Identity is something I have struggled with my entire life.
I am a Japanese-American born in the United States to immigrant parents. My first language is not English and growing up I considered Japan my second home. I have had the opportunity to spend portions of summers in Japan growing up and have fond memories. For some, visiting grandparents and relatives means a couple hour drive, where for me it means a 12.5 hour flight (it wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t prone to motion sickness). A trip to Japan always meant time to enjoy things I didn’t have access to here in the US. It equated to time with family, eating sushi, shopping, and enjoying manga and anime. When I was little, this all felt natural to me, but as I grew up I felt a little out of place.
To Americans, I am viewed as Japanese and to Japanese I am viewed as American. Growing up, this was confusing and truly a struggle. Just because I look a certain way, there is an expectation of who I am and that expectation has always come from both sides. Living between two cultures has many benefits, don’t get me wrong. However, it presents challenges as well. It took me a while to understand that I am part of both cultures. This is not an either or situation, but an AND. Because it is an AND situation it takes on its own culture, the Asian-American culture.
To make things even more complicated, I’m married to Samantha who is Chinese American. Similar to me, she was born in the United States. While there are similarities in our upbringing, there has been a learning curve for both of us.
To once again make things more complicated, our kids need to learn how to navigate this with both cultures. Since we both consider it important to do as much as we can to help them learn our heritage and to help them understand who they are. It’s a challenge to think through what aspects of each culture do we want to instill and value as this Chinese-Japanese-American household? It’s a family conversation that occurs frequently, to figure out what to invest in and how we teach culture.
We live in a complicated world and it is hard to navigate the sensitivities of cultures and race. It truly is complicated- and it’s okay. We tend to think of culture as something that is bigger than us and something that is fixed. Culture is ever evolving. God created these cultures and it’s beautiful.
If you’re curious about someone’s heritage, my encouragement to you is to engage. It might be a 2-second conversation or a 2-hour conversation. Some people are passionate and love sharing their heritage with anyone who’s willing to listen, but others may be uncomfortable talking about it at all. The conversation you might have with someone who was born overseas is a different conversation you would have with me. Regardless it’s part of their identity and it’s complicated.