What are you?

This is the question Kip Fulbeck, a UCSB art studio professor, asked his subjects while he was creating The Hapa Project. It is also one of the questions he asked the audience at his presentation of Hapa-inspired film shorts at the MultiCultural Center Theater yesterday.

“Most of my work is autobiographical: figuring out who we are, trying to understand identity, trying to understand love and what it is we’re doing in this world. Because I do autobiographical work, of course it’s going to be about [my race]. For college students this is really important, these questions are huge,” Fulbeck said.

Fulbeck racially identifies himself as “Hapa,” a Hawaiian word meaning “half,” and an American slang word meaning “of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry.” The Hapa Project, which began three years ago, is a collection of about 800 photographs of people with Hapa roots and their answers to the question, “What are you?”

One hundred twenty-five of these photographs and responses will appear in a book to be released in spring 2006 by Chronicle Books. Fulbeck hopes to make a Web site with the rest of the photos, which would allow him to continue the project.

“I’ve never had to recruit for it, the Web site www.hapaproject.com has been getting anywhere between five and 10,000 hits a day. People just want to come out and get their portrait taken for us. I think that for a lot of us who have grown up in this country without having any place where we can fit in, it’s really a niche. I’m 39 now; I was 35 before the U.S. Census allowed me to check more than one box to define who I was. I think that because of this project, lots of people talk about themselves and really get into it,” Fulbeck said.

Fulbeck has been creating art concerned with Hapa identity for about 20 years, creating one of the first films on the subject in 1991 called “Banana Split.” He said will not feel like he has really made a difference until people in Kansas know what Hapa means and can understand that many people in mainstream media are Hapa. His art has inspired many other Hapa artists to do work that deals with being multi-racial. The shorts he showed at the MCC just a few examples.

Erika Andersen’s “None of the Above,” Martha Chono-Helsley’s “Do 2 Halves Really Make A Whole?”, Stuart Gaffney’s documentary on Andrew Cunanan and Fulbeck’s own “Lilo & Me” and The Hapa Project capture the ambiguities involved with living as a biracial person. Whether it be deciding which box to check on the census form, or fitting in with racially diverse family members, these film shorts show that race and identity are rarely clear cut.

“Identity is a personal thing. It’s a conscious, ongoing process. We’re always redefining who we are,” Fulbeck said.