Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Flipping It

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

Seven years ago when Your Hip Hapa began this blog, there weren’t a lot of mixed race groups and organizations out there, let alone individuals writing books, making films or creating clothing exclaiming multi-cultural pride. Today, everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon simply because there are so many of us now.
alone no more...

And, isn’t that amazingly wonderful? Those of us old pioneers of the mixed-race movement can now be HAPA that we have so much company.

Below is our interview with Leslie V. Ryan, author of I am Flippish! all about a Filipino and Irish boy.

I am Flippish!
Q: Leslie, how did your parents meet?

A: My parents are both Filipinos. My mom has some Spanish and my dad is 1/8 Chinese. My dad met my mom at a picnic in her hometown. He was invited by a coworker to go to a party and saw my mom. He courted her the old fashioned way. She was 16 at that time and he was 23. Things were different in those days. They got married a year later. She was 17. They were married for 48 years until my dad passed away 8 years ago.  

Q: How did you grow up?

A: My dad was a diplomat for the Philippine government so I was blessed to have lived in Japan, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. I was born in Japan and my first languages were Japanese and English. My parents and older brothers spoke fluent Japanese. My parents believed in immersing themselves in their host country so after living there for 12 years, they were trilingual and fluent in Tagalog, English and Japanese. Then, we moved back to the Philippines when I was five-years old and I didn’t speak one word of Tagalog. I had a tough time at school because everybody spoke Tagalog and all I knew was English and Japanese. Kids were mean, but I somehow survived and learned how to speak Tagalog. I lived in the Philippines until I was eleven-years old and then we moved to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

every color of the rainbow...
I went to an international school in Port Moresby. It was an incredible experience to be in a school that is represented by every color of the rainbow. Our school celebrated International Day and embraced each other’s cultures. The expat and diplomatic community placed a lot of emphasis in showcasing each other’s cultures so I took part in learning how to dance the traditional Filipino dances. I made friends who were from different parts of the world--Jordan, New Zealand, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), China, Korea and Scotland, just to name a few. There was a significant amount of mixed-race students at my school in the 80‘s and, from what I remember, it was really no big deal and there were no issues about it. Maybe I was not aware of any conflicts, but my classmates and I thought being mixed was cool because they had the best of both worlds. That’s why when I came to the U.S., I saw that there seemed to be more of an issue being mixed here than in a Third World country like Papua New Guinea.  

global citizens of I am Flippish!
Growing up in different countries, along with my parents’ encouragement to learn about the diverse cultures around me, molded me to be a global citizen. I want my children to grow up as global citizens, too.  

Q: What compelled you to study Japanese?

A: There are two reasons why I wanted to study Japanese in college: One, I forgot how to speak Japanese because I never got to use it after I moved to the Philippines so I wanted to learn it again; and, two, I wanted to study law and work in Japan. Unfortunately I didn’t go to law school and went to work instead after graduation.  

Q: What motivated you to write I am Flippish!?

A: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2006 and by March of 2007, had gone through a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, reconstruction and two rounds of chemotherapy. I was bald as an eagle, ultra sensitive, emotional and vulnerable. The hot flashes and being pumped up with all kinds of medication didn’t help my demeanor either. My son Sean was 5 and my daughter Linley was 2 then. Sean was excited to wear a hat that said “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” to the school’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but a mom spoiled that moment when she told him to take the hat off because he didn’t look Irish and couldn’t be Irish. The woman said it in a joking manner (backhanded racism) yet I was hurt and insulted by her comment. She was a friend who knew my husband is Irish. I didn’t show my son how upset I was. However, Sean asked me if he was Irish and I said yes, he was fifty-fifty--half Filipino and half Irish. Then I had an “aha” moment and explained that he’s "Flippish" and got the best parts from me and my husband, that’s why he looks that way. Sean got it. The name stuck. Sadly, that was the first and last time he wore that hat.
a Flippish family
After the incident, I decided to augment my son’s education about his dual heritage. I began looking for children’s picture books about multicultural families at major bookstores. I found a couple of books that used animals that morphed together as a roundabout way to explain to kids about being mixed. It wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted a book that talked about race and ancestry not a dog getting together with a horse and becoming a "dorse". How can my son relate to animals? I wanted to face the issue head on and not use animals to explain to my son about his dual heritage. I wanted to talk about real people dealing with real issues. Frustrated, angry and still feeling sensitive and hurt, I decided to toss the drama and channel my anger by doing something to fill this vacant niche. I initially wrote the story for my children with no intention to publish it. However, when I shared my story with a few friends who have biracial children, they loved the way the story explained to their kids about their diverse heritage and told me that it will be a shame to keep the story to myself and that there was a need for stories like I am Flippish! to help multiracial families all over the world. I never aspired to be a writer, but now I have lots to say and it’s hard to stop.  
Q: How has your book helped children?
A: My book has helped children from all ethnicities--mixed or not mixed. I have received wonderful comments from parents who interpreted my book in different ways. I am going to classify them into two categories.

1. Mixed-race families:
I have had parents who thanked me for finding a positive way to explain to their children about their mixed heritage. They also loved how my book showed their kids to confidently reply to dumb questions such as, “How come you don’t look like your mom/dad?” It instills pride in their mixed heritage and thus, shuts down the questioner. Sometimes the person who asks the question ends up figuring out where their ancestors came from.

Mixed-race adults who read my book told me that they wished they had a book like I am Flippish! when they were growing up because they had a lot of issues with their racial identity of not belonging to one ethnic group. They never realized that if they embraced all of their countries of ancestry and didn’t have to choose one ethnic group to identify themselves, they would have grown up to be proud of their multicultural heritage. Instead, they grew up trying to belong in one group and resenting or being ashamed of their other heritage. My illustrator is half Native American Indian and Mexican. He grew up trying to belong to one group. He felt he didn’t belong in either group so he grew up resenting his dual heritage. When I interviewed Adolph to see if he could illustrate my story, I asked him to read my manuscript to see if this was something he would like to work on. After he read it, he told me his story of growing up biracial and that my story gave him clarity and understanding that he belonged to both ethnic groups and not just one. He is “Indixican” for American Indian and Mexican.  

I think it is partly the fault of the Census and survey companies for creating racial identity issues in multicultural families. Census and surveys are archaic because they still make people choose one ethnicity even though there are more and more mixed-raced people in 2013. *(Your Hip Hapa’s note: Both the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census allowed more than one choice for ethnicity.) If a child is biracial, then it is not fair for them to check only one box. It creates resentment and confusion for children.  

2. Non-mixed families:
I have a lot of readers who are not from mixed families and loved my book. My readers have said that my book has engaged conversations at the dinner table or cocktail parties about where their ancestors came from. America was built by immigrants so unless their ancestors were Native Americans, their ancestors came from some country around the world. I had one mom tell me that her daughter Emma had to call her grandmother to find out where her ancestors came from. Emma found out they came from France and England so she is "Franglish". Another reader told me after they read my book they were inspired to book a trip to Ellis Island to find out where their ancestors came from.
My book is not just for multicultural families. It is for all families.

Q: Any future plans?

A: I’m currently writing a YA time traveling/historical fiction. It’s set in California, France and Italy. My protagonist is a 17-year old kick-butt girl named Frankee. I also have on my list a children’s picture book about adoption. I wish I could have more hours in the day to write. I try to juggle motherhood, writing and lecturing about my book.

I’ll be appearing as one of the featured authors at the Target Family Event at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on July 13. I’m also set to sign books at the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture this September in San Pedro, California. I’ll have all my events posted on my website

that ubiquitous rainbow...
Q: How did you come up with that great motto, “We are the colors of the rainbow, United as mankind, One earth, Love, respect, and peace.”?

A: I have this motto in the back of my book and will have it in all my future books because I want to send a positive message to my readers about treating each other with respect and kindness. If we can all treat each other with respect and kindness, there might be a chance to achieve world peace.

“We are the colors of the rainbow”
We all unique in our own way. The colors of the rainbow are the diversity of our world yet a rainbow comes in one unit. We cannot call it a rainbow if it is an arch with just one color. Colors of the rainbow = diversity.

“United as mankind”
We are all human beings that come in different colors, shapes and sizes yet like the rainbow, we are lumped all together as one unit.  Mankind = The Rainbow.

“One earth”
We have to live together on this one planet.

“Love, respect, and peace”
If we all love and respect one another, then there will no longer be bullying, crimes, or wars, and maybe we can all live in peace and harmony.

Love, respect and peace to you, too, Leslie and to all our loyal Hip Hapa Homeez. Remember to help support this blog by checking out our Watermelon Sushi website, liking our Watermelon Sushi fan page and purchasing a Hapa*Teez t-shirt. Check out the vid clip here:

And, don’t forget to join us on our Facebook group page, Hip Hapa Homeez, where we discuss being ethnically mixed, transracially adopted, interracially involved and/or crossing cultures.

Mahalo nui loa to you all from…

Your Hip Hapa,