Hapa Girl: A Memoir

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In the mid-1960s, Winberg Chai, a young academic and the son of Chinese immigrants, married an Irish-American artist. In Hapa Girl ("hapa" is Hawaiian for "mixed") their daughter tells the story of this loving family as they moved from Southern California to New York to a South Dakota farm by the 1980s. In their new Midwestern home, the family finds itself the object of unwelcome attention, which swiftly escalates to violence. The Chais are suddenly socially isolated and barely able to cope with the tension that arises from daily incidents of racial animosity, including random acts of cruelty.

May-lee Chai's memoir ends in China, where she arrives just in time to witness a riot and demonstrations. Here she realizes that the rural Americans' "fears of change, of economic uncertainty, of racial anxiety, of the unknowable future compared to the known past were the same as China's. And I realized finally that it had not been my fault."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592136155
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2007
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

May-lee Chai is the author of five books, My Lucky Face, The Girl from Purple Mountain (co-authored with Winberg Chai) and Glamorous Asians: Short Stories & Essays, and recipient of an NEA Grant in Literature.

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Table of Contents

Prologue Chapter 1: The Wearing of the Green Chapter 2: The Sexy Artist Meets the Boy From New York City Chapter 3: How to Charm a Mother-in-Law Chapter 4: California Dreamin'
Chapter 5: The Banana Chapter 6: The Banana's Revenge Chapter 7: Autumn in the Country Chapter 8: Hunting Season Chapter 9: The Little Things Chapter 10: The Closet Chapter 11: My Last Confession Chapter 12: Bugs Chapter 13: The Fall of the Prince Chapter 14: The Jade Tree Chapter 15: The Nights of Many Prayers Chapter 16: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You Chapter 17: Stephen King High Chapter 18: Barbarians Chapter 19: Glamour Puss Chapter 20: The Cannibals Chapter 21: The Fine Art of Denial

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2008

    A reviewer

    'Hapa Girl: A Memoir' is exactly that. It is a memoir written by a girl who is hapa. The book gives first hand experiences of the bigotry experienced by one hapa family in South Dakota in the 1970s and 1980s. Hapa Girl does not mention the word 'hapa' once throughout the entire narrative, except in the title and on the title page, where the word is defined. The book is well written. While it is an intruiging, true story, at times I wish its message was even more profound. Nevertheless, the writer's accurate depiction is explained with an intimate voice which helps the reader come to his or her own conclusions. Themes: May-Lee's Father: May-Lee's father, Winberg, sadly plays the role of the stereotypical asian parent trying to live the american dream according to an east-asian value schema. In pursuit of prestige, he gives up his professorship at New York City College for a Vice Presidency position at a university in South Dakota. Throughout the story, his idealism and (possibly well justified) confidence are constantly restrained by his environment. In an effort to cope with his own weaknesses and his family crises, he is constantly alternating between states of hubris, anger, and denial. Naitive Americans, cultural igorance: May-Lee opens the memoir conjuring up images of her childhood spent playing cowboys and indians with her brother: 'I had my six-shooter ready, my brother his feathered headdress . . .' Hapa Girl openly renounces cultural ignorance. The first sentence of the book is 'I'll begin where I'm happiest, or most clueless--either adjetive would be equally appropriate. I believe the entire rest of the book explains the errors in her ways--her childhood naivete, that while cultural ignorance is blissful, it is not right. She makes a connection between Hapa individuals and Native Americans in several passages. Even the Native americans confuse her brother for one of their own, and the attitudes of the white small-town South Dakotan's maintain the social eradication of both of these outgroups. Irish Catholicism, May-Lee's mother: May-Lee Chai takes a very anti-catholic stance in Hapa Girl. She may even believe that catholicism is her mother's greatest vice. Raised Irish Catholic, her mother had to support her family of several siblings and while her faith acted as a much- needed crutch at times, May-Lee argues it may have also kept her from standing strong on her own two legs. Quotable passages Things I learned from kids in school: pp. 80-81 Reccomendation rating: 3/5 recommended for: Anyone who wants to understand the bigotry's influence on changing race in the midwest in the 1970s and 1980s. Anyone who wants to understand the hapa experience first-hand. Author: Thomas Bales, Editor, Hapa Life Magazine

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