Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is HAPA a "Curse or Gift"? -- An Answer for Asian Fortune News

[image from thetyee.ca]

On the first day of this new year, I wrote My Interview About Being Hapa That Never Got Published. It was a recount of my media experience being stereotyped and pigeonholed, partitioned and divided, misunderstood and unheard. But it was also an ode to a hopeful future in which people will be willing to have the hard conversations. The ones we still avoid having. The ones about power and pain, the past and the present. Yes, I'm talking about race. How we stubbornly persist on assigning value to a person and their life, based on the way they look. Despite my attempts to challenge the racial assumptions of the writer/editor pre-publishing, 5 days ago the article (in which I was not included due to my error) went live on Asian Fortune. When I saw the headline, "Growing Up Half Asian American: Curse or Gift?" -- my heart sank into my stomach. 

For me, it was hard to even get past that first line. The implication that my racial mix, the racial mix of my husband, and my 4 year old son could be a "curse," was incredibly painful. At the same time the idea that it could be a "gift" made me deeply uncomfortable. As I said in my Jan 1 post, whenever we talk about advantages given based on race we need to acknowledge what we are really talking about: racial hierarchy. Also known as racism. This is a very dangerous place to go unless we are prepared to discuss in an honest way the institution of race, its history, and what privilege means. Case in point, the divisive tone set by the article's header continues throughout. I was briefly critical of the piece online noting (a) it was not written by a mixed race person or person of color, (b) the harmful effect of words like "half" "bi-" "curse" "gift" "advantage" when talking race, and (c) that not a single biracial mix outside Asian/white was profiled.

I was then quickly contacted by the publication itself. They asked me to write them a private email with feedback. Concerned this wouldn't lead to action, I asked what an email would accomplish. Their response? "It would better help us understand your issue and correct it" [bold mine]. Granted, it's hard to get anything across with a 140 character tweet-limit. But then again, it sure is awful easy too. I was struck by their positioning of themselves against me, seeming lack of accountability, and the idea of correcting (versus conversing). I also got that feeling again. The one I always seem to get. That I'm not really a part of their community; "all things Asian American."

I'm afraid I lost my temper and patience at that point. I brought the discussion to Twitter and asked folk from all over the world to weigh in. I felt the best way to challenge, reclaim and empower the conversation was to move it into the hands of activists/multiracials and publish it here, within a multiracial space. This is some of what Twitter had to say...

 "Hapas have spent their entire lives outside of racial categories. Be careful lumping them together now as most of us have arrived at very different racial identities by having had to figure it out from day one. Also be aware of how many different variables are at play here. Not just race, but also generational." -- Nick, PRINCETON NJ
 "There are more categories than biracial, hapa, and multiracial. But [the writer] missed this point." -- Dr. Donnamaria Culbreth, founder of The Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc.
"I have a problem with trying to retroactively apply an acronym to the word hapa. I also have an issue with fact the article was apparently written by a white writer as opposed to a mixed race writer." -- Sook Min, feminist, LONDON UK
Leta Hong Fincher, PhD ABD
author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China
 "Being mixed race is never a 'curse." That headline stigmatizes multiracial people."
Noah C, teacher & film section editor Hyphen Magazine
 "There's a significant population of us who don't use hapa in either form, but especially the acronym. Also this article seems to negate those who [are] anything other than half white. This ignores a significant part of our community. The fact that none of the individuals focused on were anything other than half white just reinforces how people view multiracial Asians."
CALIFORNIA April M, PhD candidate Health Informatics
Contributing author, Rethinking "Mixed Race"
"Still!?!! I discussed this in a past article in early 2000 on the particular binary white/nonwhite ownership of 'mixed race'...The literature and conferences of the '90s focused on white/nonwhite mixed race. I said [to myself] if the discourse continues to exclude nonwhite mixed race, it's not the discipline for me."
CHICAGO Suey Park, API activist/writer
"I believe [sidelining] is what happened in this piece [written] about multiracial people from the outside. To write about multiracial issues without having that experiences makes multiracial people the 'other.'"
Pakou, antiracism organizer/trainer, campaign director 18 Million Rising
 "[There is] no mention of dominant white culture and how mixed people are used to support white supremacy. Also...all the talk about lookism. I get the biological argument regarding hybrid vigor, but the shallow[ness] about mixed people being pretty? Whatever."

This all serves a crucial point and one I champion over/over -- we still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of conversations we aren't having and a lot of opportunities for voices to be heard, that are denied. I hope Asian Fortune, its writers/editors, and all of you out there (multiracial or not) will take the time to listen to the voices herein and all the people they represent. This is how we address inequity, honor multiraciality, build awareness, and grow our community of support.


  1. Guys... Sometimes you just need to calm the f down. You need to get out of your heads a little bit and stop over analyzing things. I'm sure all you hapas out there have some understanding of the way hapas are treated in Asia. Talk about superficial/stereotypical understandings! Your ultra-liberal, ultra-progressive, straight-out-of-an-undergraduate-African-American-studies-class mumbo jumbo would only ever be considered in White countries. And you know damn well that you benefit from "White privilege." The reason I put that in quotes is beyond the scope of this comment. Don't write back with some bullshit about traffic stops - I know the statistics.

  2. i think you may be misunderstanding the title. they don't mean to label hapas as a curse, or as a bad thing. they mean that growing up hapa is sometimes not easy because people see us differently than they see other people. many hapas hate themselves and consider their background very unlucky. they dont mean to offend us, they're just sharing experiences... :) (sorry for bad english)

  3. "many hapas hate themselves and consider their background very unlucky."

    What they said.

  4. An article cannot be all encompassing, and I think the author tried their best to show non-mixed readers what it's like to be half-white, half-Asian. The article was vastly more positive than this post here.