Following is the Preface, entitled “Morning,” from my new book Hapa Tales and Other Lies
It’s dark morning. Early. Clock ticking. Brain whirring. That first cup of coffee tastes so damn good. Second or third cups never taste right. I don’t know why. There’s not much I like more than early, dark, quiet mornings with my thoughts, my piles of books, my writing.
In a few weeks we’re going to Hawai‘i, and I’m thinking about my last visit, to Kaua‘i, all those years ago. Oh, man. Those were some of the best early dark mornings. Just me and the soon-to-be husband in a little yellow house across the street from a little beach.
He doesn’t get up early. He’s a night owl. Which works for us. It’s just me, and it’s good knowing he’s sleeping nearby. Then the wet, warm air sitting with me like an old, soft blanket. The sound of the ocean, the rhythm of her movement, an old familiar friend. And the chickens. Which sounds stupid and was, kind of, at first. But quickly, easily, their cluckings and crowings just became part of it all. I don’t remember anymore what I thought, read, or wrote, those early mornings in Kaua‘i all those years ago. Did I write? But I remember the air, the sounds, the ocean, the chickens.
Now it’s so many years later. I’m different and the same person. My early dark Seattle morning is fading to light. Don’t leave yet. Someone’s beeping to get into their car, and I already feel exhausted by the city, the people, the day ahead of me. Midday, I’ll be speaking with a families-of-color group about antibias early learning and finding the right childcare fit for their infants. Tonight, I’m covering a public forum for Tommy Le, the young Vietnamese American man who was shot and killed by King County police in June. No parent should have to outlive their child, I remember they said when my high-school prom date died in a plane crash. What an intense thing, I’m realizing, to go in one day from the hope and excitement of new motherhood to the sudden loss of a son, the squelching of parental hope and promise, by racism and police brutality. It will be heavy, hard.
And all of it brings me back to Hawai‘i again—a place forcibly taken by racism, violence, and white supremacy, like so many others—the same supremacy built everywhere upon the backs of Indigenous expropriation and genocide. Hawai‘i. A place where Native peoples have been decimated to fractions by whites, but where Asian and Mixed Race people are the modern majority. Hawai‘i. A place where it’s often assumed I belong because of this Asian Mixed racialized body of mine; where I’m part of the story even when I’m not. Hawai‘i. A place that seems doggedly determined to live inside a tailored post-racial island fantasy that, though now perpetrated largely by Asian and Mixed folk, remains entirely white supremacist, anti-Indigenous and anti-Black.
But they tell me I don’t know. I’m not “local.” I don’t understand. I could never understand. And perhaps that’s true.
The day is brighter and brighter. The orange light of the rising sun is cutting through the kitchen window, hitting the cabinets in geometry, lines and angles, speckled by the shadows of tree leaves. In the last decennial census, nine million people reported they were Mixed Race. Of those nine million, 92 percent reported they were Biracial and 75.5 percent reported they were “part white,” like me. Of those nine million, the largest overall number were in California (where I’m from), and the largest percentage of a state population were in Hawai‘i (where I’m about to go). Specifically, Honolulu was the place with the highest proportion of people reporting mixed-white, mixed-Asian, and mixed-Hawaiian/Pacific Islander identities.
So you’ll understand when I say that, even though I’m not from the islands and have never lived there, who I am as an Asian Mixed person has still always been filtered through the prism of Hawai‘i. Because the place where there are the most people who look like me, in a settler colony where so few look like me, is Hawai‘i. Because others connect me to the islands whether I ask them to or not. Because there’s a mirage, a story about people who look like me, that comes from this place.
Being Mixed Race in a highly racialized, fissured, and fractured society is often about searching for where we belong. But belonging within division is complicated and painful, and our desperate search for it easily goes astray.
Too often I see people who look like me cling to a complicit identity that is dead asleep, willfully blind, and hurtful to us as well as others. That complicit identity is modeled after a settler trope born in Hawai‘i: a model multiracial narrative about Mixed people that furthers the oppression of Native Hawaiian people there and is increasingly used on the “mainland” to further the oppression of Black and Brown people here. It goes like this: Racism isn’t real because Mixed People of Color have succeeded by not rocking the boat. If Black and Brown people would just “behave” like that, things would be good for them too.
Which means Hawai‘i is a particular place where folks like me, whether “local” or “mainland,” should be thinking long and hard about our mixedness within the context of settler colonialism, stolen land, Indigenous struggles, anti-Black and -Brown racism.
But I don’t know that we do.
I wait to return.
Even then I’ll remain a tourist, which means, rightfully so, whatever I experience gives me no authority over the land and its people. At the same time, returning is a critical chance to look back at a lifetime tied to this string—albeit a thin one—that always seems to connect me to this place. I think, as an Asian Mixed woman returning to Hawai‘i, this is an opportunity to dig very, very deep into Who I Am and how Who I Am is continually built upon an intricacy of oppressions and privileges.
And from that reflection,
I think I must,
to go even deeper.