This week, I started looking up books for a topic I’m researching and I came across this book. It’s called Part Asian 100% Hapa by Kip Fulbeck. I turned to the first page and found myself sitting down to read through the entire book.
What the writer wrote in the introduction could have been about me. I was sucked in as soon as I read the first line — “You don’t look Chinese.” Further down on the page, he says, “What are you? I answer the question every day of my life.”
Hey! Me too. (well, I used to).
I’ve blogged about this before — that growing up, I was asked this question a lot. “What are you?” To the Chinese, I wasn’t Chinese enough. To the English, I definitely wasn’t one of them. To others, I was a curiosity. But I am, really, both – although the English side probably has some Irish and some other European additions.
After all this time, though, I’ve grown to be okay with the question, mostly. I understand now that people are curious. I get curious about others too. In fact I recently asked a friend of mine that question, just maybe not quite that bluntly. I hope he was okay with it. I think I ask the question to find common ground with others, to find a point of connection. To know that I’m not the only mixed race person on the scene.
I understand that the older I get, the more I look like my mom and she’s Chinese. In fact over the years, it just became easier to allow others to assume I am Chinese (or some version of ‘Asian’). Except for my name – that’s the most English thing about me (and yes, it’s mine, not my husband’s. He’s Chinese. You’d be surprised how often I get asked if I’m married to a white man).
But as an aside, I also feel compelled to say, not Chinese from China. From South East Asia. Today, I read an article that mentions how Asia is far too big a continent to lump us all together in the all encompassing word “Asian”. Specifically, the article in Education Week said this —
“The diversity of nearly 50 ethnic subgroups speaking more than 300 languages cannot be accurately captured in the use of the broad and single panethnic label “Asian.” ”
Yay, to Peter T Keo (the article’s writer) for saying so.
So please don’t feel like you have to tell me you’ve been to China. While interesting as a general topic of conversation, it doesn’t connect me to you. I’ve never been.
But, what is new to me, is the word “Hapa”. I’d never heard it before. It’s kind of nice to know there’s a word that describes what I am. I think it’s a word borrowed from Pacific Islanders, so thank you for sharing it. It’s certainly better than some of the names I’ve been called in the past.
This book, Part Asian 100% Hapa, is a photographic book. The writer brought together a lot of Hapa people and photographed them, portrait style. Next to their pictures, each person wrote a short note answering the question “What are you?” It was a lovely read. The people were from every age and walk of life, and every one was beautiful. It made me feel happy, and reminded me that I wasn’t alone in the world.
And that’s what a book should do.