The chances of finding Attila the Hun, a Tlingit elder, and a roots-and-soul musician together in a library are, admittedly, very low. Rarer still to find them reading stories aloud. After all, what could these three possibly have in common? This Wednesday’s Mixed Voices Raised event may be our one opportunity to find out.
On September 16th, actor Patrick Gallagher (Night at the Museum), native playwright Sharon Shorty, and the genre-defying artist Buckman Coe will be among seven dynamic storytellers who share their stories about their experiences growing up as persons of mixed heritage, at Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch.
Mixed Voices Raised marks the beginning of Vancouver’s fifth Hapa-palooza Festival, the largest Canadian arts festival celebrating diverse ancestry and cultural heritage. This year’s eclectic mix of raconteurs, curated by internationally-recognized filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns, also include comedian Sean Devlin, and authors Brandy Worrall, Anna Ling Kaye, and Chelene Knight.
Each of these gifted storytellers have made significant contributions to Canadian culture and the arts—in film, on stage, in print, and online. While many may recognize Gallagher as the lead Mongol from Night at the Museum (2006), perhaps fewer know that he is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and a celebrity in the Canadian acting world (Da Vinci’s Inquest, 2004). Sharon Shorty, Vancouver Public Library’s aboriginal storyteller-in-residence, was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her service to the Yukon and Canada. Anna Kaye is a co-founder of Hapa-palooza Festival.
Although I identify as 100% ethnically Chinese, I can hardly wait to attend this event of “mixed voices.”
Growing up in Vancouver, my elementary school was made up of 80% Chinese, 20% German, and >1% other demographic. Classmates of mixed race were in short supply. Despite the fact, I was the proud BFF of the one-and-only hapa in our grade five class. While intense discussions concerning racial identity weren’t exactly the preferred lunch break past time, I do recall sharing one conversation about her mixed heritage. My friend confessed to the difficulties of straddling two ethnic backgrounds. In a rather sad parody of the Goldilocks syndrome, she felt “too Japanese” in the company of Caucasian schoolmates, and in the company of Asian friends, “too white.” She could never find a “just right.”
Nodding reassuringly with all the wisdom a 10-year-old could muster, I gestured to the two cute boys playing soccer on the field and pointed out that, at least in her parents wouldn’t object to her marrying either Jamie Kraus or Angus Tsai.
To this day, I still cringe at my response. But more than that, I wish I had truly listened to Hayley’s words.
Ten years later, I’ve once again been invited to listen and this time, I plan to do it right.
At the end of the day, Mixed Voices Raised is not just for mixed-raced ears. There is something to be learned, and I’m certain, shared experiences and dilemmas that transcend the languages we speak (or half-speak) or the dishes our mothers make. Yet, coming together and sharing stories about mixed heritage is important not only for people of hybrid identities but also for those who come from seemingly unmixed backgrounds. Certainly not many of us can claim cool portmanteaus for ethnicities, like being Chirish (Chinese and Irish) or Jewanese (Jewish and Taiwanese), but living in Vancouver 2015, we all navigate between cultures constantly. Whether as a CBC struggling to read the dim sum menu to our grandparents or a “purebred” Canadian trying bubble tea for the first time, we encounter and traverse cultural boundaries all the time. And since we all share this multicultural, intercultural city, we all deserve to celebrate these stories.
This Wednesday, I get to show Hayley that, though she has a foot in each world, I stand with her.
See you there, Vancouver.
Mixed Voices Raised begins at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 16th, in the Alice McKay Room at Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch.
Hapa-palooza Festival is organized by the Hybrid Ancestry Public Arts Society (HAPAS), a non-profit society dedicated to bringing public programming that explores and celebrates mixed heritage.