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Hapas: The New America
Updated May 9, 2005
Hapa Issues Forum
Swirl/community & resource links
UCLA Hapa Club/
Columbia Hapa Club/resource links
U. of Washington Library/resource links
(audience: mixed-race Pilipino-Americans)
Clara M. Chu, Assistant Professor of Information Studies, UCLA
Wei Ming Dariotis, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies, SFSU
(Comprehensive lists of articles, films, authors, children's books, artists and art organizations)
mixedrace.com (membership required)
(halvsie=half-Japanese; forum and blogs)
(content and forums)
("tracking media representation of mixed people")
Kip Fulbeck's Hapa project photos
Intersecting Circles: The Voices of Hapa Women in Poetry and Prose
(ed. Maria Hara & Nora Keller)
The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed-Heritage Asian Americans
(ed. Teresa Williams-Leon)
Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural
Check All That Apply: Finding Wholeness as a Multiracial Person
What Are You?: Voices of Mixed-Race Young People (Pearl Fuyo Gaskins, for 8th grade +)
The Multiracial Experience : Racial Borders as the New Frontier
Rethinking 'Mixed Race'
(ed. David Parker & Miri Song) (academic focus)
New Faces in a Changing America : Multiracial Identity in the 21st Century (Sage Masters in Modern Social Thought)
(Ed. Loretta Winters & Herman DeBose) (academic focus)
Sui Sin Far: A Literary Biography
by Annette White-Parks, Roger Daniels
Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution.
by Michael Lind
Crushing Soft Rubies: A Memoir
by Janet Stickmon
by Aimee Liu
by Shawn Wong
Country of Origin by Don Lee
by Brian Ascalon Roley
by Danzy Senna
The Frontiers of Love
by Diana Chang
by Kiana Davenport
The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood
by Kien Nguyen
Memories of My Ghost Brother
by Heinz Insu Fenkl
Paper Bullets: A Fictional Autobiography
by Kip Fulbeck
My Own Family: The World Mixed in America
In the course of a single lifetime, my immediate family has married the bloodlines of all major continents--North America/Native Americans, Europe, Africa and Asia. This increasingly common experience is, I think, one of the quintessential narratives of being American and of American history in the broadest sweep.
As a resident of Hawaii from my teenage years through my early 30s, Hapa-haoles were as much a part of Hawaii as red dirt and a'a. The experiences of those 18 years found expression in my novel I-State LInes, which will be published in April 2006 by The Permanent Press, NY. The two protagonists are young multi-heritage Americans: Alex is Hapa-haole (Hawaiian and haole), and Daz is mixed Mexican/Californio and Caucasian (haole).
Hapa: A Semiotic Issue
There are some in Hawaii who feel strongly that "Hapa" is a word which should be reserved for those of part-Hawaiian heritage. Out of respect for their views, when I use "Hapa" in this commentary, I refer to people such as my fictional character Alex, who is a mix of Hawaiian and various haole ethnicities. (In Hawaii, Portuguese is considered a separate ethnicity from other European heritages.)
But as the French government has found, it's difficult to put a word back into its former useage and re-cork the bottle; if the word fills a need which is unmet, the new word will quickly colonize the language as the best available term. As a result of this, "Hapa" in Hawaii has become short-hand for anyone of mixed heritage who is part-Caucasian, e.g. Hapa-haole. If my niece is half Japanese-American and half Caucasian, there is no other word which succinctly describes this combination.
Outside of Hawaii, "Hapa" is being used to connote a person of mixed-race heritage, usually Asian and Caucasian. Although I can understand and sympathize with the position of those part-Hawaiians who feel the word has been wrongly appropriated, I think it's obvious than in America (we don't have an official Language Police like the French) it's up to each person to choose whatever term they feel best describes their ethnic or racial heritage and identity.
Thus, my Stepmother refers to herself as Mexican-American, rather than Hispanic or Latina, and I believe this reflects her pride in her Mexican-Indian heritage. But another person of exactly the same heritage may prefer another term. There is a healthy proliferation of terms, I think, such as Blasian (Black and Asian, for people such as Tiger Woods) for various combinations of human groups, but what term does justice to a person with four, five or even six ethnic bloodlines, such as actress Tia Carrera? (She was "discovered," it's reported, waiting in line at a Honolulu supermarket.) Such individuals are becoming more common in Hawaii with every passing generation.
Some people describe themselves as Eurasian or mestiza/mestizo, but American English does not have a uniformly accepted selection of words to denote mixed-race heritage. Most questionnaire-type forms don't even list such a category yet, and the process of recognizing the need for such a category (or categories) has barely started. Hopefully, resources like those listed on the left will serve to enlighten our culture about the New America in which people can no longer be categorized into single ethnicities. Terms such as multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, biracial, mixed-race, etc. are being employed as catch-all phrases, but they don't work as a self-descriptive word like eurasian or Hapa.
So if someone chooses to describe themselves as Hapa, because that short, simple word performs work no other word can do, I think we as Americans have to tread very lightly around the urge to call up the Language Police. Consequently I have used the word in the resource links as those who have posted the material intended.
American Identity: Forged, Not Fated
A central theme of my novel is that while each individual American is shaped (or limited) by his/her heritage, no American is defined by heritage alone; it's up to each person to find or forge their own identity and self-expression. That is the challenge and the opportunity implicit in being American, irrespective of one's ethnic or cultural heritage.
As a result, we live in a culture where an African-American 4th-grader is a rising star in Chinese Opera (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/05). As a writer, I am especially sensitive to the implicit but carefully unspoken expectations that act to straightjacket writers: to wit, that African-American writers should write only about Black America, Chinese-Americans should pen stories of inter-generational Asian family conflicts, Indian-Americans should limit themselves to tales of immigration and arranged marriage, etc. Obviously, the book marketers are complicit in this; big publishers are always on the look-out for the next Toni Morrison, Amy Tan or Arundhati Roy, and they select and market books which fit neatly into genres which have sold well in the past.
I categorically reject those limitations. Writers, regardless of their color or heritage, are free to write about everyone and everything. While it is true that those raised in one tradition and culture cannot completely understand the experience of those raised in entirely different circumstances, it is also true that with some effort anyone can listen to others and spend time with them, and in that process gain a keen appreciation and understanding of others' experience. This, after all, is the promise implicit in all writing: that the author can nurture a new understanding in the reader through words alone.
The New America
In researching this list of resources, I came across many blogs written by multi-heritage people. The most striking characteristic of these blogs (other than the wide range of voices) was their youth. Clearly, young people are more likely to launch a blog, but I think this online presence also accurately reflects the demographic reality that the rapid increase of multi-heritage people in the U.S. is unprecedented in our history and very likely in world history. While it's difficult to get accurate statistics, (the 2000 census lists 6.8 million people of two or more races), multi-heritage people already constitute roughly 2.5% - 3% of the U.S. population. (If you're interested in geographical distribution, here is a Census map entitled "Persons who are two or more races, map by state.")
We can predict with certainty that the number of multi-heritage people will increase substantially as the current generation marries and has children.
The effect of this profound demographic--an uncommonly good effect, to my mind--will no doubt provide numerous academics with lifelong careers (as it should). When I describe this development as "The New America," I don't mean to imply that the birth of multi-heritage people is a new phenomenon in the U.S.; what I mean is that the demographic and therefore cultural impact of this phenomenon is reaching a critical mass, with profoundly positive consequences for the nation. For a similar perspective (and a thought-provoking critique), check out Michael Lind's Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution.
In 1968, my family left California to spend the summer in central Detroit while my stepfather attended Wayne State University. The only Caucasian people in the entire neighborhood were our Armenian landlords and ourselves. Those who know their American history will recall that a searing urban riot had raged through downtown Detroit the previous summer, and as a matter of practicality we had some fear in being such an overwhelming minority.
As those of you who've lived in similar situations can guess, we experienced no difficulties; the city was quiet that summer, and our neighbors were courteous. In the first week, some neighboring kids invited us down to blow up firecrackers in the alley; what could be more generous than that? I was very much into basketball at 14, and so my brother and I often walked to the nearby YMCA to shoot some hoops in their indoor court. (A wood track circled the basketball court on the second-floor level--very cool.) I usually ended up playing with older guys, who always treated me well; after my initial trepidation wore off, the hoops became normal, and I reckon they got used to my lousy jumpshot as well.
After a while, having Caucasian skin seemed strange; when we moved to the Hawaiian island of Lanai in 1969, and found that we were practically the only haole kids in the school, I had the same feeling. It's a sense which is difficult to describe--recognizing oneself as Other-- but I have always thought it a valuable experience, and one which continues to inform my life and work. (Check out the back issues of the Cop-Out, the underground newspaper Colbert Matsumoto and I founded in our Junior year at Lanai High.)
I have learned that while we are all prisoners of our own experience, we are also the beneficiaries of new experience. Put another way: Even though we cannot understand all there is to know about another culture, a family, or a history, we can come to understand each other as individuals possessing a unique mix of all three.
This is the challenge and opportunity we share in America, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world: to understand those individuals and cultures around us, and to find or forge our own identity in the process. I am not mixed-race, so I cannot claim to intuitively understand a person who has multiple heritages. But my nieces are mixed-race, my friends are mixed-race, my friends' children are mixed-race, and I have long been interested in what they think about themselves, their various heritages, and their experiences of American identity.
It is in this spirit that I offer the list of links to the left: as explorations of the New America of mixed heritages and cultures, and as a celebration of those explorations and discoveries.
I would be grateful if you emailed me links to any resources missing from my list, and (if you like) added this page to your own links.
A note on the resources: The resources listed are drawn from my online research, and selected for their content and quality. When I found others' resource lists, I have provided links to them as source documents. If the resources were prepared by an individual, I have requested their permission to post the link.
A note on the books: Of all the non-fiction titles in print about multi-racial/multi-heritage issues, I have listed those with the highest and most diverse reader reviews on Amazon, and those most often referenced elsewhere.
My criteria for the fiction titles is simple: at least one of the main characters is Hapa or multi-racial, and identity is a key theme of the book.
This is not an exhaustive compilation but simply an initial survey. If you have found a book which covers ground not addressed in these titles, please let me know.
updated March 6, 2006
I would also recommend the following titles:
Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny
by Amartya Sen
The Ethics of Identity
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers
by Kwame Anthony Appiah
The Ethics of Authenticity
by Charles Taylor
All contents, images and coding copyright © 2005 by Charles Hugh Smith