Episode 6: What Is My Identity?
**All commentary is my own and copyrighted** ©Gin
Today, I am going to be talking about a sensitive subject that is happening in the world right now.
I have to say that I have been feeling down for the past several weeks, and I couldn’t really identify where it was coming from. I had this generalized anxiety and sadness. And it kind of came together for me the other day, when I was scrolling on CNN.
I watched the horrific video of the 65 year old Asian woman being stomped and kicked for no reason, while other people stood by and watched. I was livid, sad, and speechless. And I don’t have anyone to share these thoughts with.
It triggered me thinking about my childhood. My mother, married my father, who was in the Air Force, she was older than him. And she lived in Japan. Her brother and sister basically stopped speaking to her because she married a white man. They eventually came to the States. At four, we moved back to Japan.
We lived on the Air Force Base. And I am so happy to say that even back in I guess it would be 1967 to 1971, I grew up in a completely diverse and safe living environment, and classrooms. The kids got along together, we didn’t get teased, nobody got bullied. I don’t remember any type of racial hatred ever… my neighbors were Black, White, Brown, etc.
I formed an opinion of how the world was based on the community on the Air Force Base. We then moved to California. And it was a neighborhood where most of the kids had parents in the military. And it was still safe, but not as much. And of course, my mother being Japanese, she felt very much at home in Japan- we had so many field trips, and I never felt different.
Then, it came time for my parents to buy a home. And we moved to a lower class neighborhood. It definitely wasn’t middle class and because I had this experience of freedom and acceptance in my elementary school in Japan, I was completely unprepared for my new elementary school.
I got called names I had never heard. And I would go home and ask my parents, “What does this mean?” And I didn’t realize, until yesterday when I sat there thinking about this, that this is still part of my story. And part of my shame, maybe, and why I have such a strong stance against bullying of anybody.
I was bullied and called names by Black, Brown, and White children. They had never met anyone like me, who was part Asian. Also, my parents raised me pretty strictly. I had to wear dresses every day as a girl. And so when you’re in fourth, fifth and sixth grade, and you’re the only one wearing dresses, besides the fact that I was having to study on my own because I was advanced for my grade- I stood out. They didn’t want to move me up because I was already younger than people in my class. I remember a cruel joke that they played on me one day during recess. There was a Dairy Queen across the street from our school. And sometimes, people would go to Dairy Queen and bring back slushies or something. We had these huge 18 Wheeler tires that we would sit in. And of course, because I had a dress, I had to be very careful getting in and out of this tire, but somebody brought a cup from Dairy Queen. And, you know, it looked like they were sharing it around the circle in the tire. Well, when it got to me, I drank from the straw, which it looked like everybody who was doing. And lo and behold, it was actually raw eggs, and they had all set me up on that. And they did that on purpose to make fun of me. And to this day, I cannot stand raw egg in any way shape or form. I cannot see any of it running on my plate, or I get a gag reflex.
So that is my experience in my elementary school. And then there was junior high. My neighborhood, we were bused to a white junior high. And, again, I was one of two half-Asian students. And I believe there were probably three Vietnamese students and one Korean student. Junior high was a little bit better because I took on leadership roles, but I still heard under the breath, comments, etc, about my ethnicity. And it wasn’t until ninth grade that I could begin to wear pants.
But that’s another story.
My mother, who moved from Japan to the United States would be very embarrassed to speak English. She also didn’t teach me Japanese because of her own shame of her own culture. I didn’t learn how to cook. Sometimes, we would go to the store, or she would be trying to speak English to somebody, and they would put her down or make fun of her accent. So she did not want to speak English outside of the house. But even in the house, she never wanted to teach me Japanese. Now, because we lived in Japan for four years, I watched children’s programming. And still today, there are words that I can recognize. But I had to take Japanese in college, to feel closer to my own heritage.
And I’m going to go on a little rant here, which is a little bit of a sidebar. But ethnically, who am I? And how do I identify? Because the government only gives me the choice to be Asian Pacific Islander, or white. Some businesses or corporations give you the option to say two or more races. But in this day and age 2021, why don’t we have more ethnic and cultural options to claim as our heritage? Am I white? No. Am I Asian? No, I am a mix of both. But culturally, because of where I grew up from fourth grade on, I don’t identify with any of those. I was never friends with Asian people until college. I was never friends… Well, I can’t say never friends, but I had very few white friends growing up.
So nurture versus environment, I don’t know. But seeing that video the other day, made me think of my mother. Thank God, there wasn’t violence like that, when I was growing up, where people would stand by and let an elderly woman be assaulted for no reason. You know, my mother actually passed away after I turned 18. And the reason that she passed away was she was so ashamed of her own uniqueness as a Japanese woman that she had a nose job.
And two weeks after that, plastic surgery, which was very early on, really, my mother was 48. She had a stroke. And I know that it was probably because of that plastic surgery, and the stress that she had endured in her life. She actually was in Japan during the World War 2. And, you know, she had a hard life. Once she married, she had a hard life with my father.
I know that generational trauma is something that I am going to investigate as I look at deconstructing and unpacking my own life, and my parents lives and my brother’s life and how my life has turned out. And I carry that. I once read a book about carrying your mother with you. And I think about that, and I can’t ask her and she didn’t get help for that.
Imagine a woman falling in love with a man, then being disowned by her siblings, moving to the States twice, and then never seeing her brother and sister again. And carrying so much shame and guilt, my father, eventually they got divorced.
And my father was with a white woman, as his second wife. And I think that my mother felt less than and not worthy. And that was part of the reason why, in her mind, having surgery on her nose, so that it could erase that part of her Asian features, that that would change her. And that’s probably why I am very much against plastic surgery for people, erasing ethnic features– it’s everybody’s choice to do so.
Understanding that my mother’s own self- hatred for her culture. One, it deprived me of half of my culture, but to you know, nobody should ever feel that they need to change their physical outside, to be accepted, in a community, or in the world. And I believe all hate needs to stop not just Asian hate.
Shame on anybody who stands by idly while somebody is being attacked, physically or verbally assaulted. It’s a sad, sad day, in this world. When groups of people have to still endure this type of hatred and behavior from people.
Just when I feel like there’s hope in this world, that people are becoming more aware, and more loving, and more kind– things like this happen. And, if you have Asian friends, in your network, or community, just reach out and send them a message. There’s a lot of things happening in the world right now that are painful. And it impacts all of us as a whole. We are all connected when we’re winning, and when we’re losing, and when there are traumatic events happening in the world.
We have the Asian hate stuff happening now. And we have George Floyd’s trial happening right now. And it’s heartbreaking. The things that the witnesses are sharing. I’m not watching the full videos, but I’m reading. And this is what happens when people stand by. If you see something, say something. Reach out to someone; lend a helping hand.
I think about the guy in London, I can’t think of his name right now. I hope I can have him on my podcast. He rescued a cop in England, risking his own life. And he stood up. He acted with courage. He jumped in to save a life without thinking about his own. And I hope that that’s the kind of person that I am. I have been in some life-threatening situations where I was able to act & perhaps I will get back around to sharing that at some point.
Please, if you’re feeling sad these days or feeling disconnected or are questioning the things that are happening in the world– reach out to somebody and show support. There are a lot of people in this world– all over the world, not just in the United States that are feeling sadness, isolation, depression and anxiety about the state of the world.
Thank you, I appreciate you and tomorrow will be a new day full of hope.
©Gin & Embracing Courage