Moments after arriving at the Japanese American National Museum for Kip Fulbeck’s ‘Part Asian, 100% Hapa’ exhibit with several members of UC Irvine’s Hapa Mix Club, I brushed shoulders with the largest gathering of people of mixed heritage I had seen. The exhibit, which has been at the museum since June 10, is a core finding of collective cultural awareness.
I could no longer think of Hapa pride as a fringe movement, barely worthy of my attention in the face of more televised and politicized cultural issues. What was happening here was a very real, very credible coalescence of a coherent, social identity for an otherwise ethnically ambiguous group.
I am Hapa myself, and to say that I had never cared about that fact is not far from the truth. It may be just as accurate to say that I am one of many individuals of mixed ethnic heritage who had never thought of himself as a bridge of two or more cultures. Until now, my heritage was as simply defined as my predominantly white family and upbringing would allow. Despite the fact that half of my genes are Cantonese, I speak only English, I watch a lot of Turner Broadcasting System and I would be hard-pressed to choose dim sum over barbecued ribs.
I thought I’d conduct a little experiment just a few days after my initial visit to the museum. I was good friends with one other person of a similar ethnic makeup. Our friendship was borne out of circumstances outside of ethnic similarities or differences, so neither of us had ever really examined our cultural and ethnic makeup very deeply. My idea was to bring someone as culturally-unfocused as myself to ‘Part Asian, 100% Hapa’ and see what happened.
Enter Wyatt Gottschalk, a 20-year-old Pasadena City College history student who was born and raised within the limits of Pasadena and South Pasadena. The son of an insurance examiner from Connecticut and a Taiwanese-born accountant, he had grown up with experiences similar to mine.