The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival panel on Multiracial/Multimedia took place at the Hotel Kabuki on Saturday. What is multiracial multimedia? It’s stuff produced by artists with multi-racial parentage. The commonly used term to refer mostly to mixed-Asians is “happa,” but apparently that’s a no-no. The term “happa” originated in Hawaii and was used to denote a person who was part Hawaiian and part “other.” It has since been adopted by lots of mixed-race people much to the dismay of some native Hawaiians–so said the moderator of the panel, SF State professor, Wei Ming Dariotis.
Some of the panelists (all of whom are mixed-Asian) didn’t seem to know this nor did the festival organizer who used the term “happa” liberally. In fact, the only person on the panel who seemed completely invested in this topic was Professor Dariotis.
Ed Radke, director of The Speed of Life, spoke of the tribulations of being different while growing up in Ohio. Jennifer Phang, the director of Half-Life, noted how difficult it was to advance movies with Asian or mixed-Asian characters since it’s understood in Hollywood that Asian-Americans don’t support Asian cinema. A movie that is viewed as too Asian is considered a box-office liability.
Quite frankly, after listening to the panel for a while, it was hard to distinguish what extra tribulations mixed-Asian artists faced. The professor kept pushing this idea that being mixed, results in some sort of mixed aesthetic but we weren’t buying it, and the answers from the panel didn’t really resonate. It seems to me that the mere fact of being an Asian in America (or a hyphenated American of any kind), is sufficient to result in a dual consciousness. The mixed-Asian panel seemed like artists first, and mixed-Asian was only a part of that identity, but the professor kept pushing the mixed-Asian thing hard.
Also, now that I’m done with this write-up I think I’m going to go back to using the word happa. Mixed-Asian sounds too much like a weird cocktail.