There are many kinds of longing and searching that an Amerasian, no matter from any Asian or Pacific country may feel and engage in, to alleviate that longing. I will specifically comment on two major kinds of “searching” that many Amerasians go through. One is the search for “identity” and the other is for one or both of their parents and/or siblings. In both cases, we can say that there is a search for “family.”
My own search is in the category of looking for belonging. It is often confused with the search for “identity” or “who we are,” but it is not the same. For myself, I had no confusion, ever, about who I was. What I wanted to alleviate was the constant violent interpretations, exclusions, humiliations, condescending attitudes and violent physical acts that I encountered from others in both Japan and the United States. But the search for identity, or “who I am” had never crossed my path. I am almost certain that this is because my early life was firmly rooted in a Japanese culture. For mixed-Japanese born in the United States, there is no firm rooting, since “community” is not an essential or intense way of life in the American lexicon.
...for Amerasians, born in Japan and other East and Southeast Asian countries, who come to the world in the context of war and U.S. military occupation...there is the sense of both betrayal and a stolen life made intense by the nuclear family ideal set-up in many modern societies including the United States and Japan.
But for Amerasians, born in Japan and other East and Southeast Asian countries, who come to the world in the context of war and U.S. military occupation (and to a lesser degree, colonization by, for one example, by the British on the Indian subcontinent), there is the sense of both betrayal and a stolen life made intense by the nuclear family ideal set-up in many modern societies including the United States and Japan. In postwar Japan, it was not unlike many poorer areas of other Asian nations, that grew around the U.S. bases, dependent upon the American servicemen for economic sustenance and recovery. Stories of French-African sons and daughters born to French biological fathers during and shortly after the occupation of “Indochina” by the French occupiers, are ongoing. The same can be said for the many articles of adults, who were fathered by American servicemen in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, are ongoing from the so-called “Vietnam War.” In the Philippines, and in the United States, there is great work being done by writers, photographers and journalists, on the ongoing issue of adults searching for their American fathers in the United States, or whose goal it is to save money to get to America to find their fathers, is well-known by those who see the Amerasian stories by Filipino Amerasians.
Growing up in 1950s and 60s Japan, I learned very early that I was not supposed to survive and that it would take a huge effort on mother and her family’s parts. I learned early that I was not wanted by most of the general society, but not by all. I always thank my mother and Ojiichan, and my caretaker Sayo-chan, who was my mother’s best friend at the time, who taught me to do whatever I can but to not listen to those who would abuse me in whatever way they chose. They also made it clear to me by their own actions as others would call my mother or Ojiichan names whenever I was with them. Mama, in particular, would respond violently, coming to my aid. These actions also made the neighbor women ostracize my mother even more, since women were not supposed to be that way. Those other women created the violence that would erupt, but would not allow it in the the targeted women. It is such an often-told and often-done way of dominating people and assimilating them into the “normal.” It was proven to me, over and over, that the “normal” was violent. So in this milieu, I wanted to find a place that was not a struggle, to be with people who would not view me as prisoner of their own normalization. But I was clear who I was.
When I was older, and befriended Amerasians on the bases or inside the base...they had a sense of their own displacements but had not confusion about identity.
The big difference too, was that my father wrote to my mother and promised he would be back. And he did return and they married. This was not the case for some of my other ainoko friends. One of the boys I sometimes hung out with, was a street kid. Our worlds were similar in that when we were chased by rock-throwing Japanese boys, we were called the same names and tortured in the same ways. When I was older, and befriended Amerasians on the bases or inside the base, Amerasian friends and acquaintances were mostly adopted by either Japanese families off base, or on the bases—by American families. They had a sense of their own displacements but had not confusion about identity.
For me, it was strange. I’d say [to hāfu in the United States], “you’re Black and Japanese” or “you’re white and Japanese” and then follow with “what is it that you’re questioning?” Of course, what would follow was the question of who they were, as if they were not hāfu.
But when I befriended hāfu in the United States, in the 60s and 70s, they were often troubled by their identities, wondering who they were, talking about their skin-color, looking in the mirror a lot. For me, it was strange. I’d say, “you’re Black and Japanese” or “you’re white and Japanese” and then follow with “what is it that you’re questioning?” Of course, what would follow was the question of who they were, as if they were not hāfu. This puzzled me. However, I knew on some level, why they were questioning. The normalization of everything is relentless, no matter where we live. And depending on the time and place, sometimes the marginalizing of ourselves is intense and consuming. These assaulted lives have very little room to breathe and takes so much effort to just get through. Others do not usually understand.
The normalization of everything is relentless, no matter where we live. And depending on the time and place, sometimes the marginalizing of ourselves is intense and consuming.
Today, in 2017, the United States has improved since the 1950s, but not much. But there are pockets and neighborhoods virtually everywhere, where it takes effort to navigate the juggernaut of normalizing race and racism. In Japan, although the immediate aftermath of war has passed, according to conversations with hāfu and seeing the interviews with hāfu entertainers and models, the situation has shifted from being an enemy-child, a war-baby, to a racial “other.” Not changed much as far as violence. Society’s mainstream, must actually work on it. It will not go away by ignoring the mainstream society’s need for change, not the exorcism of hāfu from a nation.
Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh