I’m not a fan of the old “best of both worlds” myth. Not unless the other side of that coin -worst of both worlds- is given as much weight. However, I didn’t want to simply tout a “tragic japanese-american” fallacy over here today either. Here’s what I found to counteract that.
The Hapa Advantage
By Leah Nanako Winkler
“Hybrids are better”—Shayne Kao
…In the belated honor of “LOVING DAY,” I’ve asked 10 hapas in NYC and beyond (including myself) the following: what we like about being biracial, and how it has shaped us in this world. So, let’s eat some good food and enjoy the sunshine as this community continues to grow and we find each other and ourselves among the masses!
Name: Teddy Hose
OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Animator, Graphic Designer
NATIONALITY: Dad is American (3rd Generation German), Mom is Japanese (straight from Japan).
I definitely enjoy being biracial, it gives me perspective culturally, and I usually get a positive response when people ask me about it. I like the feeling of being unique because I work in the creative field where that is highly valued. I also believe it makes me more tolerant since the East’s values and tendencies are clearly different than the West. I can’t help but see things from more than one angle, which can be refreshing. I’m honestly able to communicate better with non-white people in my experience. Being able to connect with someone based on feeling “different” is always something I look for, as cliché as that sounds.
I think one advantage with being hapa is that we don’t have the typecasting that comes with being one race. Not to say there are those who equate mixed race people to one race (Obama being declared as the first “black” president), but this aspect is great for someone who’s an artist like me.
THE IN-BETWEEN LIFE
NAME: Stephanie Silver
NATIONALITY: Half-Japanese, Half-German/Austrian/Hungarian—aka Germanese, or Double-Jap, or Jap-Squared, or the Axis Powers (minus Italy).
STEPHANIE SAYS: I grew up with ramen and tempura dishes one week, and pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup the next. Which dessert do I like more: mochi or cheesecake? At a frozen yogurt shop, I don’t have to choose anymore. I can have both flavors, a twist, a blend, a hybrid!
Feeling a connection to two distinct cultures. Recognizing my features in an Expressionist painting, and my emotions in a woodblock print. Strangers telling me I should go to Israel, no Berlin, no…Okinawa. Remembering trips to Hawaii during Summer, and New York in the Fall. Learning to surf and going to Temple. Living the in-between life in Los Angeles. Being accepted by most Asian and Jewish groups and looking non-descript enough to pretend I was Latin or Creole to fit in there too. But feeling especially drawn to people with a similar mixed heritage. I had a deeper understanding with them and I was eager to find common ground.
I think seeing how one side of my family would ostracize one or the other of my parents made me embrace different ethnicities more. I’m constantly finding myself attracted to minorities. And I think their families are more accepting of me because of my mixed heritage. It’s as if I’m neutral territory, truly American. I could date Raymond, who is Korean, and his parents wouldn’t mind because I was only half-Japanese. My Japanese grandparents certainly would not feel the same about him. I could be considered as a potential wife for David and Daniel, both Jewish, simply because of my last name.
People are comfortable around me because I blend easily, but they’re curious too. I hear them saying to their friends with pride, “she looks Hawaiian, right, but her father’s Jewish!” I was born into something exciting and somewhat new. We’re a growing group of biracial mixes, foreign yet distinctly native. We’re the physical manifestation of the end of racism.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
NAME: Justin Baldwin
OCCUPATION: Artist, but an unknown one, so I have a day job working for a Japanese company.
NATIONALITY: I am an American, as is my father. My mother is now a U.S. citizen, but was born in Japan. On my father’s side of the family, there is Irish, German, British, and who knows what else … and, I suspect that on my mother’s side, there may be some Russian (going back a couple hundred years), since my mother has fair skin and green eyes (plus, she’s from Sapporo, and the prefecture of Hokkaido is closer to Russia than anywhere else in Japan).
Although I didn’t study Japanese until I finished college, the biracial factor inspired me to study Japanese and eventually live in Japan. This has subsequently made a profound impact/influence on who I am, and what I do. I suppose, in this sense, it has helped secure jobs (first with the JET Program, and then with the Kurashiki Board of Education, and now with my current corporate incarnation as a Professional Gaijin/Scapegoat). Being biracial in college helped me connect with Roger Shimomura as a student, who remains a close friend and mentor. So in many ways, even though being biracial has not always resulted in the most pleasant experiences, it has led me down avenues that I might not otherwise have taken, meeting new people and places that do end up being very beneficial and positive. Besides, as I mentioned, there’s a certain freedom to being undefined.
DOUBLE NOT HALF
As I scroll through these responses, once again, I am overwhelmed with a simultaneous sense of comfort and disorientation. Entering my mid-20s, I’ve come to accept and embrace the positive effects of my ethnic background, by associating with and learning from the people mentioned in this article. I am learning quickly that my identity crisis/investigation is only a small fraction of a cultural search of where we, as biracial people, stand in this society. The importance of seeing the glass as half-full, as opposed to half-empty, is equal to seeing ourselves as double, rather than “half” of two races. In many ways, we are lucky and unsheltered. I am excited to see how this perspective continues to grow, as I meet more and more of you and hope to strengthen our voice in any and every way possible.
© 2009 Leah Nanako Winkler