|Caroline Haskins Gurrey’s portraits of Hawaiians, 1905-1909 [image source]|
by Sharon H Chang
for AAPI Voices ~ www.aapivoices.com
June 18, 2014
What does Hapa mean? One way to know is to look at the ways in which the word is used.
It’s a “Hawaiian word for ‘mixed-race’,” says Hapa Kitchen Supper Club, “coined to refer to people of East Asian and Caucasian backgrounds.” Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar calls it “a harmonious blend of Asian and American.” It’s a “slang term,” proclaims The Natural Hapa: Bamboo Bundles and Hapa Time: Style Inspiration chirps it’s “just one of the coolest words ever.” There’s Hapa Yoga, Hapa Ramen, Hapa Grill, Hapa Cupcakes, Hinode sells a “Hapa Blend” of brown and white rices and Hapa Culture sells…erasers?
Let’s talk about this word, Hapa.
I spoke recently with Maile Arvin, Ph.D., a Native Hawaiian scholar, a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz, and soon-to-be Assistant Professor at UC Riverside in Ethnic Studies. According to Maile, Hapa with a capital “H” (as used on the mainland) is indeed intended “to denote people with Asian and white ancestry.” But its Native Hawaiian roots look quite different:
Hapa is a Hawaiian language word literally meaning ‘part.’ Historically it was most often used as ‘hapa haole,’ which referred to a Native Hawaiian person who also had white ancestry. As other peoples from Asia and elsewhere came to Hawai’i, ‘hapa’ also came to refer to Native Hawaiians who also had other non-Native Hawaiian ancestry. The word began being used in Hawaiian language newspapers in the 1830s, and first appeared in Hawaiian dictionaries in the 1860s.
The hapa of Maile’s people stands in stark contrast to a widely commodified version, which lumps together mixed-race Asians and Pacific Islanders and then somehow magically loses the Pacific Islander part. This is no accident (whether intentional or not). It stems from a history that has sought to forget and remove Native peoples for centuries...
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