Jess and a mural

Reunited: Hapas back together again

Standard
On a Brooklyn rooftop.

Three gals who met working together in Orlando, all at a party on Brooklyn rooftop, circa 2005. Hapas center and right. 😉

This past Saturday, I drove over the Bay Bridge to Emeryville to have dinner with a dear old friend. She, her partner and her baby boy had just relocated from New Jersey the week before. It was the first time I met the little guy who, as you can see from the photo at the bottom of this post, can sport a very serious demeanor for one so young!

Though technically 10 months old, he came into the world a little early, so he’s more like an 8-month-old. I remember talking to his scared mom in the hospital last June when they weren’t sure how things would turn out … But just look at him! He turned out perfect!

J and I have been friends since 2000 when we bonded working for a publication in Orlando, Florida. Back then, and I guess even now, Orlando was not the most diverse of places. It was shocking to relocate there after living in Berkeley, California, for five years. I remember thinking that I was no longer Hapa here. From the moment I returned to my home state of Florida, I was at worst “a slant-eyed starch-lover” and at best “Chinese.” It was like all I had learned, all I had been part of and fought for and discovered, didn’t matter anymore. There was no room for multiracial dialogue here. Getting someone to say “Asian” or “Asian American” instead of “Oriental” was feat enough in itself.

V & J smiling

This was when J and I lived in Brooklyn and only a short bike ride apart — she was in Park Slope and I was in Cobble Hill, circa 2008.

It was special to have a fellow Hapa at work. It was also revealing. In many ways we were a lot alike. We both had Asian mothers who came from their respective countries of origins in their 20’s. We both had American fathers. And we both had been raised in the South in somewhat fanatical evangelical households. But then she was Filipino and African American, and I was Korean and Caucasian. The world looked at us as two very different people, even though when we talked about life, our Asian mothers and our experiences with religion, we shared so much.

J and I would both end up in New York City for many years, including a magical time when we were both in Brooklyn, which is when I took that pic of her at the top of this post. But in 2009 I moved to SF and she went to Seattle. J would return to the Big Apple once again before making this latest trip West.

Over dinner we talked about the couple’s recent trip to Ireland to visit her partner’s family. Cork was beautiful, she said, but not very diverse. One part of her would live there, but the other part knew she didn’t want to be one of the few “brown” people in town. We talked a little about California, about being mixed and about being Hapa. “People don’t blink an eye at mixed kids here anymore,” I told her. “I know,” she said. “Almost every other family I see here is mixed.”

It feels surreal to have this dear old friend as a neighbor again — third time’s a charm! I hope they love it here.

Picture of quapa kid

OK, so just look at this little Quapa gem — Filipino-African American mom and a dad who came all the way over from Cork, Ireland. What a cutie!

Korean American Quapa

New Year, New Hapa

Standard

I started my New Year holding a brand new Hapa. This little Korean, Argentinian, German and Scandinavian angel (pictured above) is, alas, not mine. But what a lovely way to welcome 2014!

The NYE crew also included a slew of grown-up Hapa’s, still kinda cute in our old age.

20140227-021918.jpg

karaoke

Hapa Christmas to You!

Standard

It’s Xmas time! And we all know what that means, Hapa’s uniting all over the country, my home being no exception. So how to do we celebrate the birth of the little baby Jesus in the Kim-ish family? With karaoke and King crab — a pescatarian feast for my picky, non-meat-eating cousin and cousin-in-law. A very Hapa Christmas to you all and to all a good night!
Family at tableKing crab legs

2013_Christmas-2

One quarter Japanese American and 100% adorable!

A Hapa Birthday: The next generation

Standard

I was lucky enough in college to fall in with the coolest posse of multiracial Asian Americans ever! Hapa Issues Forum (HIF) made such a big difference in my life, at a time when exploring and redefining my identity was crucial.

Though by now long defunct, HIF alumnus still fill my life with joy. It’s especially great since I moved back to California and the Bay Area, where I’m surrounded by Hapa love and by their adorable Hapa and Quapa kids  all the time. For example,  the Chinese, Mexican and African American birthday boy pictured below and the one-quarter Japanese American and 100% precious kid above!

20140227-020618.jpg

It’s ma birthday!

Hapa Day Off

Hapa Halloween! A Ferris Bueller Tribute

Standard

To many of the young folks in the Mission, we were unidentifiable. But there were at least a few Halloween partiers that got it!

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller

1400772_10151779054187483_965044449_o

First time we went out, we had a special guest — Lloyd Dobler from “Say Anything” == as the hockey jersey for Cameron hadn’t arrived in the mail on time.

1451369_10151788585027483_121649348_n

But by Halloween Part II, we had the whole cast for our Hapa Ferris Bueller crew — including Cameron in aforementioned jersey!

My adorable (and very curious) cousin playing with a cluster of seaweed and other treasures on a Marin beach

No one like family

Standard

My adorable (and very curious) cousin playing with a cluster of seaweed and other treasures on a Marin beach

My second cousin and his beautiful family came out to California recently from Missouri. I feel so lucky to have such amazing people in my life. This is a picture of my second cousin once removed, who is a Korean Panamanian Chinese European American and a true delight.

All a Buzz: The first annual Hapa Japan Conference

Standard

20110410-092617.jpg

Spent this past Friday and Saturday at the first ever Hapa Japan Conference, which was held on the campus of UC Berkeley, my beloved alma mater. The event was organized by Duncan Williams, the head of the Center for Japanese Studies. Luminaries on the subject were abundant. Found myself engaged in thrilling discussions with so many of the scholars whose books and academic papers I studied as an Asian American Studies major.

Professor Michael Omi, who I took many classes with as an undergraduate, moderated the session, “A Changing Japanese-American Community,” which featured presentations by Cynthia Nakashima, another instructor of mine, and Christine Iijima Hall, whose ground-breaking work on African American Hapas I also studied in college.

Rebecca Chiyoko King O’Riain, an old acquaintance from the Berkeley Hapa Issues Forum days (HIF), presented “Cherry Blossom Dreams: Racial Eligibility Rules, Hapas and Japanese American Beauty Pageants.” If you get the chance, check out her book, Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants (U-Minnesota Press, 2006). She’s an amazing woman and an amazing scholar too!

My friend Tony Yuen (M.A. UCLA Asian American Studies and a director at UC Berkeley’s Education Abroad Program) organized an HIF reunion. It was fantastic to see so many of these incredible folks again. Awesome work, Tony!

I could go on and on … And I will when I finish this darn project of mine. But in the meantime, I leave you with this iPhone snap of my copy of Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s by Michael Omi and Howard Winant. I am such a dork that I accosted Professor Omi with my copy and begged for an autograph. He obliged. 🙂

photo (11)

Asian Am 20A: My story too

Standard

I remember taking my first Asian American Studies class freshman year of college. I loved every minute of the lectures, it was a whole new world to me. I also loved my professor, who had written one of the seminal Asian American textbooks used at universities around the country.

My T.A., however, was a different story. She didn’t like me, and the feeling was mutual.

One of our semester projects was to interview someone from the Asian American community. This paper was to serve two purposes. First, it was to teach us that the lives of Asian Americans around us were a part of Asian American history, and second, to teach us about the process and importance of recording oral history.

Like many of my classmates, I chose to interview a family member—in this case, my mother. I interviewed her while home for Thanksgiving break, and painstakingly transcribed the recorded interview before turning in the paper.

Back at school, I had a dorm mate who was also in the class. He was more of a science guy and had asked for help with his writing. And what a mess it was. He had chosen to tell the story of his grandmother, who, back in prohibition days, had sold bootleg alcohol down in Chinatown. I had never known another fourth-generation Asian American, so I found the story riveting, if messily told, and worked hard to help him organize the paper and tell the story right.

A week or so later we both got our papers back. My friend got an A+ and I got a B-. On his paper, our T.A. had written that it was a fascinating tale but he should work on his writing. On mine, she wrote that, while excellently written, it wasn’t an interesting enough story.

Wow. My mother’s story wasn’t interesting enough? Who could say that to an 18-year-old kid?

It went unsaid, but I knew what she was thinking: The story of a Korean American woman moving with her family to the States and marrying a white American was not the narrative she wanted to hear. It was not the version of Asian American history that pleased the activist language of our coursework.

It was the kind of story that propagated academia’s definitions of assimilation, of bowing to the mainstream society, to Eurocentric beauty ideals, etc.

The crazy thing is that my mother’s story, and my story at that, is so much a part of what made and is making post-1965 Asian American history. If you look at patterns of what the community calls “out marriage,” it is an undeniable statistical reality. One that continues to grow, whether the community welcomes the idea of interracial marriage or not … It is a reality that many Asian immigrants married Americans of other races, just as much as it is a reality that some people came for economic reasons, others as refugees and still others as wives of military personnel.

I never felt the same about that T.A. again.

I did, however, continue to take Asian American Studies, which I eventually majored in … And I joined Korean American, Pan Asian-American and multiracial Asian American organizations throughout my undergraduate years. The latter brought me into a fold of fascinating people and interested academics and inspired in me a strong desire to help redefine what it means to be Asian American. I got to travel to conferences, speak on panels and even participate in documentaries about the movement to include mixed race individuals as a legitimate part of the Asian diaspora.

I continue to be involved in the Asian American community to this day, thanks to other instructors who were much more encouraging and inclusive about my identity and interests.

Whether your relatives came over on the first diplomatic mission from Japan or flew east into LAX in 1985, you are still part of Asian American history. Your grandma could have sold illegal liquor in the old Chinatown or, like mine, worked tireless hours, folding and refolding towels in a family-run Georgia motel. Either which way, they came to the States and made it work.

So I’m proud of my Korean immigrant mother who married a Connecticut-born frat boy she met on a blind date … Because she made history; she made part of what is Asian America today.

After note: I hung out with my old dorm mate two years ago while in Maui for a wedding. (He’s an optometrist there.) Over dinner he mentioned that paper and thanked me again for helping him get an A. Ha. A happy ending for all!

The Kim Family on their annual seaside vacation somewhere beyond Seoul, circa 1960s.

Korean American Hapa foodie, I die!

Standard

The Kim Family on their annual seaside vacation somewhere beyond Seoul, circa 1960s. My mom is the one in the funky cat-eye shades!

Props to KoreAm magazine’s recent article on “The Kimchee Chronicles,” a show on the wonders of Korean cuisine hosted by Hapa Korean American adoptee Marja Vongerichten. Not only is Marja a stunning former model and actress, but she happens to be married to the famed Jean-Georges, global chef extraordinaire. But what really gets my wheels turning is her apparent love for Korean food — the connection it brings to her culture of origin and her desire to share this love with the world.

Marja and I are the same age, which I like to think means something … Even though our experiences are worlds apart: I grew up with my Korean family in close connection and in Florida to boot. But I did spend several years in New York City, and I do know what it’s like to never have relations with part of your family until adulthood.

The show airs on PBS sometime soon … Can’t wait to see where she takes us. Makes me want to dig out my hanbok, some old family albums and a map. Perhaps I’ll plan a trip back to Seoul. (It’s been more than a decade since my first and last visit. What a shame!)

I have, however, been to French Polynesia recently, where I dined at Jean-Georges’ Lagoon restaurant at the St. Regis hotel in Bora Bora. It was quite a treat! (More on the Lagoon on Food & Wine’s site.)

Dining at Jean-Georges' Lagoon restaurant, which hangs over the turquoise waters of a motu.

Gratis creme brulee for dessert. We had a lovely French expat waiter, and it was magical to watch the fishies swim in the lights over the lagoon.

You can see a video preview of “The Kimchee Chronicles” on the New York Times Website, at http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/11/26/dining/1248069100729/preview-the-kimchi-chronicles.html.