Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I just discovered the existence of a book entitled Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, by Pooja Makhijani. From the book description on goodreads, the book "includ[es] the perspectives of women of color, white women, and those caught in between," and "traces themes related to double lives, fear, envy, lineage, and family. Essays include reflections on how race shapes and sometimes shatters lives."  

As a woman of ambiguous race, I am intrigued.  I must read this book.  

I say "ambiguous" on purpose.  If you know me, you probably know my racial background: I am half-Japanese on my mother's side.  This is not, however, apparent to anyone who does not know me.  My proof is in how regularly I am asked, in terms ranging from very vague to very blunt, what I "am." (For the record, I prefer when people are straightforward.  If you ask me vaguely, while I know exactly what you really want to ask, I will answer you vaguely.) 

This is the story of my life. 

Growing up half-Japanese in Texas made me somewhat of a cultural anomaly.  Most often, I would be classified as "Chinese (light skin, squinty eyes)," though occasionally I might be identified as "Mexican (brown skin, dark hair)."  Never white, though.  And while I'd been born and raised in white-bread America, eating corny dogs and playing hopscotch with American-born, English-speaking parents, somehow, that was never the part of me that interested people.  They saw in me something different--which, I might add, is every child's worst nightmare--and were quick to point it out.  "Foreigner!" said my sixth grade crush, bringing me to tears.  At that point in my life, I didn't see anything Japanese about myself when I looked in the mirror.  I didn't even know how people could figure out I was Asian just by looking at me.

By high school, and through college, I had decided to run with it.  I made myself the butt of many jokes.  I called myself the "Cracker Jap," I joked (with my half-Korean friend) about starting a band called "Soy Sauce on the Side," and I claimed that the Weezer song "El Scorcho" was written about me (to be fair, I still kind of think that).  I (quite successfully) pretended to be related to twin brothers in my major solely because we were all half-Japanese. 

Now, in my adult life, I hardly think of my race until someone brings it up.  I am culturally very American, so far-removed from my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States so many years ago. Yet still, it is a part of who I am.  As we consider names for our firstborn son, we want to honor that part of my heritage and give him, as my parents gave me, a Japanese middle name.  It's a small tribute, but he won't likely carry obvious physical evidence of his heritage, nor will I be able to pass on much of the cultural heritage.  But I hope that our son will be better able to embrace what makes him different and unique among his peers than I was in my youth.


  1. Thanks for sharing Rachel. It's amazing to me that even now, race is still an issue among the youth I work with (some of them have had some pretty cruel things said to them). I have a friend who is raising her children in Brooklyn and she recently wrote a post about how cultural diversity is such a norm for them and how her boys know about so many cultures and no one is viewed as an outsider. I do hope more of the country will become like that, because heaven knows we need it.

  2. Love this! While I may be your boring run-of-the-mill Euro mutt, I have seen a lot of friends struggle with this... A half-Indian friend called Mexican, Polynesian, and even Native American... In our current ward we have a friend who was adopted as a baby from Korea to a white family. While ethnically Korean, he has no cultural identity with Korea and teases anyone who's had Korean BBQ is more Asian than him. I like that you are going to honor your Japanese roots by giving baby boy a Japanese middle name. That's awesome! :-)