Kurisumasu at My Mom’s, Thanksgiving at My Dad’s: A Typical “Halfie”
I’m betting anyone of mixed race that reads this title is most likely raising their eyebrows right now (or at the very least internally). Typical? I have the gall to declare that? This lunatic does, in fact, deem herself as typical but we’ll get to that later.
There was a very short period in my life where I was certain I truly understood the mixed race experience. During that time, I had a very simple idea on it that had short-lived momentum, that I was by some other’s definition a “double”. The idea of double is that instead of acquiring just one culture by more traditional means like parenting is that I acquired two as opposed to the more familiar terminology “halfie.” Halfie could be used interchangeably with double but it more or less comes with the connotation that you are two halves of a whole and thus are not able to have an authentically whole experience from either. Both terms are not inaccurate but overly simplify a complex identity. That isn’t to say that someone who is of one ethnic background (probably the bigger rarity) is less complex but being multiracial is coming into a different light today than it had been before, that which comes with new sets of identities and understanding.
It’s needless to say that this day and age is a transition stage. Though there are plenty of unique characteristics that will make it a defining era in history, we’ve gone from a slow evolution of industrialism to hyper-accelerated innovations in technology only in recent decades. The rise of globalism presents an also hyper-accelerated mixing of cultures utterly unlike the world that came before us. It’s not as though that interracial mixing is a new thing in it itself, rather, it is the way it is happening today. Centuries ago it was about conquering villages and claiming them as your own. Later it was about assimilation, being a different race from the colonizing one would strip you of rights and force you to endure discrimination. Being born in those times from ethnically diverse parents would often mean you were shunned by both races. Said times were only about half a century ago and remain trickling into the present. Yet now, it can be said that being multiracial is actually desirable for some, if not a controversial topic that will have many ready to defend if anything discriminatory is mentioned. It’s even possible to benefit from discrimination, as terrible as that is it goes to show how quickly perceptions have shifted. Today, many of those who have multiethnic backgrounds have the freedom to embrace the cultures that brought them into existence.
Ideally, I wanted to have a uncomplicated identity to live by. As aforementioned, the moment I had a strong idea wasn’t very long, as a child my life was about experiences without a care to know what I am. When my childhood began to distance itself from me an identity became increasingly critical, since my curiosity grew and I began to acquire knowledge that would begin to expand how colossal the world is in my eyes. For the most part, I still am not quite sure of how to define myself but I found regardless, I love learning about myself and my ancestors. I even took a 23andMe DNA test so I could gain some broad scientific insight. In the mean time I have always referred to myself as a “halfie” to others who inquired without thinking into it too much. Though lately I find it to be a rather constraining word.
I’m not exactly a halfie by definition. Having a Japanese parent and a European Canadian parent does mean that my ethnic background is from two geographically distant populations, true, but my father’s ancestry comes from more than one culture. For my Canadian half I have mostly Scottish and a little French and German descent. Technically I have access to five cultures. There are some who call themselves quarters, or even eighths, but many refer to their non-racial majority ethnicity for the measurement. Whereas for myself, while I comprehend the idea behind it, it doesn’t feel like it describes me accurately. Halfie, at least in North America, tends to exclude those of various cultural backgrounds but geologically close countries, take someone who is half Chinese half Vietnamese for example. Thus, I’ve come to bear a stronger preference to the word “mixed.”
This is where it all begins to become muddled. What unifies halfies, anyway? We use the term as a shortcut to get the gist of who we are across to others but as a self-identifier, its use runs thin. We share the common occurrences of being alienated, discredited, and exoticized but also being able to appreciate a rich mélange of cuisines, traditions, and otherwise polarizing ways of life. Asides from those shared experiences, there are not any standards that would constitute us as a group of people. Even among those of the same or similar backgrounds, the households they grew up in may have conflicting lifestyles and unreciprocated customs. We’re too varied, yet there will continue to be an excitement meeting someone else of mixed race, immediately sharing mutual empathy for the assumed experience they possibly had.
On an individual level we’re left to our own devices to define ourselves. Lately when cultural appropriation is rampant, it may seem like we’re walking on eggshells when it comes to being involved in our own cultures. There is incredible discomfort when many are in an uproar that half-Japanese models like Ariana Miyamoto and Priyanka Yoshikawa have won Miss Japan for the last two years. With comments insisting that “hafu” (being mixed Japanese with another race) are an improper representation of homogeneous Japan one part of me retorts that Ariana and Priyanka are one hundred percent Japanese, having been born and raised there. Another part of myself feels ashamed knowing how much being hafu, especially those with European roots, has become a trend in Japan and does misrepresent the population. Yet I doubt celebrity hafu properly represent the mixed population either; when it comes to work outside the entertainment industry hafu are discriminated for “being foreign.” I’m also certain the two Miss Japan winners lives were not particularly glamorous before winning and may not be as envisioned after. Though homogeneity is not simply a popular subject because of the reflective population but due to the government encouraging it and wanting the country to be defined by a single race. It’s disappointing that I’ll never get my Japanese citizenship knowing that I would have to give up my Canadian one.
Your identify is solely based on your one-of-a-kind experience. Someone who is half-Japanese raised in Japan will have a connection to the country I will never have, that which I accept and respect. Though I’m not limited with my identity by any means, I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to go and visit family as I did in twenty fifteen in which I spent most of my time in Tokyo and Shirako. And I feel an inherent need to spend more time in Japan and see more of the little I saw of Scotland.
With various appearances, linguistic abilities, mixes, and resident countries comes with entirely different experiences as well. There are halfies who are white-passing, there are halfies who do not have an ounce of European blood at all. There are split half-and-half halfies, there are some with a gajillion ethnicities. There are bilingual, even polygot, halfies just as there are monolingual. There are halfies raised in a home with an almagation of varied cultures, some moving back and forth between two separate homes, and some who only get to know one culture. To summarize, there’s a lot of halfies. Upon many encounters in my lifetime I’ve learned being mixed race you’re expected to be a half and half split and bilingual but it is far from an average reality for the most of us. The truth is that your typical halfie is atypical.
For now, I’ll label myself a halfie when asked as a stand-in, while navigating my ancestries and continue learning what it means to be multiracial. Then to conversely understand exactly what it means to have a race.