About a week ago, I booked my spring break plane ticket to Tokyo, and this got me thinking about my experience as a mixed American.
I didn't really know how to write a perfectly constructed article on this subject, so this post is more of a stream-of-consciousness than anything.
I think I've had an identity crisis since I was about five years old. I was born to a White, American father, and a Chinese mother, and my family moved to Japan when I was three years old. At home I spoke English, ate Chinese food every night, and became fluent in Japanese at school.
My first memories of life start in Japan. I was born in the US, but I don't remember anything before Japan, so I have always thought of it as my first home. I went to kindergarten there, elementary school there... I spoke, read, and wrote in fluent Japanese, I ate Japanese food, I was raised with Japanese habits, Japanese manners...I was so young when I integrated into Japan, that culturally, I was as Japanese as the kid sitting next to me in class. But I could never be Japanese.
Kindergarden, with friends
My mama, my brother and I (when I was six years old)
I am Chinese...but I don't particularly feel that way either.
Japan and China are both very nationalist countries- both cultures are extremely proud of their identities, and no matter how Japanese I felt, the reality was that I was not born there, and I did not carry Japanese blood, so I could never be Japanese.
Here is a key piece of information that comes with the identification crisis of being mixed: there is no biological difference in race- race is a social construct, built entirely out of appearance.
When humans decided to categorize people by race, what we really did was categorize people by appearance. Before interracial mixing became common, this is a system that worked. Sure, some Asians have slightly larger eyes than others, some African-Americans have darker skin than others...but overall, people could be categorized by how they looked.
Being mixed...I am two different races, but I do not entirely look like either of them- therefore, I do not entirely feel justified as either of them.
My trip back to Japan- recreating childhood photos
And revisiting childhood places
My childhood best friend and I, reunited (9 years later)
I have written multiple college research papers on the complications of being mixed. Sometimes I feel like one of those toys that are designed to teach children shapes. The round opening is my White side, the Square opening is my Chinese side, and somehow I came out as a triangle.
Identity-wise, I have always felt Japanese. But I can never be Japanese. Legally, I am Chinese- but I do not look Chinese. And I cannot speak Chinese. I am at a loss.
Growing up in Japan, I often felt too White. Then I moved back to the US, and suddenly felt like I could be the token Asian friend.
I also like to use the analogy of a prison yard to categorize race. In prison, lots of people group themselves off by race. You see this in gangs too...which often translate into prison. If I ever went to jail, I don't know who would take me.
People have long asked me the questions, "what are you?" and "where are you from? No, where are you really from?" They are dehumanizing. People think I am Latina, Filipino, Asian... none of this offends me, it's just a constant reminder that I do not carry the privilege of displaying my inward identity on my outside appearance. I will always be a little bit fetishized, I will always be "exotic".
My first trip to New York City, I was twelve years old. Hispanic people often bumped into me in the streets. A few would stop to talk to me. I learned how to say "lo ciento, yo no hablo Español."
This is the identity crisis: I am Chinese and White. How can I feel close to either of those identities when race is nothing but a categorization game of appearance, and I do not look like either of them.
Japan was my first home. I was Japanese before I ever knew how to analyze the face looking back at me in the mirror, but I will never be Japanese.
I don't feel Chinese. I know the customs, I know the food, but I do not know the language. My campus is full of Chinese exchange students- I can't speak with them.
I feel Japanese. I know the customs, I know the food, I know the language. But I can never be Japanese.
It is a constant push and pull that never finds a resolution. The US is full of people who are obsessed with Japanese culture, "weeaboos" we call them. People who are obsessed with the idea of being Japanese- often people who diminish Japan's long and extensive culture to Hello Kitty and a couple Anime they watched online. People like this make me angry, because they don't know anything about being Japanese. This would be like going to Olive Garden and declaring an obsession with being Italian. Or going to Coachella with a bindi on your forehead and suddenly claiming some spiritual connection to India. Becoming interested in one, small part of a culture (that has become appropriated and popularized in the US) does not make someone an expert on that whole culture. So this frustrates me. And then I start thinking about identity again, and how "technically", I am no more Japanese than this person. And yet I am. And yet I can never be Japanese either. It's a constant push and pull.
I said I don't feel particularly Chinese- but sometimes I do. When the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival comes, I am always transported back to my childhood, and how my mother celebrated with us every year with moon cakes.
I like being mixed- I was raised in a very multicultural family, and this taught me to be open-minded. Minor self-esteem issues aside, I like how I look. I'm relatively comfortable in my own skin, but I have my moments of self-doubt. This isn't really a conclusive article, just a stream of thoughts that I have regularly. This is the ongoing experience of being a mixed, Asian-American.
Revisiting old friends
My beautiful family