So I’m half Asian, half white. I’ve got light brown hair, brown eyes, and my features are essentially a perfect blend of my mother and father. I live in Los Angeles, California. My mother emigrated from Brazil, and my dad emigrated from Canada. That’s where my family lives, except the ones who still live in Japan. I’m also an only child. There is only one of me in my family.
My dad’s side of the family is English and Irish. Everyone has blond or red hair, save my grandmother who has black hair. She used to say that the two of us were the dark-haired pair of the family, even though my hair is not nearly dark enough to be considered “dark hair” by most people. Everyone has blue or green eyes. Also, fun fact, I am the only one on that side of my family who wears glasses. I have five uncles, two aunts, and two cousins, my age, who are sisters.
My mom’s family is Japanese. They are all dark-haired--actually dark-haired. All my cousins wear glasses, though, which is nice. But here’s the big thing, they all speak portuguese. Most of them know English at varying levels, but I know little to no Portuguese, so sometimes communication can be a struggle. I have five uncles, two aunts, and five cousins. The youngest is 20, which is five years older than me.
So you see, I’m a bit of an outlier.
I always felt too white or too Asian, even though I have the most loving and supporting family in the world. Identity is just hard, I guess. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t Asian enough. Maybe it’s because all my Asian, and half Asian friends have dark hair. Or because I couldn’t really bond with my Asian family because of the distance and language barrier. Maybe because I live in the suburbs and live a “white” life. Maybe it’s because I don’t like raw fish, and I’m allergic to soy. I don’t really know. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things.
But I’ve always felt like a fraud. When I go to my Asian friends’ houses and they make Asian food… my mom makes Brazilian food more than Japanese, and I’m more partial to kim bap than sushi anyways. My friends always had something in their house that was Asian, like a rice cooker (I have a friend who has three, I know). My mom always makes rice in a pot, even though in Brazil we use rice cookers. The only way you can tell my family is Asian is when you see the chopsticks in the utensil drawer, or my mom walks in through the front door.
My dad says that no one can tell me who I am, and that all my insecurities about my ethnicity are in my head. And of course they are. But it still makes me uncomfortable when I pull out chopsticks at school and people look at me funny. Once, someone accused me of cultural appropriation, but of course that person wasn’t Asian either.
I feel like I’m not enough of anything, like I’m being pulled between the north and the south. And the biggest part is that I live in America. I’m the only one of my cousins who wears makeup. I read so much that my family thinks it’s because I’m avoiding them. I have this education, and a political ideal which is so completely different from my family’s.
And I’m an only child. My family travels twice a year. In the summer we go somewhere exciting. And for Christmas we either go to Brazil or Canada. I’ve never been able to share the experience of being mixed, and traveling the world, and my family dynamic with anyone else. I never got to share my parents.
But here’s the thing. I was thinking about what it would have been like if I hadn’t been an only child. And of course my life would be completely different in ways I can’t comprehend. But I can almost say for certain that if they had my mom’s hair, I would probably resent that. It’s a stupid thing to say, but that’s how I feel. If they looked more Asian, I would resent them, and that makes me feel guilty. But I am an only child, and say, my family adopted an Asian baby. I would love them so much it wouldn’t matter. And they might feel insecure being around our white family; I don’t know.
Identity is a funny thing. Only you can really make yourself feel secure. I’ve been trying to claim my Asian-ness. I drew a picture of a geisha, and I love how it came out. I tried out red eyeshadow, and I found out it’s my favorite thing. These little, seemingly-inconsequential things made me feel more Asian, and that made me feel safer.
It’s the little things sometimes that make you feel your identity, because I know I am Asian in my personality and ideals sometimes. I’ve got the Japanese working gene, although not to the degree most my family has, but I’m thankful for that. I’ve got the need for perfection, and good grades. Heck, I’ve got OCD, it’s probably not even an Asian thing. But getting good grades and eating rice didn’t feel like enough for me, but for some reason, red eyeshadow did. When I did red eyeshadow and my dad said it made me look like a Japanese girl, I was so happy. Human beings are weird this way. So if you want to claim a piece of yourself, you can do it however you want. No one gets to say your feelings aren’t real, and that just putting on eyeshadow doesn’t make you Asian. I mean, what does anyone else know about your mind anyways?