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Hapa-palooza fosters cross-cultural knowledge and celebration

Mixed-race artists use hybrid experience as creative spring-board
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Participants dance during the family day portion of last year's Hapa Palooza festival, celebrating mixed race backgrounds.

“Halfers” are one of the fastest growing population groups and their experiences are informing a fresh wave of creativity, says Jeff Chiba Stearns, co-founder of the Hapa-palooza festival.

Now in its seventh year, the annual festival celebrating people of mixed backgrounds will hit Vancouver this weekend, providing space for celebration as well as discussion on the nuances of hybrid identity.

“Don't think of us as a special little subset of the Canadian community or demographic, but we're actually growing – we're one of the fastest growing demographics,” Chiba Stearns says.

The word “hapa” is a Hawaiian term, used to describe people with a mixed race identity, and people outside of Hawaiian culture have latched onto it, says Chiba Stearns.

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Jeff Chiba Stearns is the co-founder of Hapa-palooza. - Melisa Dex Guzman photo

“When I found out about the word hapa, it just kind of sparked something in me,” he says.

Half Japanese, and part English, Scottish, Russian and German, Chiba Stearns knows first-hand what it’s like to be mixed race. Hapa-palooza is the kind of festival he wishes he had had as a kid.

This weekend’s festival features performances by singer-songwriter Desirée Dawsonand self-described “outsider artist” Jay Peachy on Saturday at Granville Island. On Sunday, Hapa-palooza will team up with Word Vancouver literary festival to present panels and workshops on mixed-race voices.

Within current racial tensions in both the U.S. and Canada, Chiba Stearns says artists and writers of mixed race can help increase cross-cultural understanding.

“When we look at the idea of what multiculturalism has become in Canada, really it kind of comes down to the idea that we are just mixing and blending, and our cultures are starting to kind of blend together,” he says. This is “creating a very interesting fabric in creativity, you're finding a lot of artists are weaving this into their's a way to combat the idea of 'what is purity?'”

Carleigh Baker, a Métis/Icelandic writer will be presenting on a panel at the Hapa-palooza and Word Vancouver festival. Her presentation will focus on the responsibility she holds as someone who has come into her Indigenous identity later in life.

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Carleigh Baker will speak about the role of mixed-race authors in our current socio-political context, on a Hapa-palooza panel. - Contributed photo

As a mixed-blood writer, Baker says she straddles two worlds, and is committed to helping emerging writers of mixed background understand their role, as well as to help non-Indigenous folks understand topics such as cultural appropriation.

“I'm what some people would call white passing...that is something I need to consider when I'm writing. But also it's something I can help educate others on right now. Issues of representation – that's my job, to help bridge the gap,” she says.

Her journey to discover her roots – her father is Cree Métis and her mother is Icelandic – has influenced her creative writing. In her new book of short stories, Bad Endings, “Moosehide,” features two Métis characters who go on a canoe trip in the Yukon’s Peel Watershed to try to connect with their lineage.

“They desire this connection to nature, to the land, but…as privileged members of society they can sort of parachute in and leave whenever they want,” she says.

Baker doesn’t consider herself a representative of the Métis community, and is committed to only speaking from her own experience. Although “Moosehide” is fictional, Baker says it’s informed by her own experiences of reconnecting with her Métis roots.

“Those are the stories that I have to tell, it's not always through direct essay writing, through direct politics, fiction has a great ability to educate through this kind of sideways approach.”

The Hapa-palooza festival takes place on Sept. 22-24, at a variety of locations and various times. Admission is free, but registration is required for the Sept. 22 opening gala.

Carleigh Baker will speak at Word Vancouver’s Hapa-palooza panel on Sept. 24, at 11:00 a.m., atPerspective Point (Peter Kaye Room), Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch (350 W. Georgia St., Vancouver). Free.