My Hapa Story

For the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, this is #myhapastory.

“What is your story?”


I am Thomas Russell Murphy. My name draws from both sides of my family and that history is why I use all of its syllables wherever I can. Murphy: the family name, taken by paternal convention over Lee, Bird, and Delmore in the past generations. Russell: the given name of my late maternal grandfather. Thomas: the name passed down from my father who goes by Tom.

I was born in the Bay Area of California to a Chinese mother and a predominantly Irish father. My mother was born an raised in southern California and my father grew up across America. There I had the long hair of a small child (only trimmed bangs until after 2), stopped drinking coffee, kept a well-swept shed, and grew into speaking after communicating primarily in sign language.

We moved to the coast of Maine when I was five so I could, as the oldest, start public school not in 1999 California and so we could be near my great-grandparents. Maine’s lack of diversity never really registered during my early education, though I remember my mother mentioning that she was frequently confused with the mother of the other Asian family in town.

My adventure through school was not particularly marked by my ethnic heritage. While my asian-ness was not invisible to my classmates, I generally differentiated myself through my pursuit of knowledge in the domains that interested me.

I have inherited many of the value of my parents and used them as part of my approach to the world. Their knowledge is similarly filtered by experience and change rather than doctrine. I have seen enough of the world, assisted by the mirror and lens of the internet, to see, consider, and absorb perspectives and values that build a world I can help shape.

“Wicked,” “like,” and “ya’ll” have become parts of my working vocabulary.

I will eat chips with the bag in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other.

Give me dim sum steamer basket or plate of fried things and I’ll strongly consider devouring it (savory bean paste excluded).

Chili and cornbread; steamed lobster, fried shrimp, and corn-on-the-cob; almost a dozen different vegetables going into stir-fry; all combinations of rice, seafood, and more; Mexican-style rice, grilled vegetables, and spiced chicken; corned beef, steamed carrots, and baked potato. The food I make and help make comes from much further than the cultural borders of my ancestors.

I have stood by the graves of my ancestors, in the waters of two oceans and many lakes, and in thirty-two states. I have been given space to think and the resources to inform myself. From that, I have some confidence that America can be a place for progress towards a healthy, multicultural community.

There's much more to my story and much more for me to discover or create about myself, but this is (just part of) my hapa story.