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A Hapa Gothic

by Laurie Olson

  1. You are in a European country and a man asks you where you’re from. You tell him you’re American, but he asks you where you’re really from. Your mother is Japanese, you say. This is what he wanted; you endure the diatribe of how much he respects Japanese culture (“the honor”) and loves Japanese food and watches animated Japanese shows. He pulls out his guitar and plays the traditional folk song “Sakura” for you, waiting for you to sing along. You have never been to Japan.

  2.  A group of Japanese businessmen order coffee at the cafe where you work. You make their drinks and call out their names. When a man in a crisp gray suit approaches, he’s got wonder in his eyes. “You pronounced my name so well,” he says, taking the cup in his hands. “It’s almost like you’re Japanese.”

  3. With an arm draped around you, a lover says, “You know, I’ve always wanted to date a Japanese girl.” Leaning your cheek onto the coarse fabric of his sweater you ask, “Why?” A moment passes before you turn to peer at him, and with smiling eyes he looks as if he’s been holding in a great laugh. “Because I’m a pervert,” he says.

  4. You are going to the store to buy a shirt. A man approaches you, and because he’s acting like he knows you, you hold a conversation as you try to figure out who he is. He offers a limp, damp handshake. “Are your eyes real?” he asks. “Are you Korean?” he asks. “What are you, then?” he asks. “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asks. This line of questioning also happens when you buy a breakfast burrito, or a pack of cigarettes, or a deli sandwich.

  5. Your friend convinces you to be her designated driver, so you go to a Russian exchange student’s party. While she makes out with some guy on the couch, you sit on the floor against the wall and play with the tab on your soda can. A man named Misha sits across from you and tells you that you’re very beautiful, so exotic looking. Half Japanese? That explains it. He offers you a drink, and you say no. He offers a variety of drugs, and you say no. Then he offers you a foot massage. You decline this, too, but he grabs your boot and tries to yank it off by force, repeating What’s wrong with you? Who doesn’t like a foot massage?

  6. On a layover in the Istanbul airport, you weave through the aisles of a gift shop trying to determine which flavor of Turkish Delight to buy. An employee approaches you, glances at your passport which is concealed by a leather cover, and then asks you where you’re from. You explain as you pierce a sample of Turkish Delight with a toothpick. There is still powdered sugar on your lips as you listen to her say, “What a shame. You need to learn the Japan language immediately, for your mother. You are great shame.”

  7. At a bus stop, a woman asks you what you are. You explain, again. With a toothy smile, she says, “You know, in the future, everyone will look just like you.”

  8. Right before Trump bans TikTok, you download it. After an hour or so of scrolling, it seems that the app somehow has you figured out to a T. You scroll. A girl appears on screen and holds her wrist to her forehead like a damsel in distress, saying, “If you’re going to call me an Asian, make sure to put half in front of it.” She cuts to a family photo, and with dramatic flair, zooms in while she says, “My dad! My dad is a conservative with an Asian fetish!” You are floored. Do you laugh? The video loops again and again. There are hundreds, thousands of videos of different people using this same audio clip. You watch them. You scroll through them all. It’s the first time you’ve been able to find people like you, collected.

About the Author

Laurie Kana Olson (she/her) is a writer and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received an MFA in Fiction from San Francisco State University and was a recipient of the Wilner Award in short fiction. Her work can be found in The Ana and Transfer Magazine.

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