Hip Hapas share poetic talents

by Katy Rushlau / Beacon Staff • April 19, 2012

Hoppa tharp

With Snappy Sushi pinched at the end of a pair of chopsticks, the next “generasian” of Emerson students gathered in the crowded Cabaret to learn and celebrate Hapas. 

Derived from the Hawaiian word meaning “half,” Hapa is used to describe a person who is part-Asian. 

As part of Asian Heritage Month, Emerson’s Asian Students for Intercultural Awareness  hosted “I Like it When You Call Me Big Hapa,” an educational event meant to focus on this uncommon racial term. 

The event attracted over 30 people who came to enjoy the free food and the entertainment provided by popular spoken-word artists, Sarah Kay and Franny Choi. Kay  identifies as Hapa; Choi is Korean. 

Kay is the founder and co-director of project V.O.I.C.E, a movement that urges young people to write, and Choi was awarded the Best Female Poet in 2011 by The Wade-Lewis Slam Poetry Invitational. The two widely recognized writers performed fearless and slightly erotic poems including  Kay’s famous “If I Should Have a Daughter”  and Choi’s infamous “Pussy Monster.” The stories about drinking games, über-nerd brothers, and “being called at on the street” both revealed similar themes, including ethnicity and relationships. 

Kay, who recently finished a tour abroad in Australia, shared a poem that she called her “Hapa Pride Poem.” With a confident voice, she compared the feeling of being Hapa to “half-and-half gone sour” and assertively changed her perspective to a “two-toned dairy mix and proud.”  

The evening ended with a brief Q-and-A session with Kay and Choi during which they discussed Asians portrayed in art, media, and in life. Many asked about their writing process, but the most common question regarded how their ethnicity influences their work. Choi expressed frustration about the lack of Asian influence on the United States.

“There aren’t a lot of Asians doing spoken word,” Choi explained to the audience. “Some are starting, but there is definitely a lot of underrepresentation in the arts in general.”

Choi also explained that her race and ethnicity play a crucial role in her writing. 

“I like to think that my work adds to the fabric of Asian art in the U.S.”, said Choi. “Ethnicities that are minorities or silenced should definitely have a voice.”

Unlike Choi, Kay explained that her work isn’t typically inspired by a specific source. She said her work was meant to inspire Hapas to have confidence, rather than become angry with those who ignore their ethnicity. 

“Race influences my art as much as everything else does,” said Kay. “It influences what I do as much as how hungry I am and as much as the phone call I had. Poems are about figuring things out, and it all depends.” 

Kay explained the lack of knowledge about the Hapa ethnic group, saying that she hopes more people take pride in who they are. 

“I thought I made up the term ‘Hapa’ when I was growing up because no one ever used it,” said Kay. “It is an exciting thing to have groups like this that celebrate the pride in any ethnicity.”

ASIA President Charles DeRupe, who organized the event with Kate Hanson and Sarah Currie, explained that, like Kay, they feel being Hapa should be celebrated on a larger scale. 

“Its the dimensions of ethnicity and the backgrounds of people that makes them a little more interesting,” said DeRupe, a junior marketing communication major. “At the same time, it is more challenging for someone that is multiracial.” 

Hanson, who is also Hapa, explained that there are a lot of issues with identity and self-confidence. 

“It is difficult to understand who you are when you’re pulled in two opposite directions,” said the sophomore communication studies major. “You need to find your own identity and celebrate both sides.” 

Currie described the challenges she faced growing up. Whenever she had to specify her ethnicity, Hapa or multiracial were not included options, and she often felt torn between two races, said Currie.

“We are born pretty much without a race,” said the junior marketing communication major. “In a lot of situations we’re expected to identify ourselves as one race — which is nearly impossible, and you get into situations where people don’t understand why that is.” 

Veronica del Rosario, an ASIA  executive board member, explained that she felt the performers’ perspectives helped Hapas relate with one another. 

“Many ethnicities are not celebrated as much, Hapas included,” said the senior writing, literature, and publishing major. “This event helped people come to terms with the many types of races out there.” 

Asian Heritage Month will also feature more upcoming events, including the Asian Pop Culture Night and a fundraiser performance for the Chinatown Community Center, “Honoring Tradition.” 

DeRupe said he hopes more Asians, Hapas, and those of minority races will find a way to use their voice. 

“There are so many perspectives and voices in the world,” said DeRupe. “It is important to celebrate those perspectives and be comfortable with them.”