Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hapa time

Hapa is the Hawaiian word for half, and it's come into use to describe someone who springs from a union that is of a parent of one ethnicity and the other in "hapa-haole," "half-stranger" literally and "half-Caucasian" in practice, first used to describe the kids from the earliest most common sort of union between Hawaiians and visitors to their archipelago. My (hapa) friend Keiko (of multi-gen German-American and first-gen Japanese-American ancestry) and I were bemoaning the premature cancellation of the fine NBC science-fantasy series Journeyman, which co-starred hapa actress Moon Bloodgood (who had previously co-starred in the similarly good, similarly strangled time-travel fantasy series Daybreak on ABC the summer before). "It was so nice to see a[n Asian-Caucasian] hapa actress on every week," Keiko mentioned...which immediately made me realize that we have a plethora of hapa actresses on television these days, even more when we count those not quite acting, such as Attack of the Show co-host Olivia Munn or NBC news anchor/reporter Ann Curry, vastly more regularly seen on US tv, at least, than we see of women or men of "purely" Asian ancestry...and a few more of hapa African/Caucasian descent, such as Rashida Jones (of The Office). I came up with a list of about twenty names, and it just grew and grew, even if a few, such as Lexa Doig (late of Andromeda), aren't currently regulars on a show in production...a few who weren't at that time, such as Lindsay Price (now on Lipstick Jungle) have gotten a new regular gig (meanwhile, one of the most prominent "purely" Asian-American actresses on US tv lost her similar gig, Lucy Liu on Cashmere Mafia).

France Nuyen, the most prominently-featured hapa actress on 1960s US television (and the 1960s were for some reason the most friendly decade for Asian-Americans on television, at very least till the current one) clearly has blazed a trail. I suspect the 1960s saw a Lot more Asian-Americans in series than the 1970s and 1980s, with the often weak exceptions of M*A*S*H and Hawaii Five-0 and the almost purely Cauc Magnum, PI, because they could be seen as both wildly exotic and remarkable in their American-ness, when someone needed to make a point about how we were all Americans together...and Asian-Am actors could be used to make African-American actors, most obviously Bill Cosby in the first season of I Spy, that much more all-American by contrast.

But it is we might be seeing a hapa US President soon, and almost certainly a hapa nominee from the Democratic Party, a little more hapa consciousness might spread around.


Barrie said...

Hapa? I love this expression and this is the first time I've heard of it. I tell my kids they're hybrids (half Canadian/half American). But hapa has a much nicer ring to it.

I popped over from Patti's blog.

Todd Mason said...

Glad to be of service, Ma'am, and an excellent place to jump over from. Welcome.

Hadn't thought of binational hapa-ness much, particualarly between nations of such similar characters, but it's in the small differences that the tale is told...