Our Bidentity Crisis
“You can’t be into surfing because you’re Asian.”
Oh yes, you got me. Everything I do must actually fit your racist stereotype of what an Asian girl must do. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know me at all. That I am allowed to be, and am, into surfing. No, I’m just Asian.
Growing up in a mainly white Sydney neighbourhood meant that any difference from that profile stood out. As a biracial kid, I was no exception, despite looking more Caucasian than I do Japanese.Little incidents and complications brought about by high school politics made me feel that even though I saw myself as Australian, I would never be socially validated as such because of my heritage.
For those biculture kids I’ve talked to, while our experiences have all differed in some regards, we’ve all had to grapple with the polarity of our cultures. For someone who has parents that intersected from completely separate worlds, the end result is a young adult questioning which one they want to belong to, and what they are giving up if they identify with one more than the other.
During my teen years, I didn’t really tell people that I was half-Japanese. I didn’t want to be seen as an outsider of sorts. For Jasmine Higgins, a 20-year-old from Sydney’s Shire, being Australian-Chinese, her experience was similar. High school for her brought on a brief period of bullying, where she reflects that it “only took one person to say something to realise I was different”.
This ‘blending in’ strategy was also relevant to Megumi Wynne Koiwai, a 25-year-old American-Japanese who, on the other side of coin, has lived in Tokyo her entire life. Her experience of being biracial in Japan was one where kids would bully her for having a sandwich and granola bar for lunch, yet in high school, she would be used for her biracial uniqueness.
I know most of these negative experiences can be pinned down to immaturity and ignorance. But the way in which people receive you does have an impact. This is especially true when you’re young and just as confused as they are about what ‘category’ you fit into.
We all have something to learn from each other. When it comes to your identity, Megumi believes it is moitainai to not learn and appreciate the cultures your parents are from. Moitainai essentially means ‘wasteful’ in Japanese, and beautifully captures the importance of having balance when it comes to your identity.
For Grant Casey, a 26-year-old American-Japanese, he felt that growing up in the States didn’t really allow him to explore his heritage properly, which spurred him to relocate to Japan in 2017. This move allowed him to see his Japanese culture in a light that he would never have otherwise experienced. He says that, “The more complex your lifestyle is going be, the more complex a person you’ll become.” Both Megumi and Grant showed me that the more you involve yourself with your roots, the more you can grow as a person.
My Japanese culture is a huge part of who I am. I’ve learned that being bicultural isn’t a black-and-white situation. It’s a questioning of where you fit in, where you want to fit in and the compromises you make to be who you want to be.
With age, and the realisation that you’re not a slave to your peers’ expectations, you can stay true to who you are and say fuck you to face-value judgments.
Jasmine left me with her opinion on why she believes it is important to reconcile your cultural identity. “Your life, you as a person, your identity is a story, and part of your story is missing if you don’t know part of your heritage – a part of you”. It can be a long and overdue experience for some to explore a part of their identity they’ve ignored for so long. It was for me, and is part of why Jasmine’s words relate to me now as a young adult.
I think for most of us out there, we can never just be one culture or the other, or at least we don’t want to be. Both cultures play an important part in shaping our identity, and the sooner we realise this, the quicker we can really appreciate who we are.
Photos provided by the author