“The ASIJ Identity”

What Does It Mean to “Be ASIJ”?

Some of us stared blankly at the wall in sheer shock. Some of us ranted passionately in denial. Some of us wept bitterly in disappointment. But none of us could understand how or why Donald Trump, a man who had never ceased to insult and assault others based on race, gender, or other unreasonable reasons, was to be the next president of the United States. An uneasiness swept through the room. Our emotions were bottled up tightly, but like a volcano, the pressure was building. The tension tugged on us more, more, and more, until finally, one of my classmates erupted.

“Although I don’t intend to segregate American further by saying this, if I, a straight, Christian, white American male am this terrified, I can’t even begin to fathom what it must be like for those that have been directly targeted by Trump: African Americans, the immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, Muslims… It’s impossible to imagine what they’re going through. This is horrifying.”

Without warning the cork that had been sealing all our fervent emotions popped loose, and a flurry of thoughts began pouring out endlessly. It didn’t matter whether we were or were not American; this was beyond that. The progress the world had made in small, slow, but steady steps over the past years was being threatened by one individual. Even more terrifying than Trump’s victory was the fact that I still lived in a world in which someone like him was supported by the majority — and that I had been unaware of it. The thought shot a cold shiver down my spine and through every single nerve to the tips of my toes, raising every hair and goosebump.

Oddly enough, despite his victory, not one person in my class was a Trump supporter — or at least not an outspoken one. We scratched our heads in the most prominent question. If the majority of our class — and our school — was against Trump, and if all the posts we saw on social media ridiculed him, how did he become president?

Excluding the fact that our community was almost entirely liberal, my group and I started noticing many other similarities. There seemed to be an “ASIJ identity,” a common persona shared by many. Students here seemed so alike: in speech, actions, thoughts, beliefs, appearance; if not, they would gradually be assimilated. Was ASIJ really as diverse as it claims to be? Moreover, did we have the capacity to understand that diversity?

A highly regarded school even amongst the international community, The American School In Japan provides its students with exceptional education, facilities, and experiences, and is reputable for its diverse and unique community. Our community is packed with people with various backgrounds, values, ideas, and furthermore different nationalities, religions, races, sexualities… It is certainly one-of-a-kind.

However, overshadowing these diversities are similarities that subconsciously bind us all together: liberal views, wealthy lifestyles, global experiences, focus on academics, priority for athletic extracurricular activities… ASIJ is diverse, perhaps not in the sense that each and every person can maintain his or her individuality while simultaneously still being a part of a whole, but more in the sense that people are merged into one identity, and if not, subtly excluded. Maybe ASIJ was diverse, but its students did not yet have the ability to accept that.

We took our original idea a couple steps further to see how those different perspectives fit in (or didn’t) into the school — essentially one’s sense of belonging. We believed that the most genuine and effective method would be interviews. They could get the honest opinions of different people in situations that are hopefully less awkward and uncomfortable.

We surrounded the boy. As five pairs of eyes scrutinized him from all angles, the boy was most justified to feel uneasy — yet we were all equally anxious. A tight tension grabbed hold of us, and draped on us a cloak of uneasiness. Shoulders squeezed together and fists clenched tightly. Distant echoes of students chattering relentlessly, raindrops trickling along the roof, and rubber squeaking against the floor vibrated along the hallway. A loud silence filled the air, and no one stepped forward to break it. Fussing with his earphones, stroking his hair, pulling his shirt down, shaking his legs — the boy never ceased to stop fidgeting. He slowly glanced up. “Are we starting?” Taken aback by the sudden outburst, we frantically looked among ourselves. We had figured out a moment too late; we were not ready for an interview.

As our entire experiences of interviewing consisted of watching a YouTube tutorial by a Humans of New York photographer, we could not say that we were professionals. Our questions were too direct, and revealed what we were looking for. This was a major flaw in our project. The questions failed to build a solid connection between us and the students.

“What’s your name?” “How was your week?” “Where have you lived before?” “How long have you been at ASIJ?”

With questions that were much easier to answer, we attempted to familiarize ourselves with the interviewees. We hoped that they wouldn’t be as closed off from us, and would be more eager to share with us.

Surprisingly, there was quite a wide range of responses. Although most seemed to agree that ASIJ was a diverse and exclusive community, depending on if they were “included” or not, people gave us positive and negative feedback.

Regardless of this, one factor that was common among all of our interviews were that all interviews had something unique to them — a passion, quality, interest — that sometimes wasn’t necessarily part of the “ASIJ identity.” It was often overlooked by the school, but it was nevertheless important to them. We had everything share this with us, and easily, I can say that this was the most touching, thoughtful, and genuine part of the interview.

“I am non-conforming.” “I am not athletic.” “I am kind.” “I am lazy.” “I can’t speak Japanese.” “I am a musician.” “I am kind.”

I think all of us were able to learn through this experience that what makes us distinctive aren’t what we have in common, or what we don’t. It’s how we can integrate our similarities while honoring our differences. Being part of a whole is equally important as being a distinctive individual.

We are our similarities. We are our differences. We are all ASIJ.

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