Guest Contributor: Emily Jenks

Growing Up a Hapa Girl & Raising Quapa Boys

By Emily Jenks


Growing Up a Hapa Girl

Strangers would almost daily come up to me and say, “helloooo” or “gaijin (foreigner)” when I was growing up Hapa in Hiroshima, Japan. I hated it. I considered myself Japanese then, so it was a constant reminder that I was different and that I didn’t fit in. When I moved to the U.S. for high school, I got the opposite treatment. Phrases like “that Asian girl” were thrown around when describing me. Granted, the word “hot” was in front of “Asian” a lot of the times then, which lessened the blow a bit. Still, it was a reminder that I didn't quite belong. It wasn't until I visited Hawaii that I felt at home. I’m not sure sure if other Hapas feel this way, but I felt like a local there. Once I got a tan, I totally looked Hawaiian. It is, after all, right smack in the middle of Japan and U.S. - just like me.  


Raising Quapa Boys

Fast forward a couple of decades (ahem)... now I have 2 Quapa boys (Japanese, English, Greek, Swiss). We live in San Francisco, which so far seems like a colder and a lot foggier "Hawaii" to my boys. Just on our block, we have 3 families with Hapa kids. My oldest goes to a Japanese/English preschool with a lot of other Hapa/Quapa kids. Did we find a "Hawaii" for my kids, where they will feel like they belong and are part of everyone else?

I hope so, but I also don't. Growing up with kids just like them will give them the sense of belonging, but it also might mean they may never go outside of their own kind. Because I was always the "outsider," I learned to be accepting of others regardless of their race. I also now love being different than everyone else. Most of all, I like to think that I have double the friends. I have my Japanese friends, who predominantly hang out with other Japanese people, and I have my non-Japanese friends, who normally don't have Japanese friends. How cool and special is that?


So far both of my boys are really young, so all the questions I have about what it will be like growing up as Quapa boys are still unanswered. Are they going to grow up thinking they don't belong? Will they be spared the "hot" description that is more typically attached to Hapa girls than Hapa boys?

One of them looks more Japanese, and the other looks more White. Will they get treated differently in the world because of it? Or will they learn quickly to embrace all of their nationalities and become friends with everyone? Will they have quadruple the groups of friends?

To young Hapas out there reading this, start to enjoy that you are different from everyone else as soon as possible. Don't let others define who you are, and don't feel pressured to define yourself as one or the other. Because once you realize you are not just Japanese or Greek or English or Swiss, and that you are all of them and more, you will belong everywhere.


Emily is a San Francisco based family travel blog owner and writer of Henry and Andrew's Guide. She and her family travel all over the world, sharing tips and itineraries based on experience. Follow her and her family travels on social media at or check out their family travel tips and itineraries at