At the end of my anthropology class the prof was asking if anyone had ideas for their big annotated bibliography project. It has to be relevant to culture/society studies and needs to be contemporary. I asked if it would be okay to do mine on expatriates who return to Japan and the alienation they feel. It was one of the many ideas that Dylan sent me (thank you!).
The gaijin professor automatically half-jokingly responded, “Like you?”
I was confused. I am an expatriate? Am I American? Am I Japanese? What do I consider myself? And what do others consider me to be? Last time I was here I thought I resolved my identity issue. But questions still seem to come up.
I was in high school I came to Japan for the first time. I was part of a sister-city exchange, so in the middle of the hottest part of the summer, I stayed with a host family for a week. Before arriving in Japan, I always considered myself “Japanese.” My mom always emphasizes the “American” when she answers questions and refers to herself as “Japanese-American,” but I just would say Japanese. Being Japanese is part of what sets me apart. Or at least I felt like it gave me membership and association with an exclusive group. Not a lot of people can say they are Japanese. I am full too, so identity was never an issue.
When I came to Japan, my whole notion of who I was got shaken up and turned upside-down. Not only could the Japanese people tell I wasn’t from Japan, but they were more interested in the fact that I was American. I wasn’t as Japanese as I thought I was. Really genetics have little to do with it at all. “Ok,” I told myself, “I am American.”
Not long after my trip, a few friends and I went to a Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL) youth conference. It was there when I first heard of the term “banana” as a way of describing people. Yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Get it? I found it to be the perfect way to describe my situation. I look the part (well sort of), but really can’t speak Japanese, grew up in a “white” neighborhood, know more about America then Japan. I’m a banana.
I’ve accepted that about myself. I introduce myself as a nikei jin (Japanese American), but really I am 100% American, born and raised.
But when my prof subtly referred to me as an expatriate, I had to question my identity again. As a fourth generation Japanese American, I don’t know that I have enough immediate connections to be considered an expat? My white American professor may think I am an expat, but what would Japanese people say? As he said on the first day of class, “What is Japanese ENOUGH to be considered Japanese?” I still wonder.