Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | February 1, 2010

Part Asian, 100% Hapa

Wow.  I just found a wonderful book. Part Asian, 100% Hapa by Kip Fulbeck.

And more…he has a project called The Hapa Project, http://www.seaweedproductions.com/hapa/.  Here’s a quote from the website:

Once a derogatory label derived from the Hawaiian word for “half,” Hapa has since been embraced as a term of pride by many whose mixed racial heritage includes Asian or Pacific Island descent. Kip Fulbeck began The Hapa Project as a forum for Hapas to answer the question “What are you?” in their own words and be pictured in simple head-on portraits.  Traveling throughout the country, he photographed over 1200 people from all walks of life – from babies to adults, construction workers to rock stars, gangbangers to pro surfers, schoolteachers to porn stars, engineers to comic book artists. The project now manifests as a book, traveling photographic exhibition, and online community.

ha•pa (hä’pä) adj. 1. Slang. of mixed ethnic heritage with partial roots in Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry. n. 2.Slang. a person of such ancestry. [der./Hawaiian: hapa haole. (half white)]

The faces in the book look like mine.  The words  describing the faces (as written by the owners of those faces) sound like mine.  Suddenly I see the community that I knew was out there…just not in my immediate vicinity.  The faces shown are every shade and shape.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, my mom and I used to play the Half-Half game.  We would look around wherever we were and notice who was around and sometimes there was someone who would catch our eyes.  It would be a complexion that was milk with a drop of coffee, eyes that were slightly almond shaped, or brown hair that swung like a curtain that should have been black.

Being Half-Half was hard for me sometimes.  I remember not fitting in.  I was too “yellow” to be white, too “white to be Chinese.  I was the first mixed child in my mother’s Chinese American family.  It was a burden.  The aunties – both in my family and in the community – were never rude, just not as interested.  It felt like they never had high expectations for me and my brother.   The blue eye- shadowed Chinese “chicks” at my middle school and then high school wouldn’t have anything to do with me – as if I would rub off on them.  More specifically, that my “unnaturalness” would rub off.  I knew mannerisms and cultural ideosyncracies that they did – they weren’t comfortable with me having those similarities.  My brother looked more White, so he didn’t have the same experience growing up – although he’d get the same disbelieving stares from the waitstaff when we’d order food in Cantonese restaurants.  They were always amazed that we could use chopsticks correctly.  I remember going through spurts of using chopsticks the fancy way (held closer to the decorative ends) so that it would really puzzle the waitresses.  (More elegant and harder.) I remember being asked “What are you?” from elementary school to college.

My first trip to Hawaii was amazing.  Suddenly I was in a place where I fit in.  I looked like I belonged there.  Of course, all my mannerisms and my speech was mainland – I would be accepted as local until I opened my mouth.   That is where I first learned the word “Hapa”, half.  Suddenly I wasn’t “half-half” and outcast, I was Hapa – something accepted and common and normal.  This was so significant.  I was 13 and felt comfort with my skin for the first time.  When I went to Oahu about 15 years ago and took the bus with my baby, the bus driver greeted me and helped me haul the stroller up the stairs and asked me where I was going to.  He treated me like a distant cousin visiting family.  And as he dropped us at the aquarium, he made sure to say “See you later, Hapa” to my sleeping daughter.  I love the memory of that trip because it was wonderful to be treated like part of the community, even if I talked with a funny accent and my pidgin was non-existent.

So I decided to send in my picture to the project.  I figured they needed to have more faces of Hapa’s that are over 25.  You can look for me on the Hapa Community link on Kip’s website.  http://www.seaweedproductions.com/comm/community.aspx?Page=29

I like the rainbow.  Go find the book.  See where I got these sample pages to include here in this post.  It’s worth a peek. And the words…oh, they are so, so deep.

Magaidh

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