Watch for My Book

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

#RaisingMixedRace @Hapapalooza 2015 - BOOK PREMIERE

Premiering Raising Mixed Race at Hapa-palooza 2015
by Sharon H Chang

I just had the best launch-premiere for my debut book Raising Mixed Race EVER. 

No really. It was the most heart-warming, inspirational and energizing experience I could have ever dreamed of. And I am so humbled, honored and grateful.

For the last half decade Hapa-palooza, a multi-event festival celebrating mixed heritage, has been held citywide in Vancouver B.C across a series of days. A few months ago, filmmaker/animator Jeff Chiba Stearns of One Big Hapa Family, Yellow Sticky Notes, and the forthcoming Mixed Match, called me up to see if I'd be interested to offer something for parents. I said yes almost immediately. And Saturday night, September 19, was my book launch-premiere + parenting workshop at the Heartwood Community Cafe, "A queer-friendly neighbourhood cafe that nourishes the spirit of social justice and liberation."

with rockin' Professor WeiMing Dariotis who introduced me

Now before we go any further. It would be deeply remiss of me not to acknowledge the difficulty of using the Native Hawaiian word hapa in this context. I have written very critically on use of hapa by non-Native peoples as being implicitly anti-indigenous. I stand by my critique. This festival name has always given me pause as long as I've known it. But you should know that the organizers of Hapa-palooza are also aware of the problematic nature of their festival's name and debate it ongoing. They additionally make a point to attribute name origin to Native Hawaiians as much as they can; something, frankly, I don't see mainland mixed-race Asian Americans do much (if at all). I hope the festival organizers will continue to question use of this name, and I think they will.

I also want to point out there are so few ways people of color (PoC) can claim who they are because language is white dominated. Marginalized communities are starved for words to describe themselves -- identities that need to be asserted for affirmation, celebration, survival. Because of this intentionally skeletal literary supply, too often we find ourselves vying for scant vocabulary that we mean to use in resistance to white supremacy and erasure, but end up arguing and fighting over in ways that pit us against each other. I believe hapa belongs to Native Hawaiians. I also believe non-Native mixed race Asians need something to locate who they are in a racist world. And I find it endlessly sad that we can't resolve this in a way that honors everyone at the same time. This I don't see as centrally about groups of color themselves, but rather about how white supremacy is easily and invisibly excercised through language -- and how it doesn't need to do its own work once entrenched. 

Which is why, the night of my launch-workshop, I chose not focus on the word hapa but on white supremacy, resistance, and PoC liberation. Importantly too I wanted to honor how difficult it is for PoC to create safe spaces, how those spaces aren't ever perfect, but that climbing that steep mountain to make a place to talk about those imperfections -- is itself a massive triumph. There were only six volunteers who put on Hapa-palooza this year; a festival comprised of five big events across five days. They were exhausted, unpaid, overworked, sleep deprived. But they persevered regardless and with joy, energy, and spirit. Why did they do it? Because it matters. So BEYOND-big props to Hapa-palooza's organizers! 

with Professor Minelle Mahtani (middle) who gave closing remarks, and Hapa-palooza co-founders Anna Ling Kaye (left), Jeff Chiba Stearns (right)

And, as the cliche goes, the proof is definitely in the pudding. My event was called "Empowering Mixed Race Children in a Racialized World". It was a combination book premiere and community dialog in which I shared some select readings and data from Raising Mixed Race but also facilitated people conversing and exploring with each other. I've facilitated group dialogues around race and families for a while now but this was the first time I got to center mixed race families. It was interstellar. About fifty people turned out that night; some mixed-race PoC, some non-mixed PoC, some white. Words often fail me and they fail me again here. It was awesome. No. That doesn't work. Outstanding? No. How about phenomenal? No still not right. Okay I give up. Here's what my husband said:

People were really eager, willing to engage. That's so uncommon. How do you describe that in one word. How do you describe that? It was also painful and visceral at the same time too; ran the gamut of emotions. It's that feeling when you become enlightened but it's unpleasant, a painful realization. You could see that happening in the room; people having these moments. I've never been in a room of people who were so needing this stuff to soak up...sitting in that room and seeing faces like mine and seeing people hungry for this knowledge; starving for this discussion; and fearful of not knowing what to do...That was what was exciting about it. Everyone was just so present. So focused.

A-G-R-E-E-D. I don't think I've yet worked with a group that was so engaged, so ready to dig deep, and so willing to experience all the discomfort it takes to move forward. My format: I would talk for a bit, read from Raising Mixed Race, then throw out dialog questions so folks could be with each other. The room would instantly buzz and you almost could see the vigor electrifying the air. Walking around to observe/listen, I was floored by the sharing, the epiphanies, the revelations I heard. I also saw an impressive number of people practice compassionate and real receptive listening (versus predatory listening where you only listen to disagree and push back with your own agenda). And that this was a night where multiracials in particular felt heard, felt safe examining their relationships to white supremacy and racism, felt like they had room to examine their hurt, confusion, and struggles? Unprecedented.

the awesome workshop attendees

Here's the huge truth. Multiracial children learn and experience race/racism much earlier than we realize. Society barely acknowledges this. Adults are not doing enough to support and we can (and need) to do better. 

Which is why my main hope for the book was not just that it would be read -- but that it would be tool. A tool for uncovering the reality of lived mixed-race as nothing like a postracial fairytale. A tool for sparking conversation, removing blinders, creating community, support and safe space for multiracials to speak and be heard. And a tool for catalyzing change, connecting (instead of alienating) mixed race people to social movements, and allowing others to build further through work of their own. The reason why this Hapa-palooza launch-premiere for Raising Mixed Race was so special? Because it did all of that. I had the great fortune of premiering my book, my (second) baby, something I worked on for years, in this amazing moment. Though Raising Mixed Race will now continue to move into other places and spaces, I will never forget that the first time I walked it into to the world -- it was into the loving and open arms of Hapa-palooza.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who organized and brought me up to Vancounver B.C. for Hapa-palooza 2015. Also, of course, an enormous thank you to everyone who attended my premiere-launch that night and made it special forever. 


Raising Mixed Race is now available for pre-order!!! You can buy and it will be sent to you immediately upon release in December --> purchase here


Press for this event was amazing. I did a live radio interview (my first!) with George Noory, CKNW Coast to Coast, Saturday September 19. I was also interviewed by The Source / La Source (online AND print), The Tyee and Schema Magazine. A short-form blog post on my workshop appeared in West Coast Families. And lastly I taped a pre-interview with an FM station for when Raising Mixed Race drops. But shhhh...that one's for later ;-)

1 comment :

  1. I think you're overthinking the hapa designation. I live in Hawaii and am referred to as hapa ( I'm not part native Hawaiian) it's understood it means half. On the mainland the names half breed and mestisa were used. I used to describe myself as half breed but when Cher's song came out, the response was a big laugh and and some clueless idiot singing her song, so much for a conversation! Mestisa made people assume you were part mexican when that wasn't always case. Wikipedia took a hawaiian word and put it in their name it was considered a compliment here. Toyota at one time wanted to name one of their cars Kamehameha and there was a big fuss over that, yet one of their macho trucks is called Toyota Tacoma and you well know being in the Northwest it means "nurturing breast". It's said that language is a living thing and things change. I'm a few decades older than you and I do remember a time when people didn't acknowledge multiracialness. The word hapa is used in rice servings here - white, brown and hapa (brown and white mixed). You can buy Hapa style rice it says so on the package. Multiracial people need a word to describe themselves and if hapa is it then ok. If not then Wikipedia better start looking for another catchy name!