Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Asian American Adoptee Activist: Simone Labony Labbance

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!
Simone


Welcome back to our Watermelon Sushi World. Meet this bi-month’s featured hip hapa homee, Simone Labony Labbance.


A transracial/transnational adoptee, Simone is a recent graduate of Wellesley College where she studied Asian American Studies and Music. Recently, Simone completed a capstone for her Asian American Studies major, which culminated in a full-length lecture examining the relationship between AAPI admissions at elite colleges and race-based admission practices. Simone was also president of Wellesley Asian Alliance, the only pan-Asian racial justice student organization on campus. Currently, she’s job-hunting in the Boston area and hoping for something in AAPI Advocacy. In the meantime, she also has a part-time job at EMW BookstoreIs that busy enough for you, hip hapa homeez? No? Well, here’s more from this active activist:

Q: Simone, who are your parents and how did they meet?

A: My parents are Kathie and Bob. They have the most generic white names of the ‘50s! They are both racially white. My mother is of mixed European descent, but I think mostly English. My father was very Italian (biological last name of Maestro), but he was adopted into a Hungarian family, hence my last name: Labbance.

I have an older brother, who is also adopted, and his story influences mine, so I’ll touch on it briefly. He was adopted from an orphanage in Kolkata (many people still use the British name of Calcutta). My parents chose India due to interest in the culture and because it was a country known for having relatively smooth adoption processes at the time. When my parents went to adopt a second child, they had two hopes.

1. to adopt a girl, so they could have “one of each”;
2. to adopt from the same orphanage or at least the same region of India, so my brother and I would share a culture.

We’re both Bengali, and as you’ve probably at least heard, India is a very diverse country from food to culture/language and even terrain/ecosystem.

My brother and I are both from the International Mission of Hope (IMH) in Kolkata, but it almost didn’t turn out that way! IMH was hurting financially when my parents adopted my brother. So they grouped together with many other expectant parents to hold a fundraiser. My parents ran an eclectic restaurant and cooked a huge Indian meal. One mother, an artist, painted a backdrop for the dinner featuring a scene from India, I believe…but I’m not entirely sure because I wasn’t there or alive! My brother successfully made it over to our family in large part due to that fundraiser. Yet during the interim year or two between the time my brother left IMH and the time my parents would file for a second adoption, IMH looked as though it was closing, or at least was not in the position to match children and families. So my parents were forced to look elsewhere in India. They were recommended to a place in the southern part of the country. But before that adoption was close to being ready (and definitely not paired), IMH started to accept applications for adoption again. Because I was the second child my parents had adopted from that particular orphanage, the orphanage let them choose the sex of the child. They, of course, chose a girl and ended up with me!

My mother’s first image of me was via fax (yes, back in the days of fax machines)! She tells a great story of holding her breath while watching me appear, feet first, her new daughter, Labony. I arrived at Logan International Airport a few months later in the fall.

Simone with Chinese adoptee
Q: How did you grow up?

A: Ha ha--definitely not in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. I grew up in rural Vermont, the second whitest state in the USA. There was little cultural opportunity, but my parents worked really hard to provide whatever they could for us in that regard. My first home was located in the epitome of backwoods Vermont with only a few children (if that!) in each grade and not a single other person of color in the entire local community. (Unless of course you count my brother!)

So we moved to Central Vermont, which could offer a community with other POC, but most importantly, other children of color. Many of these children were also adopted, and we shared a particularly meaningful connection. Central Vermont also had easy access to Burlington, Vermont’s hub of cultural diversity.

My mother brought me to Indian music and dance performances, as well as international festivals and events for Hindu holidays. At some point in my junior high years, my mother and I attended a Bharatanatyam* (Hindustani classical dance) performance. Through members of the crowd, we discovered there was a massi**, who worked in my orphanage in India, present that night, too! (I’m so grateful for the small community in Vermont at times like these!) She is an amazing person, and we still keep in touch on occasion today. The massi, now Auntie-ji, invited me to her house, spoke Bangla around me (though I’m sorry to say I haven’t picked it up), taught me how to cook desi food, and wholly welcomed me into her Bengali home and community without a second thought. I also met one of the main dancers of the evening and began taking Bharatanatyam lessons in Burlington on a regular basis. (A big thanks to my mother for driving me for an hour there, waiting throughout the lesson, paying for private lessons, and then driving me home.)

Simone plays sitar
When I was fourteen, my father indulged my wish for a sitar. I took sporadic lessons throughout high school, as I had to go all the way to Portland Maine to meet with my teacher. I already had a strong musical background through piano lessons as a young child, and flute lessons starting in fourth grade. While this was clearly European classical music with completely different theory, notes, scales, everything, it did offer a base from which to work. I was very passionate about linking my activism with music. This was especially possible when addressing cross-cultural communication and international relationships.

Simone with Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band (B5)
playing Bangra Jazz fusion
I composed pieces for the sitar and European chamber ensembles. The musicians often came from a variety of backgrounds. My favorite musician to play with was Bolivian American. The piece of music I composed that expresses this most is Me Shanti, or into peace. The first-stage version is still posted on my MySpace musician page, since that was the in platform of the time. This composition was selected to open the United Nation’s International Day of Peace ceremony in 2009 as a musical representation of a world in conflict engaging in cross-cultural dialogue and eventually moving into a state of positive peace. The musicians were from three different continents (including myself). Those who performed were of South Asian, Latin@, and Mediterranean descent to further convey the message.

Since I haven’t produced new music since high school (and the days of MySpace), I haven’t felt the need to move to SoundCloud or anything else. I hope to have a page up within a year with some new pieces though! I’ve learned a lot in my music courses at Wellesley that I want to apply.

Simone's collage for justice
While Vermont is very racially hegemonic, there are pockets of non-whites and cultural experiences if you know where to look. I was very fortunate to grow up with those experiences made available to me.

Q: What was like being a child in New England?

A: As I mentioned previously, there were other people of color and other transracial (and transnational) adoptees in the greater Vermont community. My parents met many parents of transracial transnational adoptees, and maintained close friendships. Their friends’ children tended to be the same age as my brother and me, and even occasionally from the same orphanage! This was a great support growing up. We shared concerns with one another and processed our individual experiences together. Though to a certain extent, it did seem natural to be adopted and to be a different race than my parents, because those were the experiences I was surrounded by.

WWA poster designed by Simone

At college, it was quite different and definitely more difficult! I attended Wellesley College outside of Boston, and our campus was approximately 30% AAPI including international students. Most students of Asian descent at Wellesley are not adopted, speak their mother tongue pretty fluently, and had a much stronger vocabulary for discussions around race, culture, and ethnicity than I did. It was intimidating to arrive at Wellesley, but I also felt most at home with other students who identified as AAPI. No one knew I was adopted just by looking at me, and a few people even thought I was an Indian International student. I was told by other Indians that I gave off a certain vibe that led them to believe this and, according to them, was able to hold my own in discussions of Indian culture.

Q: Do you have the same passion for golf as your late father?

A: I actually quite dislike golf! The only reason I hold any fondness for the sport (now) is because my father loved it so much. He was well respected in the field as a historian and writer. My father fell off a bridge (on a golf course, of course!) and was paralyzed from the neck down when I was still in elementary school. He died in 2004, just after my fifteenth birthday, of ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. Now that he’s gone, I like hearing golf tournaments on in the background (though I’d never actually sit down and watch). The sound is comforting and reminds me of him.

I would say our mutual passions fall into the category of history, politics, and writing. He was very liberal and used to write incredibly out-there articles under a fake name for a publication in England about Americans. I’m probably more like him than I realize, but it’s hard to tell when your strongest memories of your father are of his illness. My main memories, besides the painful ones relating to his own suffering, are of his laughter and sense of humor, his strength through great adversity. The most useful lesson I learned from both my parents was personal strength during difficult times. I also learned that strength takes on many faces and how to use multiple types of strength to endure life’s hardships.
playing flute in the Himalayas

Q: Have you returned to India, or connected with any relatives there?

A: There is no information on my birth family, so nothing there. But I have returned to India. I studied abroad at an alternative school in India my senior year of high school. This is where I really developed my Bengali American cultural identity. At this school, there were roughly a combined total of 10 American and Canadian students and approximately 30-40 Indian students. I was the only Indian westerner and soon discovered I didn’t fully fit in with either group of students. I wasn’t Indian in the sense that I didn’t grow up in the country and still required a fair amount of help with certain interactions, especially because my Hindi is quite poor. Yet I wasn’t white American. I understood certain cultural etiquettes and was often treated by Indians (students and community members) as though I had never left the country! It was an interesting experience trying to balance the pieces of my identity that fit into both worlds all while trying to remain true to myself as an individual. My experience could not be corroborated with or related to by anyone else in the campus vicinity.

WAA film festival poster
Q: Do you believe that Indian culture is inherent in you, or do you think culture is something that's learned?

A: I believe both. I don’t think one’s culture is inborn, but I think certain people inherently feel more connected to the culture of their heritage. Many personal traits are deep-rooted and even natural, evident at birth. I don’t believe in the “babies are a blank slate” thing. For example, I would also consider myself inherently political and compassionate. I have always been very aware of the world and cared deeply for others. (Perhaps this is what led me to pursue activism!) Even when I was in my first years of elementary school, I would draw posters about current issues and hang them up around school in attempt educate my peers about topics that called for intellectual and moral consideration.


with friend Suh, stepsinging
With regard to culture, part of me definitely has always shown a strong interest in my South Asian heritage and culture. But this was fostered and reinforced by a variety of experiences. I don’t believe that the opposite of inherently feeling Bengali is having to learn the culture. The two are closely linked. If I am interested in my culture from birth, this will lead me to learn about my culture and further my knowledge of it by seeking out experiences that will educate me about my culture. This isn’t an exclusive relationship either! Someone who has shown absolutely no interest in their culture for their entire life could suddenly decide it’s something they want to learn more about and pursue that knowledge without having felt an inherent connection to their roots.

at the Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program


Q: You are so active in your beliefs. Where do you think that comes from?

A: As I said before, I have always shown a strong level of conscientiousness with regard to global issues and exhibited concern with the future of the world and its inhabitants—people and animals alike, although my work does center around racial justice (humans).

Thank you, Simone, for sharing!

Your Hip Hapa,
Yayoi

*Bharatanatyam: Hindustani Classical Dance, also known as temple dancing. These dances are for the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. There are many different styles of Hindustani temple dancing. Bharatanatyam is from Tamil Nadu in the south.

**Massi means caretaker such as an Auntie or someone else of significance…more than, say, a high school babysitter!



Want more, Hip Hapa Homeez? Then, please check out these links:

Watermelon Sushi film
Watermelon Sushi on Facebook
Watermelon Sushi World Networked Blogs on Facebook
Hapa*Teez on YouTube
Hapa*Teez on Facebook
Hapa*Teez on Café Press
War Brides of Japan v.2 on YouTube
War Brides of Japan on YouTube
War Brides of Japan on Facebook
Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)
Twitter
Don't forget to join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook where we post articles and comments about the multicultural community.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Meet Mexipina Mentor, Christina Torres

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

As always, Your Hip Hapa thanks you for your loving support. Since Facebook deleted all inactive accounts, the numbers for our Watermelon Sushi fans has plunged. Please “like” our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/watermelonsushi and help build us up again.
Christina Torres

Your Hip Hapa is so grateful for your continued views of our links at the bottom of this post. And, please tell your family, friends and multicultural community organizations to join us here every other month to read about our featured Hip Hapa Homee.

This bi-month, we’d like to introduce you to educator Christina Torres. Here’s her story:

Q: Who are you parents and how did they meet?

A: My Mexican father and Filipina mother met at the University of Southern California.

mother, father, daughter
















Q: What was it like growing up?


A: Growing up was tough. 



I was at a mostly white school, so that was hard.


in Hawai'i
Q: Now that you live in Hawai’i, how different is it from your former residence in Southern California?

A: I'm way more accepted here than in SoCal. In L.A., there was also lot of racial profiling that affected me. Here in Hawai'i, everyone is mixed and in interracial relationships, which helps a lot. Still it's hard.

Q: What inspired you to become an educator?

A: I wrote about that here:


But some of it was also the realization that kids who shared my racial background, but grew up a half an hour away, had received an education that lacked a number of opportunities that mine had. I realized I had to do something about it. 

Q: How do you guide your students when it comes to developing multicultural awareness?

A: I make it a point to consistently bring up conversations around race with my students. I've actually already written a paper on facing stereotypes and biases with my students to discuss race issues.

Q: As an educator, how do you see things changing for multiracial people? Or, do you? 

A: I think that as interracial relationships become more common and race issues become more prevalent, we'll move towards a world where these issues are discussed more, and multiracial people will have more representation. I think we have a LONG way to go, however.

Q: What other ways are you active with the multicultural movement?

A: I'm part of the #educolor collective:


and talk about mixed-race issues.







Mahalo nui loa, Christina! 


















Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez, until we meet again on June 3, we wish you a HAPA Spring. Remember to check us out at these sites:

Watermelon Sushi film

Watermelon Sushi on Facebook

Watermelon Sushi World Networked Blogs on Facebook
  
Hapa*Teez on YouTube

Hapa*Teez on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on Café Press

War Brides of Japan v.2 on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on Facebook

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

Twitter

And, remember to join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook to read the most intriguing articles and comments about the multicultural community.

buy a HapaTeez t-shirt like this one!
Your Hip Hapa,


Yayoi

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Native Blend With Billy Brady

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez!

It’s been nine years since Your Hip Hapa first posted a blog entry here on Watermelon Sushi World. Mahalo nui loa to all of you who have been with us from the beginning, and to the rest of you who have followed us since.

This bi-month’s post features Hip Hapa Homee Billy Brady of NAMA. Read his incredible story below:

Q: Billy, what does NAMA mean?

A: The National American Metis Association was begun in 1978 and began making possible the identification of being part Native/First Nations heritages that defined us as being "mixed with…”, an altogether newly useful way to identify that didn't crowd those with registered Native heritage by the tribal names alone.

It was also defined here in the U.S. as being a means of bringing identity to being of mixed heritage, which in my own family's case was something thoroughly felt and lived while not being politically broadcast or much discussed. It certainly accounted for how avid we were in my family about the gains being made planetarily and nationally in civil rights on a daily basis from 1954 through the present.

Billy Brady
Q: What’s your life been like?
 
A: I am 67 and when I was not yet 6, we lived where there were many different peoples in National City, an area south of San Diego. It was an era of visual racial segregation and nearby was the black area of Logan Heights. I had cousins who were friends with black kids there, and my own great-aunts (matrilineal-ly) lived just five blocks “above the color line” as people (I learned 30 years later) who passed for white with both Native and Afro-heritage roots and direct, deep Southern roots that had witnessed what Jim Crow meant first-hand.

Billy's mother with her parents, 1918
Q: Who else is in your family?

A: My own family (my two sisters and my widowed, only-child mother) lived in a 55-acre former Naval housing (duplexes) project. My father was already deceased and he had been, I learned, as blonde as your teeth. His father had been born of direct Irish descent in Adelaide Australia. I never met my father’s mother.

But back to National City, I could see we had neighbors who were Hopi and Navajo and, while I knew we were part-Indian, that same 30 years was what it took for my sibs and me to firmly establish our Afro-Georgian-East Texan roots by taking a trip to the town my grandmother had been born in, in the Deep South, where the white Baptist side of town knew nothing about our family's names. So, at age 5, I knew we didn't look just like the tribal peoples in our housing project. And, I took it upon myself to go and query all the neighbors--ALL of them--about what I wanted to know. About 98% of them answered my question about whether they were part-Indian affirmatively!
 
The remainder had an idea they probably were as well. So, I got a very sure sense of how many "Americans" (of the strata of those who were living in low-cost rental housing) were mixed and was all the more intrigued about trying to understand what had happened and what was continuing to happen that was causing people to seem unwilling to claim what they were. And, I also grew a refined eye for seeing mixture-ness within people--something that has served me to much better understand myself and our actual shared connections with each other. I also hunted for what the histories were and what else was being kept from admission. I couldn't understand why people would not even discuss what had just happened in the holocaust of the Second World War at that stage. So, I went everywhere to look for information, from the time I could keep a bike upright. And, in 1973, being part-Indian began to get a name that was not fraught with negativity.
 
Billy's grandmother (left) in San Diego, 1914
Q: Metis means mixed, right?

A: This story is the one we have already posted at the NAMA Facebook page. It was the birth of a national reference to being "Metis" and being “Mixed” was what we meant by this.

It was then that I wrote this contribution to having acceptable language to refer to being mixed, and shared the statistics and bibliographical sheets that were passed around to people of mixed heritage, where I was already involved, by our using lay-counseling tools that were part of the beginnings of the so-called "human growth movement" of the early 1970's.

So, when NAMA came into being with a name, it was seen as appealing to people of mixture who supported that being the case, with an emphasis on what the role of being Indigenous played in us being Americans, regardless of what other heritages we had. That's what got us started.

The stories of many other paths taken along the way of this development--Canada’s part in this, academic pursuits, art, family intermarriages, to name a few, and it's part of understanding what we are doing here, with everyone's sense of how mixed we have become in so many ways. It seems certain to help tie together what we are from and what we will become even a great deal more of.

Q: Kahlil Crawford, who works with multiethnic groups, asks: How did the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision affect you?

A: By 1967, we were so far into how to end the war in Vietnam and Nixon's COINTELPRO was so far into our personal lives with illegal disruptions, I had begun my silkscreen career--beginning with creating anti-war bumper stickers--that the Loving decision was within the heartwarming blur of “our side” getting farther on the altogether growing momentum for a world that was starting to make its own sense, that we might just be able to deter nuclear destruction and see humans treating each other with some dignity.

Q: Kahlil asks another question: What actually happened in 1954 that turned your family towards supporting Civil Rights?

A: Mom's mom belonged to Father Divine's order of things in The Depression, but it takes new turns to garner new energy and the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya was what I asked my mother about when so many fearful racists were just going haywire about it, although it was 10,000 miles away! Her answer was, "People are fighting for their freedom.” But, as the educators/teachers my family were, the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision marked that as being a societal reassurance to them that there were forces that wanted fairness and freedom for us all.

Billy Brady today
Q: How can Hip Hapa Homeez reach you and NAMA?

A: Through BUFFALOSAGE, an actual First Nations/Metis Company:












Well, Hip Hapa Homeez, we’re starting the New Year with a bang! Please patronize the following links to learn more about us:

Watermelon Sushi film

Watermelon Sushi on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on YouTube

Hapa*Teez on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on Café Press

War Brides of Japan v.2 on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on Facebook

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

Sexy Voices of Hollywood

Twitter

We shall return on April 1 and until then, Gung Hay Fat Choy, Omedettou Gozaimasu and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

Your Hip Hapa,


Yayoi

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Multi-Ethnic, Multi-Talented, Memory Maker: Miyako

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez.

Mele Kalikimaka and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

pretty pink origami and Miyako-san
Your Hip Hapa wishes you a HAPA holiday season--no matter how you choose to celebrate. And, to help you get into a festive mood, meet our featured Hip Hapa Homee for this issue, Miyako Akina Fuqua. You may recall that we interviewed her along with her sister, Sakura, four years ago here:

Since then, Miyako has accomplished so much in her mixed-race world, we thought we’d give you an update:

Q: Miyako-san, do you feel any differently about your Japanese/African American identity since your 2010 interview?

A: A lot has happened since then! Since the last interview, I moved to L.A. One of my observations is that people's ideas of being "biracial" differ whether you live in a big city or a college town. Although my hometown was one of the more liberal towns in Indiana, I felt like I had to justify who I was, whereas in a city you can be whoever you want to be. Don't get me wrong. I love my hometown! But I felt boxed in sometimes because my identity was also associated with my middle school, high school, AND college experience.

Q: Tell us about your film, Barcode 
Man:

A: Barcode Man is about an atomic bomb survivor who struggles to forget his tragic past until he meets a student who not only gives him the power to move forward with his life, but to create new memories. 

In college, I was always interested in the politics of WWII, atomic bomb literature and the humanity of the aftermath of the bombing. I wanted to write a story where "new, modern, contemporary" Japan meets and collides with "old, traditional" Japan. It was fun writing two characters from different generations who share a space and grow together. I've also always wanted to see a Harajuku girl in a movie! 


Last year, around this time, Barcode Man won Best Screenplay during the Monaco International Film Festival for the Angel Film Awards. In August, I found out that it progressed to the second round for the 2015 Sundance Screenwriting Labs held in January. I'll find out the results in a couple weeks. 

fabric origami
Q: What’s your new art project about?

A: I decided to start a small business making origami and felt fabric fashion/hair accessories! I've always folded and made things as a hobby growing up, and decided that this was something that I could pursue professionally. 

I wanted to find a way to relive my memories from Japan and Okinawa, focusing on culture, the vibrant sounds, food, and scenery (a lot of my work is inspired by nostalgia). The colors and designs I chose are names of foods I enjoyed as a kid and appreciate more as an adult, like: Mochi, Melon Float, Ramune, Japanese Red Bean, and Japanese Persimmon! 











Here are some links:

origami accessories

Miyako-san in origami

































What a way to celebrate the holidays, Hip Hapa Homeez. Please take some time to check out these links, too:

Watermelon Sushi film


Watermelon Sushi on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on YouTube

Hapa*Teez on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on Café Press

War Brides of Japan v.2 on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on Facebook

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

Sexy Voices of Hollywood

Twitter

Until next year and February 4, I will remain…

Your Hip Hapa, 

Yayoi









Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Beyond Bagels And Sushi: Meet Francesca Yukari Biller


Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez. If you love bagels and sushi, we have a treat for you! This month’s Hip Hapa Homee is an award-winning journalist who loves to serve up delicious fusion meals representing both of her cultures—Jewish and Japanese. But she’s about more than just diverse food combos, as you will see below. Dear Hip Hapa Homeez, meet Francesca Yukari Biller:

Francesca serving up cultural fusion
Francesca with parents and siblings
Q: Francesca, who are your parents and how did they meet?

A: My parents are quite honestly two of the most interesting people that I know (and it's not just because they are artists and polar opposites in so many ways), making their intercultural marriage creatively flourish for more than 57 years with four children and six grandchildren.

My father, Les Biller, was born and raised in Los Angeles and his ethnic background is Russian-Jewish, English, Welsh and Irish. He is a full-time artist and was an art professor at USC, UCLA and the University of Hawai’i. My mother, Sumiko Aoki, is 2nd generation Japanese (Nisei) and was born in Captain Cook, Hawaii. Her family owned and farmed Kona coffee lands, and her brothers served as decorated soldiers in the 442nd Infantry during World War II. Today, she is a fashion designer and owns an upscale clothing boutique in Santa Monica, California.

My father has always been a rebel, and I say this quite fondly. After graduating high school, he attended The University of Hawai’i. This was quite a shock, and a wild and an unconventional thing to do, as this was the 1950's not long after World War II when there was still a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the U.S. This is where he met my mother as she was attending the University of Hawai’i while studying for a Masters degree in teaching. They married shortly after, had two children and spent three years in Kyoto, Japan where my father was a Fulbright Scholar.

"famous L.A. martini", anyone?
Q: You've written about the meals you ate as a child. How did your mother learn to cook Jewish dishes, and did your father share any culinary duties with her?

A: Some of my very first memories as a child includes both images and sounds of my mother cooking as she sang classic jazz standards in our seaside home. No matter what else was happening, our family could always count on my mother's loving brand of homestyle cooking, fashionable and stylish well before international fusion meals became the norm.

I believe that my mother learned to cook classic Jewish dishes like “Sweet and Sour Cabbage Stew”, “Beef Brisket” and “Matzah Ball Soup” not only because my father loved them, but because she truly enjoyed experimenting and trying new recipes; and, the more unique and new, the better.

Some of the recipes were handed down from my Jewish grandparents, and others, like the classic brunch of lox, bagels and cream cheese were borrowed from the numerous Jewish delis that we visited throughout Los Angeles during the 1970's, including the infamous Cantor's Deli where we often saw Jewish comedians like Mel Brooks and Milton Berle.

As for my father, he did not share in any of the preparing or cooking of our meals, although his great priceless contribution included a biting sense of both slapstick and intellectual humor, story telling, and deep conversations about art and culture, along with his "famous L.A. martinis" which attracted unique and colorful guests from many different backgrounds.

Francesca in her "writer's hat"
Q: When did you know you would become a writer?

A: Writing is such a fluid and organic art form, that I candidly cannot recall whether I was first a writer, a person, or a person who was a writer. As I grew up amongst a family of artists going back several generations, my every breath was sewn in music, colorful images and creative cultural thoughts and energy as a natural remedy and rhythm that formed the lives of my siblings and me.

My very first memory as a writer was when I started to write poetry at about four or five-years old. I was in love with the way that words simply looked when letters came together as they both started and ended on a page. Before I attended kindergarten, I was stringing words together that both rhymed and echoed themes of nature and home. First, I wrote short lists of birds, and then of trees and the sun. By the time I was seven, I was writing longer poems about my visits to the seashore with both of my grandfathers, one a Japanese fisherman and the other, a Russian wandering adventurer.

those encouraging parents
Q: With your mother being a fashion designer and your father a painter, in what ways did they encourage you towards a writing career--either consciously or unconsciously?

A: Growing up in my house was like living inside of a symphony that never seemed to have an intermission. Fluid creativity seasoned every sense of both courage and somber attempts, and my parents outwardly and inwardly encouraged passion beyond all other values.

Whether I was watching my mother hand-sew hundreds of intimate silk rosebuds onto a kimono-influenced wedding gown, or my father thrash about his paintbrushes in turpentine and fleshy oils of bright and dark colors, I only knew that I felt alive.

And I felt most alive when I was singing, drawing and writing, which I did religiously each day, even though our home boasted of no religious deities or icons. Rather, the creative process was in and of itself our flames of joy and faith, as my father painted on both small and massive canvases in our living room, and my mother always seemed to have a needle and thread dancing on ribbons of velvets and linen dresses that she designed beneath the large picture window that framed our living room.

Sumiko with flowers in her hair
As a writer, the visual images that my parents continually created before my eyes gave me boundless material to write about--and to become lost in--as I spent whole weekends in which I wrote with barely sleeping or eating, as I developed calluses on my fingers from the art pencils that I grasped with both a sense of longing and calmness. 

Q: It seems you've experienced more than the "usual" mixed-race experience through having a Japanese American mother who grew up in Hawai’i with relatives who were part of the 442nd all-Nisei military as well as being Jewish. How has all of that factored in your life?

A: I believe that having an exotic and unusual mixed-race and cultural background is what has given me the drive to create even more than the average artist, as I feel so much emotional history from the blending and fusion of both. Whether I am inspired by riveting tales of my Japanese samurai and World War II hero relatives, or by stories of bravery, isolation and philosophy from my Jewish ancestors, I know that having the opportunity to be part of both gives me a sense of tenacity and purpose I may not otherwise have.

meet Francesca's daughters
Q:  Do you think by marrying a Jewish man your children may lose some of their Japanese side? What do you do to keep them connected to that part of their identity?

A: I am now divorced from the father of my daughters. However, their thirst and interest for their Japanese identity remains strong, perhaps even stronger than some children who are 100 percent Japanese as they are continually excited about being born into two distinct cultures and, therefore, more curious. As a writer, I have found this to be a usual occurrence among children who are a quarter of some strong thread of race and culture. Our home and extended family inspires our daily life with Japanese culture, whether it be through recipes, painting and writing, watching classic films by director Akira Kurosawa such as “Rashoman” or “Seven Samurai”, or attending cultural events and museums.

Rose and Jade
Q: Tell us about any of your future speaking engagements, panel presentations, etc. 

A: I am an award winning investigative journalist, author, writer, poet, speaker and singer. My work is published for The Japanese American National Museum, Elephant Journal, Salon, The Chicago Sun Times, The Huffington Post, My Jewish Learning.com, Interfaith family.com, USA on Race, for radio and television and events.  

This month, I will be reporting special coverage and writing a unique personal perspective for the exhibit "Hello! Exploring the Super Cute World of Hello Kitty", the first large scale Hello Kitty museum retrospective in the United States in honor of the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty to open October 11 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

far beyond bagels and sushi
I am also writing two books to be published in 2015. The first book is a collection of humorous and thoughtful essays and short stories about my more than colorful experiences growing up as a Japanese Jewish girl in Los Angeles and Hawai’i during the 1970's.

The second book will be a compilation of poetry and prose that tell stories of a multicultural family and their artistic adventures, as well as motherhood as told through the lens of creativity, idealism and cultural inspiration. Here’s the link to the Author Page: 


Speaking engagements include a special talk for The American Association for University Women in San Francisco in March 2015 about “Girls and Empowerment”, as well as writings and conversation for the Mixed Remixed Festival in June 2015 to be held at the Japanese American National Museum.

Francesca, your story was delicious! Oiishi desu. Mahalo for sharing with us. Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez, if you’re still not full, here’s a short list of some of Francesca’s many accomplishments:

Award Winning Investigative Journalist

Edward R. Murrow Recipient

Writer, Author, Poet, Speaker
Print, Broadcast, Radio, Television
Multiculturalism & Identity
Parenting & Relationships
Inspirational & Philosophy
The Arts & Pop Culture
Short Stories & Essays
Poetry & Prose
Reporting & Documentaries

You can also check out her website:


To learn more about us at Watermelon Sushi World, please check out these links:

Watermelon Sushi film

Watermelon Sushi on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on YouTube

Hapa*Teez on Facebook

Hapa*Teez on Café Press

War Brides of Japan v.2 on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on YouTube

War Brides of Japan on Facebook

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

Sexy Voices of Hollywood

Twitter

Until we meet again on December 3, here’s to all the bagels and sushi your Hip Hapa Homee’s heart desires.

Your Hip Hapa,

Yayoi