Archive | July 2015

My Hapa Story

Family Portrait

My family (Photo credit: Dorothy Kunzig)

This post is a submission to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s #myhapastory project.

I was born in Washington, D.C. to two economists. My mother was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Minnesota. Her parents were from Guangdong Province. My father was born and raised in Minnesota. His ancestors were mostly from Germany and Sweden. For the first nine years of my life, I lived in Maryland, where my best friend was also hapa. We did French immersion and soccer and Suzuki camp together.

Then I moved to Minnesota, where all my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived. I had roots there. My maternal grandfather had owned a Chinese restaurant in downtown St. Paul. My paternal great-grandparents had had a farm in West St. Paul. I can still visit the spots where these places used to be.

I spent my teenage years (not so) secretly writing fantasy stories and playing cello in a lot of orchestras. I didn’t have any close Asian-American friends, but that didn’t matter to me. I did experience the occasional unwanted question (“Are you half?”) or incident that vaguely bothered me (like not getting invited to the Asian table at All-State Orchestra camp).

In high school, I started studying Mandarin in addition to French, despite the class being at the same time as orchestra. (I needed a Time-Turner, but instead I…had no lunch period.) My mother’s side of the family speaks Taishanese, not Mandarin, and I never learned it. But over the years, Mandarin has helped me understand more words in Taishanese.

I went to Swarthmore College, where I studied linguistics, French, and Chinese. I joined the Swarthmore Asian Organization and a group called Multi, and my senior year a new group called Swarthmore Hapa started to form. I wrote papers about the representation of Asian characters in U.S. children’s books and mixed race identity in Francophone literature. I also discovered and fell in love with contra dancing and shape note singing.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’m a Ph.D. student in linguistics by day (and sometimes night) and an author of children’s fantasy novels by night (and sometimes day). I used to call myself half-Chinese, but now I call myself multiracial, Chinese-American, hapa. One day, I hope to publish a book about a girl like me.

England, Part II

I’m back in the States now, but here are photos from the latter part of my trip to England:


Bath, on the River Avon


One of King Bladud’s Pigs in Bath. According to legend, Bladud was a Briton who came back from study abroad in Athens with leprosy and wound up a swineherd. He noticed that pigs who lolled in a certain patch of warm mud didn’t get skin diseases, so he tried the mud himself. It cured him of his leprosy, he became prince again, and he founded Bath.


Bath Abbey


The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey



Hieratic text at the Ashmolean Museum


Citterns at the Ashmolean


Winged Assyrian holding a goat at the British Museum


Athena and Hephaestus on the Elgin (Parthenon) marbles at the British Museum


Beaver on a Nisga’a totem pole at the British Museum

E   lion in Trafalgar Square

Me with a lion in Trafalgar Square


Big Ben



E   London Eye

Me and the London Eye


Westminster Abbey

How Not to...

At Foyles, a bookshop on Charing Cross Road

England, Part I

I’m on vacation in England! Mostly in Oxford, but we’ve made some excursions. Photos, forthwith:


In the courtyard of the Bodleian Library


Tom Tower, Christ Church


All Souls College


Ceiling of the Divinity School


The original conducting score of Messiah!


Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Iffley


Detail of beaks on the doorway of St. Mary’s


Modern day thatching in Iffley, by the Rumpelstiltskin Thatching Company


Christ Church (a.k.a Hogwarts?)


Sheep on the Derwent moors, Peak District

E   B (1)

Me and Bismarck over the River Derwent


Himalayan blue poppy, Hidcote




Cream tea (and elderflower and mint pressé)