hapa347I’m Thomas Barnes, born in Hong Kong. My father is British and my mum Chinese. When I was growing up, the name for us in HK was “Eurasian.” In Cantonese Wun Huet Yee means “mixed blood.” There are also much ruder phrases!

Growing up in colonial-era Hong Kong, the mostly British kids at my junior school looked down on local Chinese and I made every pitiful attempt to blend in with them and ignore my Chinese heritage.

At school in England the same thing pretty much persisted, so I experienced a lot of self conflict as a kid. Moving to London when I was 18 started to change all that. I was in a diverse culture and it I suddenly wasn’t being made aware of being Asian or not. A blessed relief. When I returned to Hong Kong in my mid-twenties I found that Eurasians were now considered cool especially amongst local Hong Kongers. So the world was changing and I gained a ton of confidence and started to enjoy being who I was.

hapa347-2Now at the ripe age of 50 (though people think I’m younger), with two boys of my own, I could not be more comfortable with my dual identity.

I am a filmmaker and I live in New York City where every other young kid it seems, is a much celebrated hafu (hapa). My next project, a feature film, is an indie rock fable set in NY with hafu lead actors. I’m interested in portraying mixed-race people as themselves rather than posing as other races. You rarely see a Hapa actor playing a character based on someone with their specific biracial identity, so I want to change that. More about that on my Tumblr blog if you are interested.

Looking back it’s been an interesting journey. In some ways the childhood part was tough, but it helped form me and inform me and I wouldn’t change a thing.

2 thoughts on “British, Chinese

  1. When my wife and I were dating in the mid-70s and we were in college in Hoboken, we knew a few Hapas around our age. But it certainly wasn’t that common in those days. So, we talked to them a little about their experiences to try to prepare ourselves for what it might be like for our own children someday. While we were both born in New Jersey, my wife’s family was from outside of Hong Kong in China and I’m of mixed European ancestry. We now have 4 great children from 18 to 30. ( One of which works as an engineering manager at Tumblr! and recently moved back to Manhattan from Brooklyn. )

    Your comments about NYC today were good to see. We’ve seen many more than there used to be. But that it seems to help you feel a bit more comfortable is good to hear, too. That was a worry for us with our kids but it does appear that they are pretty much Ok with it all. They all have had friends of both races and some have had Haoa friends. To look at her, our first grandchild isn’t so obviously of Asian ancestry. But it is looking like we may eventually have some in which their European ancestry isn’t very obvious. I still wonder if we’ll ever have any grandchildren who looks as Hapa are our kids do though. The variety would make the onlookers wonder. But it is getting to the point where nobody is likely to ever ask me again where my kids were adopted from or if they all have the same parents. That’s the next generation’s problem now.

  2. I love that you are doing a film on Hapas. Can’t wait to see it! I am in my 50s now and I have learned to just accept my looks cause confusion. Too tall to be Filipino, but that’s what half of me is.

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