I am the Race the World Deserves, but Not the One It Needs Right Now
By Sam Tanabe
As a Hapa actor, the entertainment industry never quite knows where to place me. Should I be playing Asian characters? Can I pass for caucasian? Furthermore, I am constantly being called in for an array of races I am not: Latino, South Asian, Middle Eastern. There are certainly not enough specifically Hapa roles written to make a living from. The ones that do exist are snatched up by Emma Stone.
In casting, it seems that being mixed-race means you can play almost any ethnicity. In my frustration with the concept of racial ambiguity, I jokingly misquoted Batman: The Dark Knight to my roommate: “I am the race the world deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” If Hollywood and Broadway have difficulty deciding where I belong, then where do Hapas belong in the world today?
So much of life is devoted to finding a sense of security in your identity. Feeling comfortable in your own skin, delivering a strong performance at work, vibing with the city you live in. I sometimes envy people who identify with a single culture. They have a racial box they fit into. I’ve often felt as though I have feet in two different worlds, never firmly planted in one or the other. Where is my community in America today that I can relate to on such a level?
The Hapa experience is unique. We don’t necessarily share the same experience as all Asian Americans. Asian-Americans are frequently seen as foreign, a race associated with immigrants. I don’t pass as Asian, but I don’t pass as White. I constantly hear from people what I am NOT, but would rather hear what I am. I am living in some sort of racial purgatory with no foreseeable exit. Even when a sense of direction seems to be found, it is quickly replaced with confusion once again. For example, the casting of Hapa actor Henry Golding in the upcoming movie Crazy Rich Asians received objection with cries that the role has been “whitewashed.” If Golding can’t represent Asian characters on the big screen, but also faces difficulty in getting cast in non-Asian roles, then what parts can he play?
Hapas lead a diverse, multi-cultural experience. What can we represent? The Hapa Experience. Being of mixed race in this country puts us in a unique position. Our perspective is so broad. Let’s start to define the Hapa experience with confidence and bridge the gaps made by a nation so obsessed with racial identity. Let’s challenge stereotypes and decide for ourselves what we can or cannot do. I know many people, both Hapa and not, who are willing to overlook differences and adversity to create a unified community of acceptance, commonality, and love. By sharing our own experiences and forging through prejudice, we can continue to establish our place in society.
Sam Tanabe is a NYC based performer and writer for Hapa Mag. He has performed on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theatres across the country. His passion for the arts has led him to fight for diversity and representation on stage. Follow this kawaii yonsei hapa bb on social media @Tanablems.