Culture August 8, 2017
Labels
When people ask me “what are you?” I usually ask: “why do you want to know?” At other times, as I have hinted at in most of my writings now, I will say: “Black Japanese Amerasian.” I most often say: “my mother is a mixed-race Japanese national and my father African-American.” In long conversations with more thoughtful people, I may say “Black-Japanese Amerasian Military Brat.” And even more, for humor, I may say Black-Japanese Amerasian Queer Military Brat Independent transnational thinker-performer-activist. This last label is/would be more accurate but kind of ridiculous. I have even longer answers too. It may become ridiculous. The question would also return to: why is the questioner asking the question?
The evolving names come from whatever context I feel I am in, and what I think I should do in the moment, considering the effect. It is not only about what Americans prioritize—a moment “self expressing” a “true self,” an individualistic sort of alienated, internal Christianized idea of a self, cut-off from everything but itself. However, I also am not following what is common in most East Asian cultures, where the self is more in constant relation to family, friends and social circumstances, as well as obligations, than in global north western cultures. I’d like to think that when I make decisions about what I’m putting forward, there are elements of both, but also more: my commitments to social change and social justice.
When I know that the questioner is someone who seems to question life, and may have some resources for, and interest in social change and social justice, I’ll respond differently from a complete stranger, although it would depend as well on what I intuit as to what difference it would make if I responded one way or another. In any case, I want to disturb the status quo. But not all the time. It is also interesting when people would ask me why I don’t answer “Japanese-American” or “Asian-American.” And then the questions of “mixed race” identity come up.

Being “human” can be a liberating label in certain instances, but mostly it is a way to trivialize and justify racisms, sexisms, nationalisms, and other ways that are deemed too troublesome for people to deal with...

I would say that I may use all of the above, when answering questions about me as an object, as an object of political categorizations of people—which cannot be escaped in this world. One more major form of questioning that I often encounter is those of “spiritual” people, who want to “do away” with political language (as if this were possible). Being “human” can be a liberating label in certain instances, but mostly it is a way to trivialize and justify racisms, sexisms, nationalisms, and other ways that are deemed too troublesome for people to deal with—a mechanism of hiding and bypassing political/cultural difference, histories and their relations while re-creating a “spiritual” hierarchy. Whether I am mistakenly assumed to be from Guam, or Jamaican-Chinese, Chinois-Mexicano, Pilipino, Kazak, Hawaiian, Samoan, or any other identity-names in our world (which I don’t mind), or called black—and whether I am quickly treated as an exotic object of praise and compliments or treated like a condemnable or violatable person, it is all fuel for my commitment to saying that I am, in general, usually responding with: “Black-Japanese Amerasian,” which links all kinds of histories and identities, and often opens the door for me to talk about and have some tiny impact towards facing issues rarely faced in the present-day.
On rare occasions, when a person even understands the term “Amerasian,” I am aware of this term being problematic. However, I always add: not the “orphan” kind. This is usually where it gets interesting (because I use this fuller term in contexts where there is time, and I perceive the person(s) I’m with to be relatively open to conversation. In short, every label is a political label, having to do with positioning difference of some kind, and allowing generalized notions and discourses to enter. In this sense, there is no reason to become angry in many cases, when the other “doesn’t get it” because words can never describe reality. Especially words that are meant to put people into juxtapositions and (in-)equalities that are false and cannot explain our histories with that label, whatever that label may be.

Within the mixed- movements, most of the same dominant structures are often re-created. For instance, if it is an organization for mixed-race people, whoever the majority “mix” is, will overtake others.

Sure, mixed-race identity is a rising social awareness. I think that in most cases, this is a positive force. However, it is not all “positive.” Within the mixed- movements, most of the same dominant structures are often re-created. For instance, if it is an organization for mixed-race people, whoever the majority “mix” is, will overtake others. In mixed Japanese spaces, often white-Japanese take up the space of control. In multi-national spaces, American mixed people often condescend to those of other nations. The more affluent will often denigrate/dismiss those less-affluent. Always the positioning. In some ways, it is normal in human group relations, for the more populous (or loud) to take over. This is where the lesser numbered must learn to insert themselves stronger into the group—which is troublesome. It is always a relation, and should never become a victim story. And always, I think, that some spaces cannot be tenable and must be let go of. Still, in other spaces, there must be an insistence on being heard and considered and jockeyed for positions and views and techniques often labeled many things by the dominant, such as: too weird, stupid, primitive, irrational, etc.
And then there is also the matter of assuming that American ways of labeling and categorizing, as one example, is universal. In many cases, being “mixed” is another form of being “the future,” and seeing all humans as “mixed” as some kind of panacea—another colonial “progressive” and superior category. Always too much and never enough. But being “too tired” of thinking is too privileged of a response. Work is necessary for the prevention of identity-genocides and the seemingly constant white supremacist hierarchies of color, ethnicity, and worldview.
So my response is not “the truth of a deep self” but strategic, to create conversation, difference. Yes. Always too much and never enough.
Mama and I, a year before her passing away in 2011, in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh

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