“The weight of the sky is combined with the pull of the earth and it seems that the miscalculation of both icarus and atlas have allowed you to perfect the art of equilibrium.”
Balancing the difference in cultures, expectations, and societal perceptions constantly consumed my everyday existence. There was no united identity or cohesion in expression that seemed possible for me. These conflicting aspects of my identity were coupled with the external pressure to conform not only to a society that values homogeneity, but one that is rooted in the oppression of minorities.
Growing up with my identity as an Asian-Hispanic woman in the United States has continued to be a relatively unique experience, especially as I navigate the realities of being a first-generation American, woman of color. Intersectionality, a word I had first been introduced to in 7th grade, provided me with an academic concept that explained these cross-sections. Understanding the overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination that I would experience or witness impacting my own community and family had allowed me to further my understanding of myself and how American society perceived me.
I’ve always had a deeper cultural connection with my Hispanic side, something I attribute to my mother, who had spoken Spanish to me as a child, cooked Mexican food, and had taken me to visit family in her home state of Sinaloa, Mexico. My mother had even made sure that I would be a Mexican citizen. Because of this, I had developed a strong sense of pride and recognition of my heritage as a Mexican-American.
My connection with Mexican culture and traditions is something that has shaped a lot of my own personal values and beliefs, and has permitted me to analyze the Mexican community, specifically the Chicano community. Among my friends, I’m able to share my favorite foods, traditions, and stories that I have grown up with and that have influenced me as I transition into adulthood.
Since my mother had taught me Spanish as a young child, I considered myself relatively fluent in the language. This specific privilege that I had the opportunity to experience had always been the most present one. Because I look more Asian than I do Hispanic, speaking Spanish had always been a shock to everyone I had ever interacted with. There was always this pressure to prove myself as a Mexican, and speaking Spanish, in my opinion, was the easiest way to do so. I can recall countless instances when I had met new people, and through my own accord, I had called my mother and began a small conversation with her. After the call had ended, my new acquaintances had almost always been curious as to why and how I knew Spanish. I enjoyed explaining how I was half Mexican and that my mother had taught me the language when I was young.
Prompting the conversation regarding my ethnic background gave me control in the situation whenever I had met new people. I never wanted people to make assumptions or perceive me as something that I wasn’t. When it came to my background, I am, and always had been biracial first, before I was Hispanic or Asian.
While I resonated more with the Mexican culture in my upbringing, there is an undeniable connection I have to my Asian identity, specifically as a Japanese woman. Between my physical attributes that have often categorized me as East Asian at first glance, and conforming to familial and societal expectations of how Asian-Americans are meant to exist in American society, being Asian continues to be a significant part in my own self-conception.
The rise in xenophobia against the East Asian community that has become prevalent in mainstream media since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic has impacted my understanding of my own community and my place in it. Witnessing the hate crimes and murders that have been committed against people who look like me or my own family has been mentally tolling, and has also brought me in close proximity to the realities of being an Asian American woman.
I have great pride in my community, especially my generation, for using their voices in order to condemn anti-Asian rhetoric and breaking the longstanding stigma of avoiding conflict at all costs, an idea that has been historically prominent in Asian culture. I believe that solidarity between minority groups has been formed to an extent that is new and active, especially when addressing systemic issues that impact different communities.
Being both Mexican and Japanese has provided me with opportunities that I greatly value. I get to enjoy wonderful food from both cultures, appreciate the values and traditions that are historic and important to both sides, and I have an amazing family that I’ve had the privilege to visit both in Mexico and in Japan.
The combination of both of these cultures has also allowed me to be more understanding and open minded when learning and experiencing new cultures and traditions. I have a broad understanding of collective values and traditions that South American and Latin American countries share, as well as different East Asian countries. While either communities aren’t a monolith, there is often a shared understanding of what it is to be a first-generation or second-generation American and how certain identities overlap in the public perception.
My mixed-race identity has influenced my passion for understanding race and ethnic relations and pursuing an education and career where I can apply my own knowledge and life experiences to advocate for the unification of different communities as well as the preservation of our own individual cultures. I’ve always considered it a great honor to be Japanese-Mexican-American and despite my own struggles, I believe there is a new generation approaching, one that is incredibly diverse and multicultural.