express one's identity. I also hope everyone who comes to the event has a great time!

Q: What will be some of the highlights of the festival?

A: Every event at Hapa-palooza is pretty exciting to me! The Sir James Douglas Mix-a-lot Cabaret is a gathering of incredibly talented and interesting artists in an intimate space, including butoh dance from Kokoro Dance and First Nations hiphop from the gals at First Ladies Crew. The reading panel featuring award-winning writer Fred Wah is looking to be very popular. Jeff Chiba Stearns is putting together an incredible film night and actors' panel. And the piece de resistance is, of course, September 10th, when we have two music stages (one of which is an 18-and-under performer stage), an interactive art exhibition, and a community fair. Full details are up at

Q: Do you feel that mixed-race issues in Canada are similar to, or different from, those elsewhere in the world?

A: It is certainly significant to us that Hapa-palooza is a festival funded by a City of Vancouver 125th anniversary grant. This speaks to an atmosphere of respect and honour towards people who identify as mixed-race, which is really significant to many of us. Many of the artists we've contacted have responded with relief ("finally, a festival of one's own!") or disbelief ("about time!") or amusement ("it's the first time I've been asked to play in a festival because I'm mixed!").

Q: What will future Hapa-paloozas be like?

A: The seeds of what will happen are already sown. We are more tapped into the international network of mixed communities now, and this is something that is only going to grow. Our current goal is to have Hapa-palooza be an annual event in Vancouver, but we are also open to what the community demands of us. It might be that the festival needs to occur nationally or internationally. It's going to be exciting to see who comes to the festival this week, and it will be beautiful to see all these amazing artists and community organizers connected.

Thank you, Anna. And, now, let’s hear from Rema.

Rema Tavares 
Q: What was it like being mixed in Ottawa?

A: My father is of African and Sephardi Jewish descent from Jamaica. Just for some background, the Sephardi Jews come from Spain/Portugal (hence my Portuguese last name) and have been in Jamaica since the early 1500’s. My mother, on the other hand, is mostly Irish Canadian, but also has some Italian and English roots.

Growing up mixed in Ottawa was a strange experience for me. I started out in a very small, homogenous town of roughly 1,000 people just outside of the city, and often felt disconnected from the community. While I wasn't mature enough to fully understand the various factors that played into that disconnect, I recall being very aware that I was the only one of "my kind", whatever that was. When I was older and moved into the city, I was disappointed to find that I didn't really find the haven of belonging that I thought I would. It was a painful realization for me that none of my various "parts" really saw me as a member of their community.

I now live in Toronto, one of the most multiracial cities in the world, and still find myself having trouble with what it means to be mixed at times. This is what motivated me to create Mixed in Canada, so that other mixed people across Canada could have a place to call "home". This has been a very rewarding experience for me, and I have never been more proud to be mixed.

Q: Are you attending Hapa-palooza?

A: Sure am!

Q: What do you feel you’ll gain from it?

A: As far as I am aware, this is the first mixed-race-themed event in Canada, so it is important for me that I attend and support it in any way I can. Race is an extremely delicate subject in Canada, as many Canadians are very wary of offending others and, therefore, generally avoid the subject. While I have always appreciated how sensitive Canadians can be, it also means that a lot of important conversations aren't had, and we all lose from the lack of communication. Along those lines, the Canadian mixed-race community is growing exponentially and needs to have a voice. Fortunately, Hapa-palooza is bringing the mixed-race experience front and center in a very positive way, providing an outlet for that voice. It is my hope that along with Mixed in Canada and other such platforms, this event will create a safe space for constructive dialogue about what it means to be multi-racial in Canada, as it has never been more relevant.

Here are Rema’s links:
Twitter: @Mixed_Me_CA

Oh, you clever Canadians, you!

Remember, Hip Hapa Homeez, read our HUB post and sign our “twitition” to get Oprah onboard with Watermelon Sushi. You can also "like" our Watermelon Sushi and Hapa*Teez fan pages on Facebook and join our Hip Hapa Homeez group page where we enjoy the deepest discussions about multi-ethnic, transracially adopted, interracially coupled and cross-cultural communities. Don’t miss out; join us today.

Until we meet at Hip Hapa-palooza, I am

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Shaking It Forward—All The Way To Japan!

Aloha Hip Hapa Homeez,

Mahalo nui loa for your continuing support. Over at our Facebook group page, postings about multiethnic, transracial adoptee, interracially-paired and cultural-crossing folks are coming in strong. If you haven’t already done so, join us and get with the groove. Just go to the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook, and request to be added as a member. Get in the mix, mixies!

For those of you wanting to become involved with our Watermelon Sushi film, or other multi-culti projects, HHH was created just for you. This is the intersection where we meet and present our stories of being mixed-race, adopted transracially, involved interracially, or how we enjoy crossing cultures. There, we share our experiences with like-minded homeez who are hip and hapa(anyone half or who supports the half agenda is hapa to us).

One person who’s been active on the Hip Hapa Homeez group page is Edward Sumoto who also happens to be active in Japan where he lives. In April, Your Hip Hapa met Edward in the flesh at the Hapa Japan Conference in Berkeley. This month, Edward is hosting a mixed roots get together in Osaka.

Check out the photos below:

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

Edward w/Japanese-Algerian wife Takara Kenza

A: It’s a classic mixed-up story of hafu, but this one is more special than most. My Japanese mom went to Spain to get her PhD, a rare thing to do back then. She happened to be in Paris, and my Venezuelan dad happened to be there as well. Then, both were on the same plane to Venezuela. Voila!

Q: How did you grow up; was it difficult being accepted?

A: I grew up in Japan. Things led to me being raised by my mom and grandma. This meant I had some Spanish upbringing, but also good exposure to Japanese. I probably wouldn't have attained the same level of fluency without my grandma. Due to the pre-1985 laws and certain bureaucratic details, I never had a Japanese passport. My mom thought the best thing for my future would be to enroll me in an international school, no easy feat considering the tuition.

Thanks to this, I was able to attain fluency in English. I grew up in public apartment areas, so you could say the area was quite Japanese, but very unlike usual local communities. Festivals (matsuri) existed, but no local temples and shrines. Combined with the school and local environment, it sort of led me to grow up believing that I would end up in another country. In other words, there was ample detachment to ignore wider acceptance of myself in Japanese society. Besides, my language ability and looks meant that few noticed I was mixed.

public forum, Kobe Japan
Q: When did you create Mixed Roots Japan and how does it help mixed people in Japan?

A: I created it in 2006. This was a direct result of the sudden proliferation of the Japanese SNS site Mixi. After spending a few years abroad for school and work, I returned and Mixi happened. Suddenly, all sorts of mixed people were online forming communities. It was an enlightening moment for a lot of us, leading to the discovery of comrades, but also a time of self-reckoning. We were unsure of how to group ourselves or even what to call ourselves. In my group, we invented the term "Mixed Roots" to incorporate all the various mixed heritage people in Japan including hafu, quarter, zainichi, mixed indigenous, etc.

Mixed Roots concert event
The group was first meant to be a place for mixed people to connect, but it soon started to collaborate with single moms with mixed kids and families in general in the spirit of exchanging information and allowing kids to find those who they could relate to. To parents, we were great sources of finding out what their kids might be feeling. We soon added the element of art and music as a means to express our identities and to promote social dialogue. Volunteerism and charity events also became a cornerstone.

This actually roots in my school days, when I helped establish Kansai International School Service (KISS) as a volunteer organization for various schools in Kobe. It was originally founded by my predecessors in high school as a means to connect to local community and Japanese our age since we were so isolated and detached. I made it an official volunteer organization, and we began to do events together with foreigner schools, public schools, and other international schools.

The group still continues based in Kobe. It is also an extension of another group that has supported cultural exchange in English for the blind in the Kansai area for the past 15 years.

Q: What’s your radio show about?

MixedRootsRadio, FMYY
A: We broadcast on the fourth and fifth Saturday of each month from FMYY, a community radio station in Nagata, Kobe. The area completely burnt down in the 1995 earthquake. In the aftermath, the very multicultural locals got together to avoid confusion and disseminate timely information. 

The area residents included Koreans, nationality-less Vietnamese refugees, and many others. Now the station broadcasts in 10 languages and also became the birthplace of many foreigner self-help groups to assist their own people in their own language, offer heritage language courses, and protect children from dropping out. 

The Takatori Community Centre has become a model for like activities all over Japan and in Tohoku after March 11, 2011. You can also hear the show online via SimulRadio or our homepage. The programme features interviews of mixed activists, researchers and local government, and good music.

Q: What is Shake Forward!?

A: Shake Forward! is our flagship event. It takes place each year in Kansai (West Japan) and Tokyo/Kawasaki area and features a charity concert with mixed heritage artists, a youth expression workshop (usually musicians or researchers working together to produce something like music or theatre with local mixed youth) and a symposium or academic forum. 

This weekend on the 6th and 7th, we will have our Osaka event. From this year onwards, we will be concentrating on the academic forum so as to make a more solid analytical basis for mixed roots issues in Japan to advise domestic policy on multicultural society modeling. We will partner with USC (Duncan Williams) to try to have academic conferences in both the U.S. and Japan to share cases and experiences. Professor Velina Houston will also join us this year and conduct the youth workshop with a theatre element. 

Looking forward to it!

Q: What did you take away from the Hapa Japan Conference in Berkeley?

A: The experiences and cases from the U.S. are very, very different, even for mixed Japanese individuals. Nonetheless, various parallels can be found, and it was encouraging that there were both older more established researchers and younger professionals. I felt that this was an important vision of the future for Japanese social research. It has motivated me to further my efforts to establish a critical mixed roots research body in Japan. The result? We'll have our first Mixed Roots Academic Forum on the 7th of August where both Duncan and Velina will be joining us. They are just a few of the great connections we made in California. It was also great to meet people our age doing great things like Ken Tanabe of Loving Day and Athena Asklipiadis of Mixed Marrow, and so many others!

Q: What are some details of the Osaka conference?

A: August 6th will be a greater attempt by us to engage the public as a whole. We've kept the for-charge concert to a minimum and at a family friendly time from 1800 (6:00 p.m.), but before that, we will have a public radio show right in the middle of the tourist district in Osaka. We will be talking about multiculturalism, disaster response, the lessons from 1995 and 2011. The evening concert is a fun event in a gallery cafe. 3,000 yen gets you food, 2 drinks, and donation to the Great East Japan Earthquake victims!

On the 7th, we have a day-long academic forum hosted by Osaka University at their Toyonaka campus. We will feature presentations by a very diverse mix of professors and researchers from all over Japan.

Topics will include the history of "hafu" in Japan and its social implications, bilingualism and identity formation, raising mixed children, cases experiences by hafu, etc. 

More information is on our site:

And, on the Osaka University website:

Also, feel free to contact me about my group and activities at

Ganbatte kudasai and good luck, Edward.

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