A guest post by Jefe:
“Hapa” is a Hawaiian term meaning mixed race. It comes from Hawaiian Pidgin English, derived from the English word “half”.
There are at least three meanings in common use:
1. Original Hawaiian: Mixed with native Hawaiian.
In the 1800s Hawaiians considered all non-Hawaiians to be haole, or “foreigner”. Early migrants from Asia, the USA, other Pacific Islands and Europe (e.g., Portuguese) often came without families and married native Hawaiians. This led to the growth in the local hapa haole population, initially a term with derogatory overtones. There were different kinds of hapas, like:
- hapa pake – part Chinese (the most common)
- hapa popolo – part black
- hapa kepani – part Japanese
- hapa pilipino – part Filipino
- hapa pukiki (Portagee in Pidgin) – part Portuguese (differentiated from mainland whites)
Over time, the descendants of these early migrants, mixed or not, came to see themselves as “local” or “kama’aina” – children of the land. Whites from the Mainland USA tended to keep apart, and locals started to use haole to refer to them. By World War II, hapa haole tended to refer to Hapas who were part white.
2. Current Hawaiian: Any racial mixture.
As different Hawaiians started mixing with each other in ever more complicated combinations, any racial combination was called hapa. This is the common usage in Hawaii. President Obama would meet this definition but not the other two.
Unqualified, “Hapa” implies “Hapa Haole”, i.e., part “Asian/Pacific Islander”, part “white”.
3. Mainland USA: Partially, but not fully descendent of the peoples of East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Pacific Islands (but usually excluding South Asia)
Starting with Asian war brides, accelerated by Hawaii statehood and the repeal of racist marriage and immigration laws in the 1960s, the multiracial population of the USA began to explode. By the 1980s, their numbers started to reach critical mass, particularly on the West Coast. Experiencing alienation from Asian communities, as well as from both whites and blacks, university students started to organize to develop ways to express and identify their experiences. They co-opted the term Hapa, especially in California.
The term Hapa is unique to the USA, and is distinguished from other terms, such as Amerasian, Eurasian and Blasian, as well as biracial black/white. Other countries use various other terms to denote their mixed race citizens, e.g., hafu.(Japan), luk khrueng (Thailand), mestiso/a (Philippines), halfie (part-Asian) or metis (part First Nations) (Canada), etc.
Unlike in Hawaii, where it is a mere descriptive term, “Hapa” has gained social and political significance on the mainland. Hapas spearheaded the multiracial activist movement in the 1990s, resisting the “One Drop Rule”, exoticization and the “tick the box” mentality and promoting the idea of selecting vocabulary to describe one’s own experience and identity. From this came the “two or more races” on the US Census in 2000.
Examples of #3:
Bruno Mars (Filipino, Puerto Rican, Jewish, Spanish)
Dwayne Johnson (Samoan, African, European)
Ann Curry (Japanese, French, German, Cherokee, Scottish, Irish)
Ne-Yo (African, Chinese, small amounts of European and Native American)
Bruce Lee (Chinese, German)
- The Hapa Project (kipfulbeck.com/the-hapa–project/) – Art Professor Kip Fulbeck of the University of California, Santa Barbara did a photo project asking over 1200 multiracial Americans the question, “What are you”?
- The term “Hispanic”
- The term “Asian”
- Kingdom of Hawaii
- Black men, Asian women
- Vietnamese Amerasians
- Half White, Half Asian
- Obama in Hawaii
- One Drop Rule
- Hapas featured on this blog: