Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Hapa Voice celebrates mixed-race Asian identity
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Hapa Voice celebrates mixed-race Asian identity

HapaVoice.com celebrates mixed-race Asians

Erica Johnson is a woman on a mission. Earlier this year, she launched a blog called Hapa Voice where she posts submissions from hapas — mixed-race Asians — with photos and short autobiographies that explain a little about themselves. The titles of each post are a simple rundown of the submitter’s ethnic mix.

This elegant, straightforward approach to stating one’s own identity is both powerful and moving, especially for hapas because their identities have been a central focus all their lives, even more so than other people of color. Being mixed adds a layer of richness for themselves, and too often a lare of confusion for others. So it’s really cool to read entry after entry on “Hapa Voices” and see so many people who are finding their voice… and their identity.

HapaVoice.com founder Erica Johnson Johnson has been inspired by the work of hapa writer, filmmaker, artist, activist, standup comic and lifeguard (really) Kip Fulbeck.

His “Hapa Project” and books such as “Part Asian, 100% Hapa” are clear antecedents for “Hapa Voice.” In the book, Fulbeck traveled the country shooting portraits of mixed-race Asians accompanied by statements of identity by the people posing. He recently published a new book of adorable portraits of little hapa kids, “Mixed.”

But as an ongoing website project, “Hapa Voice” takes Fulbeck’s inspiration and breathes it more life. Johnson explains the origins of the “Hapa Voice” blog on its “About” page:

“Oooohh…now I see it.” Sound familiar?

I’m Filipina and German by blood, but Filipina, Latina, and Jewish at heart. I was born in Arizona where my Spanish speaking abilities quickly surpassed my knowledge of Tagalog, thanks to Selena, Pedro Almodóvar, y Cristina. Ya tú sabes. Holidays at my house consisted of turkey, Pancit, and Challah.

Growing up, I found it incredibly frustrating that many people just assumed I was Latina. Sure, I spoke Spanish and identified with the culture, but I wanted to be recognized for my multiracial Asian identity. On the rare occasion that I did get to assert my multiracial heritage, my moment of pride was usually stifled by “Really? But you look so Mexican!” or, “Oh,” followed by a change of subject. I was dying to voice my experiences as a multiracial individual, but I usually got the feeling that no one was interested, and that no one would get it. It was strange – as a multiracial, multicultural person, I felt like I could relate to almost everyone, but that I truly connected with hardly anyone.

… (section snipped for length) …

It wasn’t until I was seventeen that I first heard the term “Hapa.” Of course I was aware that there were many people of multiracial heritage, but I had no idea that there was a unified community that celebrated their mixed roots. I was thrilled to discover the Hapa community, but I was also really disappointed that I didn’t learn about it earlier.

Simply knowing that it existed would have had an immensely positive impact on my self-confidence and sense of belonging as a kid, so it’s a top priority of mine to reach the Hapa youth who don’t yet know about it. I also hope that parents will use HapaVoice.com as a tool to initiate a discussion about race and identity with their kids, and to help them to develop a positive self-image. I know too many Hapas who say, “If only I had known about the Hapa community earlier…!”

Whether or not people choose to self identify as Hapa is up to them, I just want them to know that they do have a community that they can turn to for support – an incredibly diverse community of millions of people all over the world who face many of the same joys and challenges of multiracial identity.

As a bonus, Johnson has a page that lists celebrity hapas, with links to photos on Google (I wish they were links to Wikipedia entries so I cold learn about these people though). Some of them (like Keanu Reeves, who is part Chinese, part English and part native Hawai’ian) might surprise you. Others, such as Maggie Q (“Nikita”) you can see every week on TV. Recently when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel quit to run for mayor of Chicago, Obama’s choice as interim CoS was Pete Rouse. He’s on the Hapa Voice page too.

I have to hand it to Johnson. The site is a terrific idea, and already represents a growing community of people who are obviously drawn to it so they can declare their identity. Very cool!