Happy to be Hapa

By Anna Thorne


I am biracial, but what does that really mean?

When someone asks me where I am from, I feel perplexed. I do not want to be perceived as that one person who sits there and lists off a million different places and finally says, “that’s where I’m from.” But I am that person and I was born that way.

My father is English and my mother is Thai but I’ve lived in Malaysia for my whole life and, to make it even more complicated, I was born in France. We have all had to answer that one question, “where is home to you?”. Most people would answer this question effortlessly but that is not the case for me. I do not know where home is to me.

It is a struggle being biracial, not knowing where I belong. I feel like I’m a tourist everywhere I go. When I’m in Thailand, I am a tourist. When I’m in England, I am a tourist. When I’m in France, I am a tourist. Countless people have come up to me and spoken to me in a language I had never known or heard of because they thought I was from their ethnic group. Acts like these alienate me to the point where I cannot determine where I am actually from. Am I English? Am I Thai? It’s hard not being able to identify with one specific ethnic group.

If you identify as someone from more than one country, you know the struggle of:

  1. Not being able to correctly identify where you belong.
  2. Not actually belonging to a distinct ethnic group.
  3. Receiving the most irrational questions and comments.

All this stirs up a bundle of confusion, not only within yourself but also in the people around you.

When someone approaches me and I tell them where I am from, I either get a “wow you are so unique!” or I just get stared at as if I was a painting. Some people even ask me “what are you?” which makes me feel even more like an object instead of a human being. Don’t get me wrong, I love being mixed-race. It makes me unique and special because you can’t find many people from the same countries as I am. But this makes me feel like I’m an outlier, like I do not belong anywhere and, when you really think about it, I technically do not belong to one certain place.

When I was younger, people would oppose the fact that I was mixed race. People would even tell me, “no, you are not from there, you don’t look or act like you are at all. You haven’t even lived in that country so it doesn’t even count.” People would actually think I was lying about my identity, as a young girl.

We feel as if we belong to a whole different planet, like aliens that do not fit anywhere in this earth, in this galaxy. We feel displaced. We feel unsettled. We feel detached. When you come up to me and ask me which of my two nationalities I desire to be  the most, I feel appalled.

“So are you more Thai or British?” You don’t get it. “So where are you originally from?” You don’t get it. “So what’s your ethnicity?” You don’t get it.

What is the real answer? What can I, as well as everyone in this world, call myself in order for me to feel more like a person rather than an object? The word “hapa” is a Hawaiian expression that means half. Hapa is also a word in which someone who is mixed-race can identify with.

An artist named Kip Fulbeck created a project called the Hapa project to promote awareness of, as well as recognize, mixed-race people who have been ignored by different ethnic groups. Fulbeck is giving multiracial people a voice.

Yes, I understand, you may be very inquisitive, and just trying to get to know me, but please, don’t ask me questions that make me feel like an object. Don’t ask me questions that make me feel alienated. Don’t ask me questions that make me feel misplaced.

It’s simple. I am hapa.    


Works Cited

  1. Communications, United Methodist. “A Multiracial Church – the Best of Both Worlds |.” United Methodist Communications, 21 Jan. 2011, http://www.umcom.org/learn/a-multiracial-church-the-best-of-both-worlds.
  2. Desmond-Harris, Jenée. “6 Things I Wish People Understood about Being Biracial.” Vox, Vox, 11 Mar. 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/3/11/8182263/biracial-identity.
  3. Laughlin, Alex. “’Half Asian’? ‘Half White’? No – ‘Hapa’.” NPR, NPR, 15 Dec. 2014, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/12/15/370416571/half-asian-half-white-no-hapa.
  4. Person. “12 Things You Should Never Say To a Mixed Person.” Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, 8 Oct. 2017, http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a5703/never-say-to-mixed-person/.
  5. Reid, Chessa. “23 Things You Should Never Say To A Person Of Mixed Race.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 22 Feb. 2018, http://www.elitedaily.com/life/never-say-to-mixed-race/1286849.
  6. http://www.thehapaproject.com/.
  7. Adams, William Lee. “The Standards of Beauty Are Becoming Multiracial.” The Culture of Beauty, edited by Roman Espejo, Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010659208/OVIC?u=60iskl&xid=3e869b67. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018. Originally published as “Mixed Race, Pretty Face? Why We’re Drawn to Exotic Beauty,” Psychology Today, vol. 39, Jan.-Feb. 2006, pp. 17-18.

2 thoughts on “Happy to be Hapa

  1. Li-Kay Teng

    ANNA I LOVE THIS!!! The way you wrote about your struggles being someone of mixed-race clearly showed your voice in your writing, and it was just an overall super engaging and interesting piece. Loved it!!!

  2. Sinbald Cheng

    Awesome piece! I can relate to this as I have two of my own hapas. Like you, they are unique and are special for that, being brought up with, and in, multiple cultures gives a hapa a unique outlook and appreciation for others. I enjoyed reading this and will pass it onto my kids to enjoy. Well done!

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