Hapa Hour with Jennifer Kumiyama
August 1, 2016
Today’s Hapa is someone I consider one of my dearest friends and an amazing role model. She is beautiful, smart, and this woman can sing her face off like nobodies business. She is an advocate for human rights and an inspiration for all.
Jennifer Kumiyama was born with Arthrogryposis and uses a wheelchair daily. Kumiyama received voice lessons at Long Beach City College and California State University of Long Beach. In 2000, Jennifer earned a spot on Warner Bros. reality TV show “Popstars 2” and earned national accolades from many publications including Variety Magazine and TV Guide – referring to her as “the girl in the wheelchair, who’s voice blew everyone out of the water”. Shortly after that in 2002 – Jennifer was cast in Disney’s “Aladdin; a Musical Spectacular” at Disney California Adventure Theme Park, where she is the first performer in a wheelchair to ever be on any Disney stage in the world. There – she performs 4 times a day for 8,000 guests a day, who visit from every corner of the world. It was at Disney that Jennifer took on her real role as an advocate for people living with disabilities – showing the entire world that talent sees no boundaries. This motivated her to become a speaker – sharing her story with schools, social groups, and major businesses. Her new passion, in addition to singing – is being a voice for people living with disabilities by breaking attitudinal and architectural barriers.
In 2010, Jennifer was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California and Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, 1st Runner-Up. During her reign,j she spread the message of hope through her platform “Empowering Children with Disabilities to Make Their Own Dreams Come True”.
she was cast in a major rolE as ‘Carmen’ in Sundance Film Festival hit and Academy Award Nominated film “The Sessions”, MTV’s teen sensation “Awkward” and became the founder and owner of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation.
On a side note, I’ve always called Jennifer, Kumi.
Kumi – I’m super mixed – Chammorro, Chinese, Japanese and Black. I was also raised in a half Filipino home, when my dad re-married.
Alex – Please tell us about your disability.
I was born with a rare disability called Arthrogryposis. The literal Greek translation is curved/hooked joints. So – I have limited range of motion in all four of my limbs.
Alex -Favorite artistic moment?
Alex – Tell us about Ms. Wheelchair California and what made you decide to first participate?
Alex – What’s your favorite restaurant?
Kumi – Ten Ten Dim Sum! Soooo yummy!
Alex – Best meal you’ve ever had?
Kumi – My sister makes the best Chammorro meal – red rice, chicken keleguen with finadene and lumpia.
Alex – Favorite family recipe?
Kumi – My Lolo Lito’s chicken adobo. He used to make it weekly when I was a kid.
Kumi – I feel like its already difficult being in this industry with a disability, there are less jobs available, fewer accessible theatres, and so on. Also, roles that call for people with disabilities are more often than not being played by able bodied people. I don’t understand why that is. I feel like the industry is okay with disability – to an extent. You can’t be ‘too disabled’ because, heaven forbid anyone feel uncomfortable. I find that being Hapa adds to that, especially when being any shade of brown is not ‘favorable’ by writers and casting directors.
Alex – How do you deal with people that are bullies?
Kumi – I squash them like flies! Just kidding – I kill ’em with kindness.
Alex – Any advice you’d like to pass on to other Hapa’s and people with disabilities?