Posted by: balladofyoko | July 19, 2014

Owning the JA Identity

It’s been a while, but I have something to say.

I occasionally play in an orchestra that has a conductor and several of its members from Latin American countries. A friend of mine also plays in this orchestra- she is from Japan. After one concert, my friend and I were going to go out for a drink to celebrate. In the parking lot near the concert hall, we met up with the conductor and one of the orchestra members, who were speaking Spanish to each other. When they saw us, the conductor asked, so, is this like a bonding thing where the Japanese meet up and talk to each other, like what we Latin Americans do? My friend replied, “Oh, she’s not a real Japanese– she’s a fake Japanese.”

I felt like my friend slapped me in the face. My immediate reaction (which I didn’t say aloud) was, I’m not a fake anything! I’m not pretending to be Japanese. Although she may have not intended to say it as harshly as that, it made me wonder what she must think of me.

I’ve also begun to play in a taiko group, which I am so happy to return to. I had a wonderful conversation with the teacher and his wife, both Japanese Americans, about their experiences growing up.

If you had read my blog when I was posting more often (who is still reading this?), you’ll know that I spent a lot of time thinking about my cultural identity, and thought I had come to terms with it in my essay, “On Being Japanese-American.” But even now, ten years(!) after I wrote that essay, I am still amazed by people’s perceptions of me not fitting into either culture. But I am also still surprised by the kinship I feel with Japanese Americans of my generation, and the shared experience. It’s a good reminder to own my heritage, for whatever it’s worth.

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