As hapa children, we have our own set of hapa problems which are similar, often overlapping, but different than other children of color.
For clarification, Wikipedia defines hapa as “a Hawaiian language term used to describe a person of mixed Asian or Pacific Islander racial or ethnic heritage.” For this post, I am including all mixed-race children in the term, as we have more in common with other mixed-race children than we do with children of our respective races. I’m using it because I like the word hapa.
And what exactly is one of our biggest problems? Categorization. We must fit somewhere. We cannot be black AND white, or Japanese AND Latino, or Jewish AND Cree. We must be one or the other for the sake of others being able to categorize us. It most often come down to how we look. It becomes particularly hard for those who exhibit a predominant phenotype of one sort of race.
If you look Chinese, then you’re Chinese, not anything else. You’ll be the perpetual foreigner, good at math and science, weak and timid, asexual if you’re a man and a delicate, submissive flower if you’re a woman. Except to the Chinese children, who don’t see you as Chinese, because you’re a hapa and you’ll never be Chinese because of it. Unless of course, you look VERY Chinese and your Chinese parent is the predominant one in your life (i.e. your Chinese mother is up your ass all the time like a good Chinese mother should be). You also need to be involved in much of your Chinese culture, including language and food. However, if you’re westernized at all, you’ll always be just a hapa.
If you look black, then you’re black, not anything else, unless you’re very light-skinned black, and THEN you can be “mixed’, but being mixed is still being black. Despite any “otherness” you may have, you’ll still be over-sexed, irresponsible, lazy, and prone to crime; but luckily you’re mixed so you may have some good qualities because of your “other” side. However, being ‘mixed’ doesn’t get you invited to the black kid’s table, because you’re not really black; not unless you fit certain unspoken criteria (which changes, at whim) which can give you black status– sometimes.
If you look white, stick a fork in you because you’re done, you’re white. It won’t matter if the entire rest of your family (including siblings) look Latino, or mixed, or Cherokee, or anything else. You are white and you’ll live a white existence and experience white privilege. You will most definitely be racist, and will never understand people of color (not even if you were raised by your black family). White children will accept you as white, or as an “exotic” form of white (if they know of your family). Any “otherness” you have will be simply laughed off by both whites and people of color.
We hapas don’t fit in anywhere, except with other hapas, and there’s just not as many of us as one may think there is. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more of us coming everyday, but we’re still being forced to fit into one category or another. To try and do otherwise is a cop-out. Or if we are allowed to be our mixed selves, it’s because we’re the future of racial identification (no pressure).
We also have our own set of stereotypes with which to contend. How often do you hear phrases like “mixed children are prettier”? Are we really? Being that beauty is quite subjective, we have to live up to some “more beautiful” standard than our single race counterparts? And of course, that doesn’t cause any sort of division amongst us and the other children (or adults) at all. Any other hapas out there sick and tired of hearing the word “exotic”?
For more, I offer this really nice video from a seminar given by Carmen Van Kerckhove which accurately demonstrates some of those stereotypes.
As many hapas so often point out, we cannot simply just be ourselves. We must be identified by race. This is why I have, and will continue to leave out both my gender and my racial identity from my posts and comments. I do not wish my perspective to be defined by my status. My words should be judged by their merit alone, not as a representation of gender, race or socio-economic status. It is true that my perspective is affected by these things, but let that perspective itself be called in to question, not my background.
For more on the subject, see:
Stereotypes on top of stereotypes!? - Questions of a Biracial Girl
“What are you?” Biracial Children in the Classroom - by Traci Baxley, at http://www.mulatto.org