Canada Day Eve is one of the greatest celebration events not celebrated…
Hapa-Canadian “Standing on Guard for Thee”! original drawing by Jeff Chiba Stearns
Why don't we have a midnight countdown to celebrate our country's birthday? Okay, there are fireworks celebrations at the end of Canada Day, but everybody has to go to work the next morning. Aren't holidays better celebrated when you can stay up late the night before, then sleep in?
Last night, I met up with two friends, Leanne Riding and Judy Maxwell. When I introduced them, it took only a few minutes before one of them said “Are you hapa?”
And this was in a darkened room!
If people think that “Canadian Identity”is a conundrum, try to define being Hapa. It's a Hawaiian term that is now more commonly used to define mixed race Asian-Canadians and Asian-Americans.
My friend John Endo Greenaway writes this:
derogatory roots, but many mixed Asian-Canadians/Amercians have
embraced it, although it has yet to enter the mainstream vocabulary.
But whatever term you want to use, hapas are here to stay. With a 90% intermarriage rate (give or take) Japanese Canadians are producing hapa children at a prodigious rate. Attend a Japanese Canadian gathering or event and chances are you’ll see hapa everywhere, ranging in age from infants to mid-thirties.”
So…. back to Canada Day Eve….
With my two Hapa friends, we start talking about our “Hapa radars”, that intuitive sense that immediately lets us know when we think that somebody we've never met before is Hapa. We talk about the reactions that people have to them, when people realize they are neither Asian nor Caucasian, but both. We talk about the first time when I realized they were Hapa.
We go down to Kitsilano Beach, finding a secluded spot, watch dusk settle in because we just missed the sunset after 10pm. We talk more about Hapa-ness… the beingness of Hapa, about our Hapa friends, our Hapa cousins, Hapa nieces and nephews.
We talk about Hapa friends like Jeff Chiba Stearns who is an animator, and created the Hapa short animation film “What Are You Anyways?” We talk about Brandy Lien-Worrall who is the editor of “All Mixed Up“an anthology chap book of Hapa poetry.
Maxwell and Riding… two very un-Asian sounding names. But they
chatted on about how easy they can be mistaken for Asian or Caucasians
in different settings. Both are very active in the Asian-Canadian
community. Judy is presently a researcher for the Chinese Canadian
Military Museum, and has done many academic and conference
presentations because of her research on the Chinese disaspora and
migration patterns. Leanne has been studying Asian-Canadian history
and is now active as co-president of Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop
and the Asian Canadian Organization, which started as a student
initiated project at UBC.
But both have family histories that
are rooted in the racial turmoils of our country. Judy's
great-grandfather was a Member of Parliament that had pushed for the
Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, while Leanne's grandparents and great-grandparents had been interned during WW2 because they were of Japanese
They name me a “Honourary Hapa,” because of the community building work I do such as Gung Haggis Fat Choy, which they both totally love, and attended earlier this year, back in January. They both made fun of me, because I couldn't initially remember where they were sitting in the room of 430 people, even though one of the them was sitting at the head table with me along with the Vancouver.
And then it dawns on me. Being Canadian is being Hapa… and being Hapa is being Canadian. Canada celebrates it's cultural diversity, and nowhere is that diversity better celebrated than in the mixed race DNA enhanced ethnicities of it's peoples… even better if it all rolled up in one.
With BC celebrating it's 150th Anniversary this year in 2008, we are reminded that Simon Fraser came down the “Fraser River” with a crew of Metis (French-First Nations mix), and BC's first Governor James Douglas was born in the Caribbean nation of Guyana of mixed Scottish and Creole bloodlines. BC's history is Hapa…. and most people don't even realize it.
So… sitting on English Bay… (Somewhere there must be an original First Nations Name that can be chosen as a “rename”) we toasted to Canada's birthday eve, and our Hapa-ness. And in our lively and wonderful conversations (which later moved to a Kitsilano area apartment), we had so much fun, we forgot to do a countdown to midnight until it was long past.
Here are some Hapa websites:
“For, by and about Half Japanese”