I’m half Japanese, half caucasian, and was born in Tokyo, Japan. I grew up in America, attended American schools, and my home life was a cultural mixture of Japanese food and customs blended with Americanisms derived from my father’s German and English roots. My mother was Beethoven and my father was Hank Williams. While my friends were swinging and oscillating to the British rock invasion, I was playing violin, studying music, and wondering what were The Monkeys. Musically, only Japanese, classical, and country genres existed, and the only time I heard rock & roll was at school and while visiting neighborhood friends. At middle school, rock music was everywhere, and so were the sons and daughters of Vietnam service men. I had to ask my dad what a gook was because that’s what they’d call me at school. I recall a particular day when a kid stopped me in the hallway to inform me that his dad is killing my people in Vietnam.
I was the kid sitting at the cafeteria table with Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and African-American students; I was the kid in the back row seats in the classrooms; and I was the kid who walked the fence line that separated the school grounds from the neighboring houses. I thought life as a gook sucked, even though my dad had explained to me that Japanese are not gooks. On the playgrounds, I heard non-white kids being called the full gamut of ethnic-specific derogatory names. When news of a white kid’s father was reported KIA, school life was apt to be both orally and physically abusive for Asian students on those days, after all we looked like the enemy. I knew the day would come when I would be “called out” for a fight, and when that day eventually caught up with me, I met my opponent at the designated time and location. However, I wasn’t prepared for an audience.
“Kick that gook’s ass,” I’d hear from the kids gathered for entertainment and blood. I didn’t know martial arts or how to fight, so I stood there waiting for the other kid to make his move. He charged at me, but I stepped aside at the last second and he fell to the ground. He got up to repeat his charge, but I was held in place this time by one of his buddies. Though I had lost the fight, I was able to make the two-mile walk home.
High school wasn’t much better, and I attended four of them, one of which was Homestead High, where Steve Jobs was a classmate. We weren’t pals, but he was a friendly kid. I was a misfit student ostracized by the popular majority, but I met my best friend in biology and we still keep in touch to this day. The only physical altercations I experienced were on the wrestling mats, as I had joined the Homestead wrestling team because the coach saw something in me that I didn’t. One match in particular comes to mind. Compared to my husky, short frame my opponent was a lanky kid, but we were in the same weight class. On the mat, facing off after I’d broken away from a take down, I stood crouched while looking at his legs. I saw them tense up and knew he was about to lunge at me. I drew him in, but at the last second I stepped aside and he fell to the mat. My team laughed, his team booed. We squared off again, and I pinned him forty-something seconds later.
College should be better than high school, I had thought during the summer after graduation, and to my surprise college was a memorable experience, spanning eighteen years and three colleges. During those eighteen years, I was a journeyman machinist, a biker, a poet, a computer geek, and a wanderer. I met all kinds of people as a biker; all but a few accepted me with respect and hospitality. Upon graduation, I took a job with the Department of Energy and moved to Washington State. Life was good, though I still harbored lingering reservations about labeling myself either white or Japanese to the Federales.
Speaking from experience, I see biracialism less of a stigma today than it was during my youth. These days, when I catch myself spending a fleeting moment contesting my racial identity, I remind myself what I live for and why: Guitars, music, and writing. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines an Eurasian as “a person of mixed European (or European-American) and Asian parentage.” I guess if I need a label, Eurasian is acceptable, yet it doesn’t make me feel any different. I hate labels, and why do I need one?
I watch TV Japan, eat with chopsticks, and play guitar. I occasionally quip over my racial identity, but with less bewilderment than previous years. America has been my home since I was four-years old. Tormented as an outsider during my early developmental, emotional, and cognitive years has obviously made a lasting impression on me, but there’s no doubt that I’m an American, and my American pride runs deep to the bone, because patriotism should trump racial identities and barriers. All things considered, I don’t need no stinking race card.