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Tufts Hapa reaches out to mixed-race students

Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 01:10


Tobias Reeuwijk for the Tufts Daily

Students on campus attend the first event of new organization Tufts Hapa, the only group at Tufts for mixed-race students.


Among the more than 300 student organizations at Tufts, there are many geared toward specific ethnicities and cultures. Tufts Hapa, a new group on campus, is working to become the only one intended to represent mixed race students.

In 2000, the United States Census was changed to allow citizens to check multiple boxes of racial identification, and the 2010 Census showed a 28 percent increase in interracial households. Tufts Hapa hopes to reflect these changes on campus.

Tufts Hapa aims to create a community of mixed race peoples of part Asian descent, according to President Joseph Wat, a senior. The club is currently in the process of receiving recognition by the Tufts Community Union (TCU) and has the support of the Asian American Center.

Tufts Hapa executive board member and senior Stephanie Howell explained that the start of her involvement in Tufts Hapa stemmed from the instability of past multiracial organizations on campus.

“There was a multicultural group at Tufts before, [Multiracial Organization of Students at Tufts (MOST)], but it kind of fell apart. So we really want to make sure that this is a more permanent group,” she said. “I met [Wat] very early on my freshman year. There were a few of us in Houston [Hall], and it was just so exciting to meet other Hapas. I wanted to make sure [the group] was something that did get off the ground.”

The term Hapa loosely refers to a racial mixture that is part Asian, but continues to evolve and be redefined. Wat explained the origins of the word.

“Hapa originally came from an ultimately pretty racist system in Hawaii,” he said. “It originally meant someone from elsewhere or half-Asian or Pacific Islander, half-white. It was part of the term Hapa Haole, where haole meant foreigner, and hapa was used as a phrase that is an additionally defining adjective.”

Wat attests that the phrase has developed over time.

“It means a different concept now,” Wat said. “You can be half-Asian, half-black and be Hapa. It’s important to recognize it’s being used in a new way. It’s not a re-appropriation but a re-contextualization.”

Other Tufts Hapa members also appear to have a flexible approach in defining the term.

“I think it’s any kind of mixture of culture,” senior Tobias Reeuwijk said. “You can be completely white, but if you love Japanese culture and are accepting of other cultures, then that’s Hapa to me. I don’t think you have to be half-white, half-Asian. Hapa is not exclusionary.”

Reeuwijk believes that there is a misconception that exclusion is a byproduct of ethnic clubs and this leads to resistance to such organizations, including a mixed-race club.

“People feel almost alienated from us because they’re not like us. That’s not what we’re trying to do at all,” Reeuwijk said. “We’re about accepting culture, accepting differences. We’re interested in all these other cultures ... It’s about how we’re all similar because we’re different and it’s about accepting your differences.”

Tufts Hapa’s faculty support, Assistant Professor of Economics Arthur Chiang, commented on the difficulty of achieving the balance between maintaining pride in ethnicity and solely defining oneself by it, which is particularly tricky for people of a mixed-race heritage.

“I think the basis of [your] social life shouldn’t be based on your race ... It’s certainly a concern, everyone just fracturing into their own little [ethnic] groups. Of course, at the same time, no matter what background you have, you should feel some pride in your culture,” Chiang said. “It’s a little bit harder if you’re mixed, so I think a good thing for this club is the celebration of Hapa culture. It’s not an exclusionary thing, but more about learning about our experiences.”

Chiang is eager to become more involved now, as he has talked in past semesters to Hapa students throughout the process of forming the group.

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