hapa through the years

hapa hasn't always meant something to me.  there was a time when i didn't know the word existed.  and throughout the years my awareness of its existence and what it meant to me has changed dramatically.

at 5, i'd never heard of the word.  and up until that point i'm not sure i'd ever thought about the fact that my parents grew up in opposite corners of the world and that my home life was an intersection of those worlds. 

at 10, i still hadn't ever heard of the word.  our family had been living in tokyo for 4 years by then.  i was surrounded by hapas of all sorts, most of them were american hapas who were my grade school classmates and friends, living as expats in tokyo.  hapa was the norm as was everything else.  my american expat school was full of diversity.  it seemed like the entire world was represented in my elementary school class and it was normal to me.

by 15, i'd heard the word hapa.  my family had moved back to the states when i was 10, southern california to be exact.  and hapa came alive to me there.  i learned the word from a large group of asian american friends i'd made and though my school experience wasn't as globally diverse as it had been in japan, it was racially diverse.  hapa was not a huge minority.  people knew what it was.  and there were a ton of other ethnic mixtures surrounding me.  but when i was 14 or so, we moved from southern california to indiana.  hapa went from a normal part of life around me to being a totally unfamiliar minority.  it became something i was too aware of, something i knew made me different and altogether awkward.  throughout my highschool years,  i can recall knowing of 2 other hapas, maybe 3.  it was the first time being hapa in a specific setting was associated with feelings of anger.  it was when i realized the world wasn't like it had been throughout my formative younger years.  hapa was confusing and it was completely unknown to everyone around me.  it had to be explained and so it became exhausting and i didn't want to talk about it.  it felt too different.  and in turn, i became internally prideful, was guilty of reverse-racism in my heart, and couldn't wait to get out of indiana.

by the time i was 20, hapa changed again.  life had taken another twist.  at that point, i had already started a journey of understanding what it meant to follow jesus and already began re-orienting my life to that end.  it had become the most important thing in my life and heart and i began to understand everything in my past and about my life story through that vein.  and as hapa changed,  i also began to change. i didn't leave indiana afterall.   healing had begun in every area of my life, hapa included, and much of this happend in the context of authentic community, literature and jesus himself.  i also began wondering if hapa was really that important at all.  i wasn't sure anymore.  i still lived in a fairly homogenous environment in college but it was less so.  as a christian, i wondered if i should care so much about being hapa ...if by making a big deal about it i was focusing too much on myself...

by 25, i had just spent the last 2 years living overseas again, but this time as a single adult and as a missionary in western europe.  to say things in my life and heart had changed over the previous 10 years is a huge understatement.  and where hapa is concerned, that had changed with time too.  i had realized that it was important, not only to me but to God.  i had begun to understand that it was an integral part of my story and God's larger story and that it would affect everything i did and all of the things and relationships i was a part of.  i understood that though it isn't more important than anyone else's story or background, it isn't to be downplayed or ignored in a guise of false humility. and i began to believe that being hapa might just have a purpose bigger than me.

now, in my 30's, hapa is still an important part of me.  i am not afraid to say that and love to talk about it and am still processing it at times.  i love talking about race, culture and identity on many different levels.  i find it absolutely fascinating to be honest.  it's not the most important thing and never will be but it will always be really important nevertheless.  i realize fully now that it was God-intended and purposed and that it is also to be held out to him with open hands as are all things given to us.  i have encountered a lot of people  (hapa or not) who think that it shouldn't be a big deal, that all americans are a mix of some kind...and while that's true in a way, there's a difference when you grow up with two very different worlds in one home and those worlds are not just a distant memory to your great-grandpa.  when you grow up with two parents from different countries and spend your entire formative life wading through and balancing two very different worlds, the effect is unmistakable and huge.  there are certain gifts given through it along with hardship and they should not be ignored because they are real and valuable.

i was hapa at 5 and 10 unknowingly, at 15 and 20 with struggle and confusion and at 25 and 30 with healing, freedom,  peace and purpose.  i wonder what the next five to ten years will bring...