I was raised by my Irish mom and grew up in Half Moon Bay, a small beach town on the California coast. HMB was predominantly Caucasian, so my family kind of stood out as different, exotic, etc. There was some ignorance — we were called “Japricauns” (Japanese Leprechauns) — but don’t get the wrong idea, there were a lot of good people in my hometown and we had a lot of friends. At times, however, some people just didn’t quite understand our Hapa uniqueness.
I feel lucky for two reasons: (1) I have five older brothers and one older sister, so I never felt like I was alone with the whole “identity struggle thing” We were a tight unit, and always had each others’ backs. This gave me confidence, and a sense of pride in representing my family’s name and heritage. (2) HMB was a beach town with a lot of surfers. I never surfed, but I kind of assimilated the surfer dude mentality. I didn’t really take things too seriously and any negativity thrown my way usually just slid off my back. Don’t worry, be Hapa — you know what I mean?
Surprisingly enough the most hurtful ethnic experience came when I went to college. A group of Asian guys were recruiting students to join their fraternity. I thought this might be cool. Most of my friends growing up were white. I was finally going to make a few more Asian friends and learn about the other side of my heritage.
I remember walking up to take an informational flyer from one of the guys and he pulled it back, “Sorry, we’re an Asian only fraternity.” I was going to explain that I was half Japanese but then said forget it. I’ve always been a pretty confident dude, and never felt like I needed to explain myself or be accepted by anyone. So I kicked him in the nuts and walked off (just kidding about that last part).
That’s when I realized that ethnicity is not what you look like or whom you hang out with or how you present yourself to the world, it’s something deeper, something that runs through your blood and lives within your heart and soul. I was drawn to my Japanese culture, but I was more interested in learning about ancient traditions and philosophy.
I studied the works of Miyamoto Musashi and the ways of samurai warriors through books such as Hagakure and Bushido. This sort of became my spiritual path. The cool thing is I now use many of those principles as motivational psychology tools in my career as a fitness author and trainer/nutrition consultant. I once knew nothing about my Japanese heritage, now I’m sharing it with the world.
One of the best lessons I learned from growing up Hapa is this: leave your prejudices at the door! There are a lot of great people out there from a variety of backgrounds. Give people a chance until they prove your judgment wrong. Today I have many friends from a variety of ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so open and accepting, and have such a great group of people surrounding me, if I wasn’t from such a unique background myself.
I think this site is awesome. Share it with your friends and family, or anyone struggling with identity as a mixed race individual. I’d love to connect with my new Hapa family, so shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tweet http://www.twitter.com/SenshiFitness so we can talk.