5th Annual Hapa-Palooza Festival
Founded in 2011 by Anna Ling Kaye, Jeff Chiba Stearns and Zarah Martz, the Hapa-palooza Festival seeks to raise awareness, explore and celebrate mixed heritage and hybrid cultural identity through the arts.
‘Hapa’ is derived from the Hawaiian term ‘hapa haole,’ used to describe people of mixed ancestry. Hapa-Palooza embraces it as an inclusive term for people who identify as having mixed heritage. Hapa-Palooza’s mandate is to cultivate community and dialogue among people identifying as having mixed heritage, to generate public awareness around topics related to mixed heritage, and, most importantly, provide positive role models and venues for discourse for future generations of mixed youth.
The mixed heritage community is the fastest growing demographic in North America, and Hapa-palooza is about bridging worlds, gathering community, and celebrating diverse ancestry and cultural heritage.
In advance of the fifth annual Hapa-Palooza Festival, hapa Bulletin editor John Endo Greenaway spoke to the six members of the Festival Board.
5th Annual Hapa-Palooza Festival
September 16 to 20, 2015
A Celebration of Mixed Heritage and Hybrid Cultural Identity
The Bulletin Interview:
Anna Ling Kaye | Jeff Chiba Stearns | Nadine
Jen Kato | Nargis Dhirani | Natasha Neale
Anna Ling Kaye “I’m Chewish – Chinese Jewish!” But then I always clarify I’m Taiwanese and Jewish.
Jeff Chiba Stearns Well, you probably expected a one-sentence answer here but you just asked the wrong hapa! Be prepared for at least a ten-minute conversation! I know for most people it’s really just a question based on curiosity but for me it’s a deep conversation-starter about the complex nature of my own ethnic background and how I identify as someone who is mixed-race and Canadian. Usually I’ll respond first saying I’m Canadian but I know they really want to know my ethnic breakdown. Sometimes I’ll just say hapa…but that usually warrants an even longer conversation explaining what a hapa is.
Jen Kato When I was younger, I would just respond with “I’m half Japanese,” which was always sufficient. It wasn’t until I met my (now) husband in my early 20s that I’d ever been asked what my other half was. I didn’t know. I had to call my mom! These days I think it depends on which day you ask me – half Japanese and half white/European/ginger… or just “hapa”!
Nadine That is a very common question for me. When I was young I didn’t know what they meant. In my twenties I used to lie just for fun. Now I say I’m mixed race, my mom is from Trinidad and my dad is white… how about you… what is your ancestry? (I transfer the question back to them).
Nargis Dhirani I am Filipino – Tanzanian, born in Dubai and been living between Vancouver and Dubai since 2000.
Natasha Neale I smile, take a breath (I’ve had this question asked of me often). I’m half Chinese/half British. But I’m not really half anything, I’m fully mixed, 100% hapa.
What is your particular ethnic mix (or recipe), and what does it mean to you?
Anna My mother is from Taiwan, and my father is of Eastern European background, raised secular Jewish in New York. It means that I’m good at eating latkes with chopsticks. In all seriousness, it means I’m comfortable and happy navigating the streets of Taipei and New York, but don’t entirely fit in either place. For now! Maybe that’s why big East West cities like Vancouver and Hong Kong feel so familiar to me, and I’ve chosen them as homes as an adult.
Jeff I’m part Japanese, English, Russian, Scottish, and German. What I am not is half, a quarter, or an eighth of anything. I feel using fractions to describe yourself is a way of breaking yourself down and we are not broken. I think for people who are of multiple ethnicities it’s important to feel whole. I’m fourth generation Canadian but I like knowing I have roots in Japan and other European countries even though I don’t look or feel like I belong when I visit any of those countries.
Jen My dad is Japanese and my mom is of mixed European descent (English/French/Irish). To me, my ethnic mix is what makes me most unique! I love the shock on people’s faces when I tell them that my mom is a ginger – a natural redhead with fair skin and freckles!
Nadine I am 1/2 Trini, 1/2 White Canadian. I grew up in a cultural void – my parents chose not to celebrate any of their ancestral customs so we could be free of any stereotypes. I know less about the cultures that make me up than the average person, which is weird because people assume I do. They will say “I bet you can make a good roti!” and I never made roti until I was in my 30s. So, my recipe (I like that word!) means nothing to me. I call myself an Earthling, I’ve been saying this for years, even before Tiger Woods said it!
Nargis Everytime I get asked “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” I often feel like I have to give my whole recipe. This means everything to me, identity is a concept I work with a lot in my art. I feel that I am a part of multiple cultures, not only from my parents but from the experiences I’ve had living between two countries.
Natasha Chinese/British. Chinglish if you mash it up together, but I don’t use that term, as I can write sentences in proper English. My mix is common, but I love and embrace it. Best of both worlds. Dim sum and fish & chips.
How does your hapa-ness affect your world view?
Anna I would say my hapa-ness is more a point of curiosity for me, which is a big part of why I love the festival. We get to share stories and experiences, find common and different ground.
Jeff Hapas are the true international spies because we are often seen and categorized as ethnic ambiguity. You see this with the popularity of casting mixed-race actors in TV commercials these days. Ad executives know that people want to relate to who they see on TV, and mixed race actors fill that role well because people see a little piece of themselves. I joke that I have a hapa radar and that I can spot hapas on the street which is weird because I’m always feeling like I’m racial profiling people. When I travel, I’m always experiencing people’s perception of me based on my appearance. In Mexico people speak to me in Spanish or in Japan no one sees me as being a hafu because I don’t look Japanese enough. Some days I identify with being more ‘white’ or sometimes I identify with being more Asian. Or sometimes I’m just hiding in middle of the hyphen. It can sometimes be a strange push and pull.
Nadine It makes me view the world with a wider lens… you can see the strange rules people live by, how everyone is different and same at the same time. In grade 8, I won the Religious Knowledge prize because I argued that all religions are the same. We all love our babies the same, no matter where you live.
Natasha Growing up hapa, especially in Canada, made me recognize race, but see all colours as equal and beautiful. It’s really exciting knowing about multiple cultures and ethnicities and seeing it all around me.
If there was one thing you wished people understood about being hapa, what would it be?
Anna That being mixed doesn’t mean I’m a fraction. I’m not ‘half,’ I’m whole, an entirety unto myself.
Jeff That we’re not all culturally confused or mixed up. In a black and white world, when race is an international topic of discussion in the news, we need to realize that there’s a bigger conversation that is needed here. We’re not either this or that, we’re not stuck in the middle but we are our own demographic or as I read recently, “An entirely different equation.” In this day and age, there is more and more mixing going on. Sure there are times you struggle with finding an identity but there are a lot of times you can celebrate and take pride in your hybridity. Hapa-palooza is something we created to celebrate the cool and amazing things mixed people are doing. It’s a festival that gives us a chance to tell our stories and share our creative voices with others in a safe and inclusive environment.
Jen In my opinion, the term “hapa” is an inclusive one. While some people may choose not to define their blended ethnic mix with a label, for so many others it has brought a sense of community and belonging. I think everyone should be able to define their identity in their own personal way without fear of judgment. For me, “hapa” symbolizes inclusivity, pride and community, and it’s one of the ways in which I choose to define my own identity.
Nadine Just accept people for who they are. People overcompensate by either saying “you seem white to me” as though that’s a good thing or they say “ teach me about your culture” as though you have a culture. I’m just me… my culture is a culture of one.
Nargis That sometimes its not always great being mixed race. I often hear people say, “Lucky, I wish I was mixed” or “Oh, that’s why you’re so beautiful.” To some people these may seem like positive remarks but it can often be hurtful to be categorized in that way, similar to how anyone would feel being stereotyped according to their appearance. It just seems that the stereotype we have is that there is no negative to being mixed.
Natasha That it isn’t all beautiful genes. There is a notion that hapas are good looking and blessed with exotic looks. We’re more than that and actually some hapas have a hard time with understanding their identity. It can be quite complex to come from multiple ethnic backgrounds and try to fit in.
Have you ever had any negative experiences due to your hapa-ness? What about positive ones?
Anna The negatives were mostly to do with labeling. There were some nicknames that were given in affection, but still sounded a bit off: “mongrel,” “mongol,” and, then that one time someone asked me, with good intentions, “So, what’s it like to be mulatto?” At the same time, there are so many positives! It’s wonderful to be able to access multiple cultures, and it’s been especially wonderful and enriching to connect with a like-minded community since co-founding Hapa-palooza in 2011.
Jeff When I was growing up, I was called some racial slurs or had some nicknames that weren’t so flattering derived from my Japanese heritage. Sure I felt shame for being part of an ethnic minority because it made me different growing up. Although, as I grew up, I was able to channel my creatively and use my hapa-ness and hapa experiences as an outlet for my work. Being mixed has inspired the topic of many of my animations and documentary films. I think it’s great that now I have the ability to create a dialogue about hapa-ness through my films that can be used to start discussions with parents and their kids about how they identify.
Jen I’m very thankful that I haven’t!
Nadine Lots of negative experiences… Not being allowed into a restaurant. Not being accepted onto sports teams even though I was the best player (this was the 70s). My best friend in public school said “ I want to invite you to my birthday party but my parents won’t let me because… you know why” “Don’t you wish your hair would stay smooth?” Name calling as you walk down the street (it was the 70s) in both Canada and Jamaica, it goes either way! I’m not allowed in the kitchen of some houses because I am “dirty”. Positive experiences…. Boys thought I was “exotic” and they all wanted to date me 🙂 My friends are real. I have great friends.
Nargis Growing up, it was often hard to feel like the black sheep with both sides of my family and I often still feel it when I visit one of my parents’ home town. As difficult it is feeling that alien in a country that holds your heritage, you are introducing them to the differences that other heritages hold. Being hapa, you are living proof of two or more different cultures in love with each other for all that they are.
Natasha I, luckily have not had any negativity with being bi-racial. But I suppose the positive view on my hapa-ness could almost be negative. Growing up, and to this day, in terms of my hapa look, I’ve been put on a pedestal. I remember this guy I was seeing said, “I’m dating a halfie girl!,” as if I was some sort of prize. I get it, most of us hapas lucked out in the looks department, but we’re more than just a pretty face.
Do you find yourself especially attracted to other hapas? Do you search them out when looking for a relationship?
Anna Hapas are definitely attractive! But my focus in the community has been largely around friendships and collaboration. My husband considers himself mixed: his parents are from different cities in China.
Jeff I guess I have to note that my wife, Jen Kato (who is also an integral part to helping run Hapa-palooza) is also part Japanese and it was her hapa-ness that first attracted me to her. Having been with her for many years now, I love how her family reminds me so much of mine and we have a lot in common. Now that we’re expecting our first child in November and considering we’re both of Japanese and European descent, we are curious about the questions our child will have for us and how her identity will be shaped by her unique and beautifully blended background.
Jen I DO!! So I married one!! Although my days of “looking” are over, I always find hapas very eye-catching! (Am I allowed to say that?!)
Nadine I find hapa people have a quiet confidence about them. I tend to have good relationships with other hapas.
Natasha I think I’m attracted to other hapas because I know they might understand my story. They can relate to how I grew up, they know about those multi-ethic family dinners we have! There’s this mutual “hapa-nod” that happens when I see another hapa. Like, “I see you. We know.” Almost like a not-so-secret club. Hapa kids also get my attention—they are just so darn cute! And it’s always interesting to see what features they received from their parents. I’m always curious what traditions hapas will take from their family. Do they speak mum’s heritage language or dad’s? Or both!
Nargis Haha! My first relationships I had through my teenage years were all with other hapas. I never went out searching for them, but I guess I was naturally attracted to them. I feel that I found them most understanding in what it was like growing up with mixed roots.
Five years is a modest achievement, but still something to celebrate. Do you see room for growth for the Festival? If so, how?
Jeff Wow, five years! I’m super proud that we’ve made it this far and it’s a true testament, that in a city as diverse as Vancouver, a festival like Hapa-palooza has been so well received. It’s great to hear people tell us that this is a festival that they can relate to and that they wish they had this festival when they were growing up. People tell us how happy they are that we have an annual festival celebrating our mixed heritage. As well, we’re becoming more known on an international and North American level, not just locally. All we can hope for now is that people continue to support us and get excited each year. I think we’ve grown a lot over the years and it’s a large undertaking for an all-volunteer grassroots team. As we continue forward with future festivals, we really want to encourage passionate people to come check us out and get involved so we can continue to grow and keep making Hapa-palooza hapa’n year after year!
Nargis I see it growing the more and more we keep the dialogue open on mixed roots culture. Hybridity is the now and the future.
Many hapas are still relatively young – there must be a whole bunch of them working their way through the school system. Do you think it’s important that there are resources for them when they start questioning their identities, or do you think it will even be an issue?
Anna There are many festivals and resources that emphasize single cultures, but for a mixed person, that’s only one facet of their identity. It’s important that there be environments that celebrate the exciting richness of one’s complete heritage and unique cultural make-up. We hope to provide that in part through Hapa-palooza, but we’re a grass-roots festival, and largely run through volunteer passion. There’s still so much more that could be done if there were more resources on hand! But we’re a hard demographic to pin down, perhaps not an intuitive choice yet for funders, sponsors and donors. There is a growing depiction of mixed heritage in popular media and academia, though, which is definitely a sign of things to come!
Jeff I think things are definitely different now then when we were growing up in the 80s and 90s. There’s much more multicultural education, diversity in the school system and just way more hapas being born. I walk down the street and all I see are mixed families. I think it’s great and we’re on the cusp of a huge hapa explosion in North America. Although, things might get better down the road, we still live in a world where the news is populated by stories of race and as long as we live in a racilized world, it will always be a topic of discussion. I know for some parents, it’s difficult to talk to their mixed kids about identity because their mono-racial experiences are much different than their kids. This is why we focus so much at Hapa-palooza on family and parenting activities and events. This year, we’re bringing up author and educator Sharon H. Chang from Seattle, who just finished her book Raising Mixed Race, to conduct a parenting workshop for parents of mixed race kids. I think there needs to be a lot more dialogue around this and how best to talk to you kids about it. Identity has a strong way of shaping us and I feel it’s just as important for a family to talk about together as it is to discuss as topics like sex and drugs.
Nadine I was born in the 60s so I am an “old” hapa. It was so hard for me because I had no one (except for my brothers) who could relate. Mixed race kids today would be happier if they felt they weren’t alone. There is a lot of confusion around religion these days and “race” is in the news all the time. These hapa kids will wonder “what race am I?” or “what culture am I?” It’s a lot for a kid…. and adults too.
Nargis YES, I believe that resources should be available for them and that dialogue and study on identity should be an important part of a school’s curriculum. This can help build better social behavior and self esteem with all teens going through school and learning who they are as a person.
Natasha I think that for hapa kids growing up now it’s less of an issue, especially in major cities in Canada. We’re a multiracial country, we’re accepting of everyone. But it is still important to have resources. It wasn’t always easy, and we shouldn’t forget that. Some of our parents had to fight racism to be together, and it’s important to know the history. I’m really happy I found this festival to be a part of. It’s as if I’ve found a second family. I really enjoy hearing everyone’s experiences growing up hapa. It’s nice to have someone, like the Hapa-palooza team, to relate to.
Hapa-palooza Festival 2015
Wednesday, September 16, 7pm
Mixed Voices Raised
Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch, Alice Mckay Room Free Event
Seven storytellers including actor Patrick Gallagher (Night at the Museum/Glee), activist, filmmaker & pro snowboarder Tamo Campos, comedian Sean Devlin, musician Buckman Coe and authors Brandy Worrall, Anna Ling Kaye and Chelene Knight share true tales of the shaping of their hybrid-identities.
Thursday, September 17, 7pm
The Book of Negroes – An Evening with Lawrence Hill
Regular $17 (+ $3 S/C)
Vip Front Row $25 (+ $3.25 S/C)
Goldcorp Centre For The Arts
Join Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes, and CBC Hot Air radio host Margaret Gallagher in an evening of stimulating thought, rich revelations and intimate conversation.
Friday, September 18, 8pm to 10pm
Hip Hapa Hooray! Awards Night & 5th Anniversary Celebration
Fortune Sound Club Admission By Donation
This year’s Hapa-palooza award recipients are:
Lawrence Hill – Lifetime Achievement
Margaret Gallagher – Community Builder
Tamo Campos – Humanitarian Achievement
Join us and our award-recipients for an evening of music and celebration! Featuring live music with Vancouver artist David Morin and tunes with DJ Yurie.
Saturday, September 19, 6pm-8pm
Raising Mixed Kids: Parenting Workshop with Sharon Chang
Heartwood Community Cafe Admission By Donation
Join Hapa-palooza Festival and parent educator Sharon H. Chang for the North American launch of her new book, Raising Mixed Race, and to dialogue on ways we can healthily talk about race with our mixed children at a time in their lives when it’s most critical.
Sunday, September 20, 1pm-4pm
Hapa Family Day in the Park!
Granville Island Picnic Pavilion
Free Public Event | Rain Or Shine!
Join us for a day of family fun! Bring down a blanket and picnic and meet the other beautiful families in our community celebrating mixed ancestries and cultural heritage. Wonderful music by Kutapira & dance, family yoga with Patty Javier Gomez, an interactive art piece with Nargis Dhirani, face-painting, ultimate balloon art by Ultimate Balloon Master Michael Ouchi, and other family fun!
Granville Island Picnic Pavilion is next to the Water Park, Granville Island Community Centre and playground, 1318 Cartwright St., Vancouver BC