Share Your Hapa Story: Lady Pace
Share Your Hapa Story: Lady Pace @mellamolady
I was fortunate to grow up in California, which is considered the most diverse state in the US. But as diverse as it is, being Black and Asian has been a unique experience. I was always questioned, “What are you?”
Although I was born in the Philippines - I had no real connection with my mother's heritage since she assimilated to American culture as soon as she arrived in the US at 20 years old. My mom being mixed ethnically herself (Filipino and 1/4 Japanese), retained her language and some aspects of her culture, but it wasn't something that heavily influenced how my mom raised me and my siblings. Aside from knowing a few basic phrases, the food, and Filipino stereotypes, I could not identify culturally as being "Filipino."
My Black American father made sure to educate me on Black culture, history, and what it means to be Black in America. He was born in Tuskegee, Alabama during Jim Crow and often shared memories of his experience with racism and division in the '50s and '60s. Because of this, he planted the seeds for what would eventually become pride in my Blackness. But even with my brown skin and curly hair, my Asian features are dominant, and a lot of black people did not accept me self-identifying as a black person. I even had a black person offensively say to me, "You're not black, Ling-Ling." Into adulthood, these same features were fetishized as “exotic," but I also felt resented by some black women if a man who looks like my father wanted to date me - because I am mixed.
White colonizers robbed enslaved black people of their culture; therefore, blackness IS the culture. The music, the food, the fashion, the language, etc., is all part of the cultural identity of Black Americans. And because of colorism and other races profiting and appropriating from Black people in general, I understand the exclusivity; being mixed and claiming blackness can seem like an estrangement.
At the same time, I have never felt accepted by my Asian side. To them, I am too tall, too brown, too thick, too opinionated, too independent, too "black"; I’ve even been called a "monkey." Because it’s common for many Asians to idealize "whiteness," being mixed with white is good. But in all cultures, being black has always been seen negatively.
So how do I fit in? The word “Hapa” gives me a sense of communal identity that just “Black” or “Asian” does not, because I am both. I recognize that I am part of a community of people who understand the unique challenges of figuring out your identity between two races or two cultures. My duality speaks to the distinctive blend of characteristics that makes me, me, and even with all the judgment I experienced, I am still proud of who I am. I am Hapa.
Also published November 2, 2020 on Instagram, #ShareYourHapaStory045