My name is Alexis, and I identify as half-Japanese-American, and half-English. My father is second generation Japanese-American (ethnically completely Japanese, but culturally Japanese-American), and my mother is English.
I think that this is such a fantastic project, because at the very least I get to see all these wonderful people who understand what I go through. I live where there are few mixed-race individuals, let alone any Hapa people. I think it can be lonely to be something so different, and it’s very hard to describe what not-belonging feels like to others. Every time someone asks “So where are you from?” it feels like a loaded question with a tiresome answer. How do I explain that I am ethnically half-Asian, but my cultural ties are Japanese-American? That I am very British, but also a dual national? People get very bored very quickly, as they expect a quick and straight-forward answer. Now, I tend to preface any reply with, “It’s complicated.”
I try to move on from the challenges that being biracial brings, but I am very aware of how they influence every aspect of my life. I am the only person of colour doing my course at my college, and even then I don’t feel “qualified” to be the token PoC. I have men hitting on me in a fetishistic way once they find out I am mixed race, and social media is awful, with people calling me a “fake Asian” or a “white Jap.” My mother has been detained at the airport because they suspect her of child trafficking me into the UK. My ethnic and cultural identity affects every part of my life, but whilst there are significant challenges that I now just absorb into my daily behaviour, there are also a lot of very positive aspects to my heritage that I prefer to focus on.
My father’s family are descendants of the last Samurai. I am currently involved in the translation of an ancestral diary, despite my poor knowledge of Japanese language. Our surname is very unique, as it was given to us by one of the emperors of Japan. I recently got to visit the family grave site in Sendai, and it was a wonderful experience to honour that side of my cultural identity.
Because of my mixed heritage, I’ve had a unique childhood. I went to afternoon tea at the Ritz with my mother for Mother’s Day, and then a month later, was eating oyako donburi and curry pan in SoCal. I celebrate Japanese New Year, and I know how to roll sushi (although Japanese food in England is a bit limited). I eat spaghetti with ohashis, and love natto on cheeseburgers. I like embroidering the kanji for my surname on clothes, and bringing English tea to my Japanese-American relatives when I visit. To be frank, the mixture of British and American can often be more of a hurdle than British and Japanese!
I live in England, which means that I get a lot of British exposure, but it hasn’t stopped me from exploring the other sides to my identity. I don’t identify as wholly one thing or the other, because I’m not a box on a questionnaire. It’s been a long time coming, but I can happily say that I am happy just as I am. I spend a lot of my childhood trying to fit in – hiding my Hello Kitty shirts when friends came round, or trying to assert myself as a true Japanese-American to strangers in the Daiso. Now, I just embrace my non-belonging-ness. I’ll try to decode Japanese adverts I see online, but will end up shopping on a site that uses English. I’ll make myself fish finger butties, and drizzle a little shoyu on there for good measure.
The thing is, everyone goes on a journey of self-discovery when they are a young person. The only difference between me and Joe ’round the corner is that I don’t have a clear defining end point. And that’s okay, because maybe he doesn’t either. We are living in an ever-progressing world, and so whilst it’s been a hard time establishing who and what I am exactly, I get that it’s a process that never ends, and that for now, I am happy with who I am.
My identity is more than just my ethnic background. I barbecue on Christmas in the sleet, I have two black labradoodles that send me in circles. I like sewing clothes, and playing the piano. I love spending time with my friends, and I actually enjoy the pre-drinks more than the club itself. There is more to me than just my ethnicity. Whilst it influences every aspect of my life, it is not my sole defining feature. I am happy with who I am, and I hope that everyone else can find solace with their own identity, and to be happy simply being.
All my love to all the other Hapas out there, and everyone else as well.