Photo by Devon de Leña
Last Wednesday, September 19, we launched Hapa Tales at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. A typical author event at Elliott Bay, they told me, averages around 30 people. But for our event, an astonishing 120 people showed up to celebrate, twice as many as I’d hoped for. Three rows of chairs were added at the back of the room. Elliott Bay sold out of books. The following day, Third Place Books (the only other local store carrying Hapa Tales to my knowledge), had two copies left. The night was uplifting and inspiring, and my heart is fuller than it’s been in a long, long time.
[left to right] Moonyka, Ha’api’i Kalei’okalani Onzuka, Selena Velasco / Photos by Devon de Leña
When I say “we” launched the book, I’m referring to a group of outstanding Pacific Islander, Indigenous, Asian American and Mixed Race artists who helped me put on this event. Marian Macapinlac played a mesmerizing set of three songs about decolonizing the Pacific, the Muslim Ban, and fidelity. Selena Velasco performed a movement piece on survivorship, healing, queerness, and body. Moonyeka shared a poignant video excerpt from upcoming project Inang Bayan (Tagalog for “motherland”) then lit the room with street-styles dancing. And Ha’api’i Kalei’okalani Onzuka showed the beauty and resilience of her people, the Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians), through hula, oli (chants), and storytelling in Ōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language).
Marian Macapinlac / Photo by Devon de Leña
When I say “we” I’m also referring to the those working behind the scenes and I’m honored that this equally precious work was done by Mixed Race creatives. Former punk rocker and long-time Elliott Bay co-ordinator, Karen Maeda Allman booked the night. Musician and audio engineer, Don Farwell, of Earwig Studios ran live sound. Filmmaker Devon de Leña captured the event on camera, with assistance from vocalist, songwriter and audio engineer, Amy Piñon of the Arts Corp and Vera Project.
Following magnificent performances by my womxn/femme sisters, I read from Hapa Tales and answered questions. For the reading, I shared narrative passages from the book: how my husband got picked to sing the “Hawaiian War Chant” in third grade; how my white mother raised me on racist musicals like South Pacific; how “getting tan” is extraordinarily complex for a light-skinned biracial person like myself. Then I opened the floor for questions, and got great questions. Tough questions. Questions about white parents, Mixed Race children, and colonialism; about personal experiences growing up multiracial; about what we’re doing now with Mixed Race, and what we’ll do next.
photos by Devon de Leña
To say Wednesday night at Elliott Bay was magical would be a profound understatement. Cosmic, glorious, transcendent . . . Are there words that can truly capture what happens when artists of color come together to stand in their power and truth? No. Frankly, it took me days to even fully begin processing how much I felt. But the most uplifting memory of the whole evening for me was, hands down, the community coming together. Not just us artists who collaborated to make the program possible, but also all the community who showed up to support us and have a conversation that not everyone wants to have. I’ll hold this near and dear to my heart forever.
Wednesday was the beginning of my the Hapa Tales seven-city book tour (though I’m hoping to add a couple more stops). I didn’t tour my debut book Raising Mixed much so I’m incredibly excited for this new experience. I hope you’ll try to come out and see me at one of my events because (a) I really want to meet you! (b) I expressly wrote Hapa Tales for community dialogue, and (c) it is so important to build together.
Next stop, Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis, October 14!