‘Hapa’ Now Means Pride in Ancestry

L.J. Toler, UNC News Services

June 26, 2009

“Hapa,” derived from the Hawaiian word for “half,” used to be considered a derogatory word.

Today, however, it has been embraced as a term of pride by many whose mixed-race heritage includes Asian or Pacific Rim ancestry.

Portraits of Hapa from across the United States will be displayed beginning Wednesday (July 1) at the FedEx Global Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The 80 photographs by artist Kip Fulbeck will be on view through Oct. 31 at the center, located at the corner of McCauley and Pittsboro streets.

Fulbeck is slated to attend a reception at the exhibit at 7 p.m. Sept. 17. He has planned a short performance.

The exhibit, “kip fulbeck: part asian, 100% hapa,” is part of The Hapa Project by Fulbeck, which includes a book.

A slam poet and filmmaker, he also is an art professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has received a distinguished teaching award.

Fulbeck, who is part Chinese, traveled the country photographing more than 1,200 Hapa of all ages and walks of life. He also gathered the subjects’ handwritten statements about who they are, which are matched in the UNC exhibit with each person’s portrait.

“This exhibit invites all of us to consider how our physical features influence how we identify with one group or another,” said Laura Griest, curator of exhibits in the global center. “It also challenges our perceptions and assumptions of others based on visible characteristics. I’m very excited that UNC is hosting this thought-provoking, meaningful exhibition.”

To prepare for the show’s opening, Griest and two of her colleagues picked up their paint brushes. As a background for the photographs, Fulbeck designed intricate murals of orange squares with abstract black birds and vines, adapted from traditional Asian brush strokes. Susin Seow, associate director of development for global education, and Tripp Tuttle of the UNC Center for Global Initiatives joined Griest in recreating Fulbeck’s designs on the walls of the global center.

With a daughter who is Hapa, Seow is especially excited to see the exhibit come to UNC.

“I’m just happy my daughter will see that there are many other Hapas like her; that she’s not the only one who’s limited to ‘Other’ as a category,” Seow said.