I’m half Japanese and the rest is a mix of Irish, French, and British of which I’m unsure.
Growing up, I never heard the word “Hapa” in the Northeast where there was a small Asian population, but I always identified as being mixed. I regret that I couldn’t really be exposed to much Japanese culture there, despite my mom’s efforts to immerse me as much as she could.
I guess my experience is even more different since I also grew up with an autistic brother. My family decided it would be best to use only English at home, so I lost my Japanese fluency by the time I entered first grade. It was always annoying to have to justify why I didn’t speak fluent Japanese. Right now I’m re-learning Japanese and I’m determined speak with enough fluency to visit by myself in a couple years.
Looking back, there were probably times I was excluded or left out of things because I was mixed, I looked too different, or people didn’t want to associate with me because of my brother’s autism. Either I don’t remember too many of these instances or I ignored them and went my own way since I’m a pretty stubborn person.
When I moved to Southern California in my high school years, I began to feel like somewhat of an outcast — the racial tension in my school divided everyone so that people mostly stayed with their own. Like a lot of Hapas, I didn’t feel Asian enough to join the Asian crowd, but others didn’t really understand if I tried to explain this.
I’ve been mistaken for Mexican, Spanish, Italian, French and was told once that I really look Czechoslovakian (I wasn’t aware there was a “look”). It’s interesting how different people guess depending on where you are. I think that now that Hapa culture is coming more into the mainstream, people are able to guess that I’m Hapa more accurately.
I’ve also dealt with backhanded compliments, staring, sarcastic comments, and racist slurs. I’m so thankful for growing up in a time where I can feel confident that there is nothing wrong with me for being the way I am. So while some things people say legitimately get my blood boiling, they don’t really have lasting negative effects of me. Therefore, I’ve never felt apologetic or regretted being mixed, and I will always be proud to be Hapa.
The biggest benefit of growing up Hapa, for me, is that it’s taught me humanistic values and to be open to all sorts of people.