I was born and raised in Brazil, the son of a third-generation Japanese father, whose grandparents came over from Japan before the 2nd World War as immigrants.
At first, they got here only to harvest coffee beans in the large farms, under the ironic promise to harvest gold from the fruits grown on the Brazilian soil. They never moved back to Japan (and only visited once after leaving), so along with hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrants, they made Brazil the largest Japanese community outside Japan.
My grandmother’s family Mizusaki, from Wakayama, once a noble family with a family crest in Japan, ended up losing everything and harvesting crops in Brazil after two long months sailing the oceans to cross the world.
My grandfather’s Inage family, from Fukuoka, was a carpenter family, and, after paying all the travel fees and buying a house with their work on the farm, they built a successful woodworking business. They even adventured making wheels, truck bodywork and seed planting machines, all exported by steam train. I am so proud of their saga and I could spend all the day, or even the week, to tell all the stories I know about my ancestors.
My mum’s family is traditionally Brazilian, of Portuguese origin mainly. Although my mum’s straight, dark hair comes from her Native American grandmother, who was probably from the Guarani or Kaingang tribe. I was also told that my lips come from an African great-great-grandmother, what brings fascination when I realize I have the blood from all human races running in my veins.
I love Japanese food (more than the mainstream dishes), use Japanese words at home and take part in Buddhist rituals once in a while (such as my great-grandfather’s funeral).
I cannot speak Japanese, because the language was not passed down. During World War 2, Brazil forbade the Japanese (and Italians and Germans) from speaking their native language, or even having texts in their languages (this forced my great-grandfather to bury his Japanese books and scripts in the ground).
I have never suffered deeply with being Hapa. Brazil is a multicultural country from its roots, and I am talking about even before the Portuguese came ashore. With the colonialist and slave-owning history, my country faces everyday challenges on accepting diversity, but, most of the time, everybody is okay with it. While it does seem like every Asian-looking person here is called “japa” or “Japanese” or “Jackie Chan,” at some point, that did not affect me much while growing up. As a child sometimes I felt underestimated, but nowadays, I feel proud!
Bearing all this diversity inside of me gives me pride and thirst for getting deeper into my ancestors’ stories, homelands, and culture. Through this reflection I can view the human journey across the centuries and continents. As a biologist who is about to finish my degree, I admire it even more.
I am Gabriel Mitsuo and I am a citizen of the planet.