Interview: Loving Day Founder Ken Tanabe
There are plenty of events the history books leave out: Japanese internment, Mexican soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, and most of Alexander Hamilton’s story, but what about the history that gets left behind that’s only a generation old? For example, there was a landmark court case that legally allowed Hapas to come to be.
Loving v. Virginia was the Supreme Court case that banished anti-miscegenation laws and allowed for interracial marriage nationwide. It took place in 1968, when a white man and black woman wanted to be married and live near their family in Virginia. Over the past few years the story of this lawsuit has gained traction. There’s been both a documentary, and an award-winning film made about the case, and the ascendancy of the Loving story is in no small part because of Ken Tanabe.
How did you come up with Loving Day?
Believe it or not, Loving Day started off as a school project. It was my graduate thesis at Parsons School of Design in New York City. I wanted Loving v. Virginia to be a recognizable part of the conversation about race and identity, like Brown v. Board of Education. I thought: Dr. King has a day; Black History has a month. There should be something for multiethnic families and their children. So I put the Loving Day concept out into the world with an official-looking name, logo, and website. I hoped to build the community that I never had.
Growing up as a Hapa, how did people identify you? How did you identify yourself?
Both of my parents are first generation immigrants. My dad is from Japan and my mom is from Belgium. They speak the language and cook the food. So in my mind, my Belgian/Japanese/American family identity has been pretty clear. As a teenager, I was into counter-culture. That was as close as I got to finding a space for being “other.” I didn’t learn the word “hapa” until I was researching for Loving Day in grad school. As for how others have identified me, the answer is more complex. Let’s say it’s been contextual. Respectful, offensive, surprising, violent, kind. In short, the Hapa experience.
In schools, history classes have a tendency to white-wash out events for POC/mixed people (think Japanese Internment, Chinese Exclusion Act, the role of South/South-East Asians, Loving v. Virginia, etc). Since part of the goal of Loving Day is to educate and spread awareness, do you have suggestions on how Hapas can learn more about the role of mixed race peoples and their place in US history?
Loving Day is designed to start conversations. It’s also designed to be easy to share and celebrate. I think of it as the tip of the iceberg. There’s an active and vibrant multi-ethnic community of academics, authors, artists, musicians, organizers, and activists. Loving Day is many people’s first experience with multi-ethnic community. It’s often more visible thanks to being in the press, and the combined footprint of our global network of events. We’re taking a community-driven approach, and that has been influencing formal structures like classroom content and official recognitions.
Over the years, there’s been an online movement of Asian/Hapa men who qualify interracial relationships between white men and Asian/Hapa women with the pejorative WMAF (White Male and Asian Female couple). As a man with an Asian father, and product and proponent of interracial marriage, are there actions we can take in our own Hapa community to be respectful of one another’s mixes?
I’m primarily a proponent of equality. I believe that multi-ethnic couples and their children and families deserve the same rights, dignity, and respect as anyone else. And as you might expect from the founder of Loving Day, I’m a proponent of love and honest relationships. Since those things don’t happen overnight, we can start with the intentions that get us there. I’m glad you raised the importance of respecting each other. For wisdom on that, I would refer people to Maria P. P. Root’s Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.
How has Loving Day changed over the years?
I’m happy to say that Loving Day has grown from one small celebration in a bar in New York in 2004 to celebrations in over 50 cities in 8 countries in 2017. And that doesn’t count all of the small barbecues and such that we don’t know about. It’s all thanks to folks hosting celebrations of any size for friends, family, and community. The #LovingDay hashtag trended at #3 in the U.S. last year. And people get married on Loving Day, which makes me very happy.
What is your favorite way to celebrate Loving Day?
As the founder of Loving Day, I have always celebrated by hosting our “flagship celebration” in New York City. This year (2018), it will be on Thursday June 14th from 6-9pm in Manhattan. You’re invited! Join us and bring friends. All the details are at LovingDay.org
What do you hope for the future of Loving Day?
My hope is for Loving Day to endure as a shared tradition that’s shared between friends and family, and passed down between generations. I like to think of it as an opportunity to share and learn every year, which is especially awesome when you think of kids growing up celebrating with their families. It’s the world’s largest network of multi-ethnic community celebrations, and I hope it continues to grow.
What can we expect at this year’s Loving Day event?
At our NYC celebration, you can expect drinks, food, good music, and the best crowd in New York! It’s always an amazing positive vibe, and probably the most Hapa/multiethnic people you have ever seen in one place.
END OF INTERVIEW
Alex Chester is the creator and producer of the theatre company WeSoHapa - a theatre based on diversity and inclusion. She is a New York City based columnist for On Stage Blog and contributing writer for ManhattanDigest.com and HuffPo. She also hosts a podcast with fellow writer Melissa Slaughter, We're Not All Ninjas. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @AlexFChester if you like food and cats.
Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and The Nerds of Color. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.