My name is Melanie Sumi Tong and I’m Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish.
Until recently, I didn’t even know about the word “Hapa.” I went with my grandmother and dad to Hawaii this past summer and felt at home there. I talked to my dad about this a bit and he said it’s because I was Hapa.
It felt freeing for a while knowing that I didn’t have to identify as one or the other but Hapa. I went to Little Tokyo a few months ago and saw the Hapa exhibit and it felt good knowing that were others like me.
I’ve been asked a lot about what I was and the response ranges from “Really? You don’t look Asian,” to “That’s cool. I can see it now,” but that’s okay with me.
My Asian genes have blessed me with very pretty dark hair which can be really oily at times while my Spanish side has given me wavy frizzy hair which is fine by me since I don’t like to curl my hair anyway. I grew up in two worlds which was a blessing in disguise because it’s given me a great set of values and made me more open to learning about other cultures.
On my dad’s side of my family, I am fourth generation Chinese and Japanese. My mom’s of Spanish descent. My family history is something I’m still learning about but my grandmother is Japanese and was adopted into another family and my late grandfather was Chinese and raised in Hawaii. My grandfather did serve in the military during World War II as a meat inspector. I found recently that he ran an veterinary clinic very close to where I live for over 20 years. They met when my grandmother was in school and well the rest is history. My grandmother’s family is still in Japan but our family there is primarily located in Hagi where we have a family cemetery. I did get the chance to meet them last year when I went to Japan for the first time.
My mom met my dad in college then they married; they eventually divorced but I have still had a good life regardless. I mostly grew up with my mom so I grew up in a very typical household with a little bit of an Asian influence. I remember having rice at most meals and eating a lot of Japanese food when I was younger but that was about it. I didn’t pay attention to the fact I was half Asian growing up and felt like any other normal child.
It wasn’t until I got to high school that I started to realize that I looked a little different from the other students; it bothered me a little since I wanted to look more like my dad but also wanted to have some of my mom’s looks. My high school was mostly Caucasian and there weren’t many Asian students (that I recall). I had one friend in high school who was also Hapa. I couldn’t speak Spanish all too well either and needed to study another language to graduate. This was when I started studying Japanese and trying to learn more about the culture. I also made it a goal of mine to go to Japan when I was old enough. So for five years I studied Japanese then went last year.
The trip changed how I felt quite a bit; I still identify more with being Japanese since I think I grew up with that culture more. In many ways, a part of my heart is always in Japan because I could identify with the culture so much. While I was there, one of my family members pointed out that I could pass for being half Japanese although I still don’t see it myself. My family still celebrates holidays like Japanese New Year and Children’s Day. I vaguely remember receiving red envelopes from my grandmother when I visited her home.
Being Hapa is a part of me that I’m proud of. I love being mulitculturial and having some of the values that have driven me forward in life. One thing I’ve learned is to never forget your roots, and I never will because they make me, me.