I believe in being lost. That is where I found my place. I grew up in the 70’s at the end of the civil rights movement. The country was becoming more tolerant of minorities, but the wounds of World War II still lingered. As a young forth generation American of Japanese ancestry, I quickly realized we were set apart from other Asians and minorities. They were fighting to enter mainstream America and did not want the negative stigma. For my parents and grandparents it was particularly hard on them to preserve our customs and promote their patriotism. I could see the conflict in simple things like which language to speak at home. Unfortunately they chose to speak only English. I think the reasons were to help us hide our cultural identity and perhaps some shame for something they did not do.
In the 80’s, Japan came became an economic power. It was more accepting to be Japanese. People started to think we were hardworking and industrious. That was great for an underachiever like me. What surprised me the most is how trendy it was to practice Japanese culture. Things like eating sushi and raw fish were chic.
In the 90’s I took a job in Japan. I was amazed at how different my values were from the typical Japanese. I could not solely identify with either my American or Japanese culture. I introduced myself as being Japanese American to clarify why I looked and maybe sometimes acted Japanese, but had American ideals and spoke English.
Then a friend, named Tim Jackson, who was African American, told me “Why do you call yourself Japanese American?” “Why don’t you just say American?” Then I realized that for all these years I was trying to label myself, to identity with one culture; Japan or America. I was lost, I could not identify with either, and maybe that was it. I was bouncing between two cultures and it felt comfortable. Although I have never been to Japan before taking that job, it did not feel so foreign to me. In some ways traveling to parts of the United States felt more foreign. I have never eaten grits or Shoo fly pie, and I have never been to a real country BBQ.
I grew up eating sushi and tempura with stuffing and turkey for Thanksgiving. There is nothing unusual in that for me or my family. At New Years we pounded mochi and popped fireworks (Chinese) for good luck. We celebrated at Obon Festivals, which is a Budhist custom; and colored eggs at Easter. We honor Girls Day and Boys Day with mochi and dolls. We also gave gifts and a card to our parents for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. All these varied customs seem natural to me. Having this mixed culture helps me preserve not only my family’s traditions for my children, but helps me understand and identify who I am. In some ways I have it all; both cultures to thrive on. To me this is what America is all about, thriving on our differences and embracing different views.
I was lost but I was always home. I found my place, and for me it was a place that is seemingly more necessary than ever as cultures collide. I believe in being lost, because that is where I found myself. I was lost between two cultures, but identified with one race; the human race.
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