I hated being mixed race until a couple years ago. It was the bane of my existence. I thought everything about myself was chutohanpa, which means ‘incomplete’ in English. Based on experience, in the U.S., maybe 9 out of 10 people see me as full Asian and usually aren’t able to tell that I have a mixed background. My thinking was: if no one can tell, why even mention it and begin that discussion? Instead, I wanted to be perceived as full Japanese. After all, I was born in Japan; but here, every other person asks me if I’m mixed or half. When I first started living here, every time someone would ask me if I was “ha-fu” it would put a huge dent in my groove (haha). When I was little, perhaps because I was in the US, I felt this connection to Japan that stemmed from not living here. I was also very close to relatives on my dad’s side. My mom’s family is mainly in New York and California, and while I was close to them too, I saw my dad’s side more often and thought being close to them made me closer to Japan.
But over the past 3-4 years, I’ve done somewhat of a 180 in terms of values and mindset. I don’t like Japan any less, but I might feel less Japanese than I once did – maybe more American is a better way to put it. Perhaps working has just made me more realistic; for example, I think it’s important that my cousins’ kids on my dad’s side learn English from an early age for future education and career opportunities, especially since they’re still little and a generation where the standard for everyone may be to speak English fluently. About 60% of my friends are pretty Japanese, and about 40% are either raised abroad or non-Japanese. That being said, I know some people who only want to associate with ‘international’ people, but I don’t think that word is as easy to define or as light as people make it out to be. It’s more mindset than background.
It’s an age old story when a mixed person says they’re foreign wherever they go, but it can be pretty accurate. I was always conscious of the fact that I was a minority or a person of color (especially in middle and high school). Because you know, people say things because they think it’s funny. On the other hand, I recognize that Japanese people see me differently too but it tends to give me some leeway so I don’t have to be perfect in Japanese – the ‘gaijin card’, if you will. At the same time, I definitely identify as a person of color, but recognize that I’m not necessarily treated like a lot of people of color are, and, based on experience, I think people who are mixed East Asian can often have an advantage in the US and Japan. In general, I don’t think we go through as much as others. I could be wrong though. It’s complicated.
How one chooses to portray, introduce or explain oneself is all up to the individual, and one thing that really irks me is when people try to tell you what you are, or try to tell you your experience. So if someone introduces themself in a certain way, don’t question it. People tend to like to satisfy their ‘curiosity’ by knowing what someone is, but no one should feel like they have to satisfy others’ curiosity or preconceived ideas. Like, whenever someone asks or questions, or is like, “But you don’t look very mixed”, it can bring back flashbacks of school (in the US) where I had to fill in my race… you couldn’t check two boxes back in the day. Maybe you can check more than one box now. I hope you can. For the longest time, I struggled with the fact that I wasn’t ‘full’ anything, and thought I was chutohanpa. I still think I’m chutohanpa, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.