Whether Its Hapa Elf or Hapa Asian, Still the Same Old Discrimination

It’s sometimes difficult to find a series that my wife and I both enjoy, that we can watch together. But in Re:Zero, I think I may have found one. It hits all the accessibility points for her, and is a series that I would like to watch again as well. I realized I’d forgotten so much while watching episode one, as so many bits and pieces flew by that felt new to me, including a tidbit of some importance: as a half-elf, Emilia is the victim of discrimination.

In the world of Re:Zero, half-elves are regarded with suspicion and treated with prejudice. It’s a feeling among the populace that is deep-rooted and associated with the actions by the Witch of Envy. And so when the tender-hearted Emilia reveals to Subaru for the first time that she is half-elf, she does so cautiously. When Subaru responds to this information with warmth and innocence, she goes full tsundere, pretending that his reaction is terrible when she obviously—and as explained by Puck—feels quite the opposite.

Well, Emilia, I feel ya. As a hapa, I’ve experienced prejudice and still sometimes do. Thankfully, I think these events (the most prominent was once when a group of kids tried to drown me) were so few and I was so supported enough by loving and diverse community that I grew up without fear and with little anger. Still—and this was more common in my childhood than now—I grew up among people that sometimes saw how I looked (full Korean) and decided to levy their racism against Asians upon me. Unlike Emilia, I was discriminated for half of my background.

Nowadays, there’s a more subtle thing happening, and this time it’s because I’m hapa. I’ve been called “the enemy” and other distasteful things both by those that only know me by my name and race and by those that were once close friends. These hurtful assertions, levied now exclusively by Asians of full blood, carry a nationalistic fervor. They complement similar recent assertions involving Crazy Rich Asians where casting was criticized because a mixed-race actor was selected to play a character of full-Chinese descent. Where once I and others felt criticized by non-Asians for not being white enough, I now receive criticism from Asians for not being Asian enough.

I can understand how some in similar situations as me might feel angry. I sometimes feel that, too, but I’m honestly more confused, frustrated, taken aback, shaken. I think I’m more like Emilia, internalizing and thinking about what it all means, and feeling hurt. For me, I struggle with identity as many hapa do—we don’t belong on either “side,” but have to take on the mantle of “white privilege,” for instance, and unraveling that difficult concept when we feel both “too white” and “not white enough.”

So yeah…for both half-elves and hapa haole, it’s complicated.

But Subaru’s reaction is decidedly not complicated, and I like it. For all his, ahem, challenges, Subaru reacts in the way I know I want others to—with kindness and curiosity. I think that’s a lot to expect out of society. In fact, it’s a lot to expect out of just you and me. But that’s where it has to start, with humbleness and love. As we see each other without so many layers of expectations and prejudices, we start to realize that we’re all wonderfully made, as well as all doers of evil. And if that doesn’t level the playing field and make us feel as equals, nothing will.

featured art by novelance | reprinted w/permission

5 thoughts on “Whether Its Hapa Elf or Hapa Asian, Still the Same Old Discrimination

  1. I’m pretty sure that being the subject of even one attempted murder is more than enough to justify some fear and anger. 😦

    Ugh. Racism is so stupid. What is the logic in treating someone badly solely because, through no fault of their own, their parents had different skin tones???????? It seems even more demented when you can be judged both “too white” AND “too Asian.” If nothing else, it illustrates how arbitrary and artificial a construct race really is.

    It’s saddening to hear about this kind of thing. But I thank you for sharing it. Growing up as, well, a generic white person, I never experienced racism in any personal sense. As an adult, I have become much more conscious of the ongoing realities of racism, and this change has happened largely as a result of reading stories like yours.

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    1. Thank you for the considerate words! I think it just goes to show how easily we’re swayed toward evil things, how we can be gripped by ignorance so quickly and often completely. The experience I mentioned happened when I was an adolescent, and partly because of our ages, I hold no grudge against those boys, but it certainly is harder to be gracious or understand adults who act similarly or harbor the same feelings.

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  2. I personally have never experienced racism, for a couple reasons. Myself, I’m Cuban-American, or maybe American-Cuban, I never know which comes first. I was born in New York City, but raised in Miami, and all my family from both sides are Cuban. I have a super small family, but still, we are Cuban 100%! I live in Miami, where practically us Cubans took over the whole city (You know the artist Pitbull? He’s from Miami, specifically Hialeah. Imagine an entire city of people like Pitbull. That’s miami).

    Anyways, being that like…90% of everyone here is hispanic, all you hear is Spanish, everyone speaks Spanish, and everyone is Latino. I speak Spanish as well perfectly, but all of that to say that it’s just odd for me to experience racism. I live in a city that’s not racist, nobody cares if you speak English, Spanish, Creole (many Haitians live here) or whatever. So when I go to some places and I get looks or stares from white americans, I actually chuckle and find it funny. It’s just so odd to have people look at me, because of my caramel skin tone, or the way my face looks (I’ve been called “Egyptian” before by a couple of people….no, I’m not Middle Eastern, Cubano mihito!) or the fact that I will speak Spanglish (English/Spanish at the same time). Or that I will switch my music between english, spanish, then throw in some K-Pop to really get people confused 🙂

    I am sad to read about these experiences you had, I wish it didn’t happen and especially knowing that your such a nice guy. I’ve never met a rude or mean asian, the few I have interacted with are very respectful and kind. I think it’s part of the culture, which I think is great! Us hispanics are very loud, making jokes, lots of hugs, kissing, touching, etc. etc. Very emotional and physical bunch we are. But yeah, I just went on a rant, this should be a post lol God bless, and I pray that you wouldn’t be the blunt of these “hapa” things. You are who you are, your skin tone makes no difference. It’s a color. Even if someone is American or not, it doesn’t make them better than someone else.

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  3. This may just be my personal experience, but from what I’ve seen true racism is rare. Usually racism serves as a mask or a justification for hating and hurting other people, not because someone truly believes it, but because they simply want to dominate and control another person, so they look for something to otherize an individual so as to make them more vulnerable. Race is simply an easy choice.

    I mean, I was bullied all through school, starting in pre-school, and continuing all the way until I graduated from college. The justifications where all over the place, sometimes it was because I was an intorvert who liked to play alone instead of with the group. For a few years it was because I sucked my thumb. Later it became about my religion. And finally ended with complaints about my health somehow being “tramuatizing” to others. (I suffered for a while from temporary partial seizures – this justification always struck me as the weirdest, because I was sitting there thinking that it seemed a lot more traumatizing to suffer a seizure than to watch one happen.)

    However, it was always clear to me what the true reason were for me being a focus of hatred: I was the smallest kid in my age group, usually about 30 lbs less and 4 inches shorter than the next biggest kid, and, more importantly, the teachers all disliked me and signaled very strongly that there would be no protection for me.

    Thus I was really targeted because everyone saw me as easy meat, and the rest was just surface justifications.

    Most humans enjoy hurting other humans. It makes them feel powerful. It’s why the SJW movement is so popular. Most of the enforcers of today’s PC strictures don’t actually oppose racism or sexism. They just like hurting other people, and political correctness gives them moral justification to indulge in hurting people. It why the punishments are so disproportionate, why there is no forgiveness, and why there seems to be little concern with actually converting people to being less racist or sexist. It’s really all just about the thrill of hurting others.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback and analysis. As it often is with volatile issues, you could be right about how large the problem is, and I certainly would agree with you that much of what is labeled racism has other or additional reasons that might have more depth. Relationships and the way we treat people is such a complicated matter, influenced socially but entirely individual as well. Unfortunately, as you point out, forgiveness and grace is not often apportioned from either “side” of the issue, though as a foundation, that would help heal lots of wounds and avoid future ones from developing and festering.

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