Let's Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month
By: Sonya Colattur & Lily Okabe
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and marks a significant time for those of AAPI ancestry to embrace their culture and their heritage. As per the United Nations, there are currently 48 countries and 3 other territories in Asia and 15 independent Pacific Island nations each with different cultural practices, histories, and traditions. AAPI communities are far from monoliths, especially when accounting for those of multiracial or multicultural backgrounds that partake in the celebration of AAPI heritage month. In celebrating the month, it is important to also celebrate the experience and history of multiracial individuals with Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry.
"To me being a biracial Asian American, is something I am proud of I am the best of both of my parents and my races." - Lily Okabe, The Color of Us Fellow
One of the most notable locations of Asian and Pacific Islander multiracialism is the state of Hawaii. Today, Hawaii is home to the largest number of Americans who identify as multiracial with 24.2% (2019) of the population identifying as being of two or more races. This is largely due to the history of the Hawaiian islands that resulted in immigrants from Asia being conscripted to work in Hawaii’s agricultural fields. These immigrants were often exploited for labor and subjected to inhumane conditions on plantations. Similarly, Hawaiian natives were also subjected to harsh conditions and inequalities which contributed to the formation of relationships between Asian immigrants and Hawaiian natives and a subsequent multiracial population. Multiracialism in the Hawaiian islands became so prevalent across generations that the word “hapa” was created to describe those who were of more than one race.
The word “hapa” stems from a Hawaiian pidgin word that is short for hapalua meaning “half.” However, the word was historically used as a derogatory term for mixed-race children of plantation laborers from the Philippines, Korea, China and Japan and those they married in Hawaii. Today the word has been reclaimed by many multiracial individuals residing in Hawaii.
One of the most recognizable projects that depicts the hapa identity and experience is the “Hapa Project” created by American artist, Kip Fulbeck. This collection of photographs of multiracial individuals of Asian/Pacific Islander descent in the U.S. was created to promote awareness and recognition of the larger number of multiracial/multiethnic hapa individuals who have been previously ignored as a population.
In the words of Kip Fullbeck, “ I think [hapa] is a much more interesting and accurate word than 'Amerasian' or 'Eurasian' or any of these words that are two words combined because I don't think of myself as half Asian and half white. I think of myself as a whole."
In contemporary society, language is largely reflective of the way multiracial individuals identify. Terms such as “Wasian," “Blasian," “Mexipina," etc. particularly reflect the intersection of race and culture for many multiracial people. While there has been an emergence of these terms that have been embraced by popular media, every multiracial individual has different perspectives regarding how they choose to self-identify.
This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month it is important to embrace how every individual self-identifies and respect how multiracial individuals within the AAPI community choose to connect with their culture.
Happy AAPI Heritage month from The Color of Us!