“My mother is Japanese and my father is American. I only just recently reconciled these identities. In middle school, my Asian-ness was a quirky thing about me. I made Asian jokes about myself so my white peers would accept me, making a caricature of myself as the ‘Asian person’. At the time it was really important for me to connect with people who had the same cultural characteristics as myself, but I couldn’t find anybody. So, I tokenized my Asian identity.
“Later, I realized that making my Asian-ness a central part of my identity was harmful—there were so many other facets of myself that didn’t have to do with that. It affected how people interacted with me: when I earned a good grade, people would say, ‘Of course, you’re Asian.’
“I then decided to go to the opposite end and shun my Japanese heritage by pretending I was white. That was my strategy for a few years. Without even realizing it, I internalized certain racisms against Asian people. I saw them as inferior, which made me want to identify with my ‘white’ self even more.
“Finally, last semester I went to a giant cultural celebration for people of color. I saw a Japanese Taiko performance, which made me think of when I was a kid going to Japanese festivals—I would be so excited about everything Japanese. I almost cried and realized that I love a lot of Japanese culture, and that it was a part of who I am. I needed to revisit how I thought about my racial and cultural identity: what it was that I felt, why I felt it, and how I wanted to identify myself from that point on. I went back to Japan for a month and fell in love with the culture again. That was very important, because I shunned it for so long.
“So after a lot of processing this summer, I realize that I am in peculiar place between being a person of color and being white: I have too many privileges to identify as a person of color, yet I’m not white because of the way people label me as Asian and the shame I experienced as being Asian and Japanese. It’s a unique experience, being Japanese-American, and it’s important to know that this is who I am—no matter how people label me.”