Multi-Ethnic

Image ID : 10043846
Copyright : ariwasabi

It’s pretty rare these days to encounter someone who is comprised of a single ethnic line. With the popularity of DNA analysis kits, most of us have found out that we are multi-ethnic.

Though it is obvious that I am of mixed heritage, I went through most of my life assuming that my paternal lineage was 100% eastern European. DNA summaries from both 23andme and Ancestry.com told me otherwise. I found out that though my paternal bloodline is mostly Hungarian, with a touch of Balkan, I also have a bit of Italian, German and French in my DNA. My mother’s side is 100% Japanese, which I definitely expected.

There are people like me whose multi-ethnicity is obvious, where you can look at them and see that something is different. Our faces are dead giveaways. I still get a kick out of the fact that some people tell me they don’t see any Asian features, while other people know upon first glance that I have Asian blood. After all, I am more Japanese (50%) than anything else. The epicanthic fold which is so characteristic of Asian eyes is something I possess, and because of it, I can never pencil in a fully lined eye shape. It’s a constant reminder of my Japanese heritage.

Me and my epicanthic folds from my Japanese lineage

Ethnic blending is not only more commonplace, but it is also celebrated more than ever before. What is puzzling is that our need to categorize can often stand in the way of making a pure, empiric assessment of someone who is multiethnic. Jamin Halberstadt speaks of “processing fluency” in multiethnic faces, but his research only examined blended faces created from two individuals, one Chinese and one Caucasian. He states that “racial ambiguity” can render a face less attractive if the viewer must suddenly categorize a blended face into one race.

How do multiethnic individuals identify with their surroundings, and how do they define themselves racially? It turns out there are differences which depend on the particular ethnic mix. As someone who struggles with checking off one ethnicity box on surveys, when push comes to shove, I categorize myself as Asian since 1. I have more Asian blood than any other, and 2. My primary parent, my mother, is Japanese and colored my upbringing with the nuances that a second generation Japanese-American from Hawaii naturally possessed. I can also tell you that by identifying with my Japanese-ness, I was teased and bullied by my very Caucasian classmates who only saw that I was different from them, and therefore, somehow inferior. I almost had to make sure I could blend in at least somewhat just to survive.

According to the Multiracial in America by Parker, et al, I guess I was behaving appropriately:

“…experiences and attitudes differ significantly depending on the races that make up their background and how the world sees them. For example, multiracial adults with a black background—69% of whom say most people would view them as black or African American—have a set of experiences, attitudes and social interactions that are much more closely aligned with the black community. A different pattern emerges among multiracial Asian adults; biracial white and Asian adults feel more closely connected to whites than to Asians.”

Regardless of how I and many other multiracial individuals have been forced to identify with one ethnic community, I am very proud of my Japanese heritage, and will always defend it, especially when someone is quick to fling disparaging comments my way simply because I’m not “pure”. The segment of the global population which is considered pure is growing smaller and smaller, and ethnic blending is accelerating whether people like it or not!

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A Princess Dream Come True

Our court from 1991. I am second from left on the bottom row. This was taken about a month before our Nisei Week Pageant and Queen selection.

Over two decades ago, my first seemingly dreamy and unattainable goal was to be involved in a yearly Japanese-American festival in Los Angeles known as Nisei Week, which was established back in 1934.  Aside from a period of seven years between 1942 and 1948, during which World War II raged and carried a solid and jarring impact on the Japanese-American community, the Nisei Week festival has continued to run throughout the decades.

As a child, I remember seeing the Nisei Week Queen and court each year, and it became a dream of mine to be selected as a court member when I got older. However, I got sidetracked by life and didn’t bother to enter the  competition for the local queen selection until the year I turned 25.  I was stunned when I was chosen as the Queen of my community center (the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, or SFVJACC) for that year.

Once I was selected, I spent the next three months in regular meetings with the queens from the other eight participating communities, meetings in which we would practice all the routines for the beauty pageant which would mark the beginning of that year’s Nisei Week. We competed in that pageant for over 1,000 audience members in a 3 hour event, and though I didn’t win the Nisei Week Queen title, I was happy with being a Nisei Week Princess. We rode on floats, visited businesses, and fostered good will throughout the Japanese-American community.

August 16, 2015: Nisei Week Queen and Court on the float of Nisei Week Japanese Festival Parade at Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles.

When we were on stage, on parade floats, and on visitations, we would wear our sashes, a definite marker which identified us all as queen and court.  On some occasions, we would wear our crowns, and were either clad in matching dresses, or in kimono.

Queen?  Princess?  I guess so, at least in pageant terms!

White Rice

white rice
Anyone who grew up in a household which was managed on a shoestring budget can relate to the concept of adding an inexpensive, bulky carbohydrate to meals to increase their volume. My entire childhood was punctuated by the ubiquitous presence of glutinous Japanese sticky rice. In fact, the only times I did not consume white rice with dinner were when my mom decided to heat up Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, Stouffer’s Lasagna, or pot pies (Swanson and Banquet were the two brands she bought…she ended up purhcasing whatever was on sale). When we had the mac and cheese or the lasagna, we would split the dinner, and she would serve frozen veggies on the side.

All of our other meals featured a mound of white rice which occupied the majority of the plate’s surface. If we had broiled hot dogs, there was rice. Scrambled eggs and rice. Broiled chicken and rice. Vienna sausage and rice. Pan fried SPAM and rice. The occasional steak or lamb chop treat and rice. Sukiyaki (one of only two dishes my mother knew how to cook) and rice. Meatloaf (the other dish my mom could make from scratch) and rice. I even had Campbell’s soup with rice, and was so accustomed to eating soup with rice, that I was always thrown off when I would go to a classmate’s house and encounter soup being served as a precursor to the main course, not the actual main course, and sans rice.

Despite the fact that I was raised in a very low income household, and ate processed foods almost constantly, I was a very happy child and never felt that I was being deprived. I was more astonished and disgusted by the ultra wealthy children I went to school with, because I thought they lived in a false world, one which was based almost exclusively on possessions and financial wealth. A number of my classmates were pretentious, unpleasant brats who were so brainwashed with a sense of entitlement that they probably got kicked around by life when they had to navigate through it on their own.

White rice was such an important part of my life that once I moved out of my mom’s as an adult, I quickly got a rice cooker. I was so unhappy with the small Hitachi cooker I got, that I almost ran cartwheels when someone gifted me with an 8-cup National cooker (that cooker is still with me, almost 30 years later). For those of you who are Japanese, you can probably relate to that need to have a National, Tiger, or Zojirushi cooker! The nicest Zojirushi rice cookers are quite fancy now, as you can see here:

zojirushi fancy

And yes, I still covet a Zojirushi rice cooker!

Now that I am very carb conscious, I avoid white rice on most days, but there are carb spike days in which I allow myself to indulge in jasmine white rice. Why? Because white rice is one of my main comfort foods. It ties me to my Japanese heritage, and it reminds me of my humble upbringing.