Rachel Van Buskirk performed with Atlanta Ballet for 13 years before cofounding Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre in 2017. She was the 2012 cover girl for Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” and named a “30 Under 30” by ArtsATL. She’s studying for a business degree in managerial sciences at Georgia State University, continues to dance and educate, and leads marketing and public relations efforts at Terminus. (Photo by Christina Massad)
Hapa is a Hawaiian word used to describe people of mixed race, primarily those of partial Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry. It’s adopted, although not exclusively, by people who are half-White and half-Asian, shortening a word that in Hawaiian translates to half to describe what they (I) are fully. Mixed. A beautiful blend of race.
“What are you?” A frequent and constant question asked, implying I am something “other.” With physical traits that don’t fit neatly into one box, my long black Asian hair doesn’t quite suit my European last name; it’s a common confusion people try to sort out by asking that simple question. The same question is often asked knowingly by fellow mixed Asians, and I give them the answer that makes us both smile in pride, “I am Hapa.” And then we launch into a discussion of what unique blend of history culminated in us.
I love my family background, the immigrant stories on both coasts of Canada that led to me. I’m proud of my ancestry on both sides. Yes, there are trials navigating the difference between cultures, of being mixed — a foot in each world. Filling out forms and when asked my race, I must select “other.” Being biracial somehow becomes an othering, you can’t check two boxes, just the one, so you are “other.” But being “other” will always be a source of pride for me. I stand firmly with my feet in two worlds, knowing I’m made all the richer and deeper by two branches of ancestry. I will always answer your question, “What are you?” with, “I’m half Japanese, half White and 100 percent Hapa.” Whole.