It’s tough to tell by looking at me, but I am half Japanese.
Most of the time, people can tell I’m “something else.” I don’t look Japanese, but I don’t look particularly Caucasian, either. As a teen and in my early twenties, the go-to-guess of my heritage was Native American. Women generally didn’t ask me why I looked the way I did (it doesn’t seem we ask each other such questions, out of intelligence, respect, or fear of comparison), but men did.
“Hey, you look like Pocahontas. Are you Indian or something?”
And tactful, right?
My answer to their boorish question: “Yeah. “Or something.””
Despite the occasional rudeness and clumsy question, I have never been offended when people ask “what are you.” We were raised with great pride in our culture. We wore kimonos and danced Obon. I learned to eat with chopsticks before I learned to use a fork. I make sushi as easily as I make a sandwich. I learned to write and speak Japanese (although I’m terribly out of practice). My lunchbox held strange treats, and I had a great deal of fun sharing them with my classmates.
As Japanese-Americans, we were encouraged to fulfill the best Japanese stereotypes. Intelligence, high level academic achievement, respect, hospitality, and honor were part of our family culture. We were encouraged to take the best part of what it meant to be Japanese, and be that. BE THAT, and be that as hard as you can. I don’t know that it was ever said out loud, but we were raised to lean into the differences that set us apart from everyone else. We were taught to stand out, stand up, and do what we were taught was right.
For the most part, an excellent lesson.
Except then I grew up, I attempted to become my own person, and I realized that neat and tidy suitcase of stereotypes, the one I unquestioningly picked up and took pride in because it was part of our culture?
It wasn’t just full of good things, there was some bad stuff in there too.
Like, “be perfect.” And “be skinny,” but also “don’t be disrespectful, when your grandma makes you sixteen pieces of toast for a snack, you need to eat them.” Always remember, the saying is NOT “do your best,” but “be the best.” There’s “uphold honor and respect, don’t talk about people when you have a problem with them (it dishonors them), just talk about them behind their back so they don’t have to deal with your discontent,” and “point out all the failures of others, we are family and we revel in one another’s shortcomings.” (There are a lot, since none of us ever make it to being perfect.)
Finally, MOST IMPORTANT, to maintain family honor and show respect for your elders, “be sure you live up to what is expected of you.”
“You are made of greatness, not because of who you are, but because of who came before you.”
“Don’t. Let us down.”
I started typing this tongue in cheek, but the truth of it plowed over me just now like a freight train.
I honestly had no idea how much of my life I lived in fear, afraid to disappoint those who expect things of me.
I mean, I kind of knew. I know that I am a textbook codependent. I know that I struggle a lot to make good choices for myself, not in defiance of someone else, not because I fold to keep someone happy, but because *I* think the choice is the right one to make. I know that I have a long ways to go, and that finding true independence takes practice.
I know that part.
What I did NOT know was, of all the expectations I fear most to fail, the ones put there by my Japanese family make up at least 93% of the whole.
NINETY THREE PERCENT.
My mother. My sister. My grandmother. My aunts (my mom’s sisters and sister-in-law). My cousins on my mom’s side, the older ones in particular.
All Japanese. All highly expecting of greatness.
Oh… and I just now realized, all women.
The Body Image Project is meant to challenge the way we think about things. It is meant to pick apart what we see of ourselves, root out those perceptions grounded in bias and lies, and plant in their stead seeds of truth and hope. Usually when I start a blog post I see where it’s headed. I have an idea as to what the featured part means to me, and why.
THIS time, I’m caught very much by surprise.
When I started writing, I intended on writing about the Japanese genes I carry and the somewhat exotic, not Caucasian, “what are you, Indian or something” eyes they created. My eyes are different. They are not one thing, and they are not the other. They are just ME, slightly almond in shape, dark brown. They are lopsided, aging, intense, shadowed with dehydration and lack of sleep.
(Oh, and today I had on makeup. Not an every day thing, but not completely unheard of.)
What has come of this post is a delightful, very much needed turn.
When I look at this picture of my eyes, for the first time in my whole life, I do not see “failure to meet someone else’s expectations.”
I see, “I can’t fucking wait to meet my own.”
I read in a book once, “you know you’re healing when you can look into your own eyes in the mirror and hold your own gaze for ten seconds.” I thought “whatever, that’s bullshit,” and I tried it.
I didn’t last two seconds.
How long can you last, do you think?
Here’s what I want you to get from this post:
The only expectations you attempt to live up to should be your own. Period.
No matter who put what kind of stereotype on you or why. No matter what culture you were raised in, what God you were taught to worship and love, how you were taught to behave, what you were taught to think. No matter how good or bad the lessons you learned, no matter how great the example that was set for you or how shitty you learned NOT to be, every single thing you expect of yourself RIGHT NOW TODAY needs to be your choice.
We are capable, intelligent, independent, grown ass adults, and we must know WITHOUT ONE SLIVER OF A DOUBT that we believe what we do because WE choose.
Not because someone that came before us told us so, and not because we’re afraid of the alternative.
I am half Japanese. I am also half gun toting, fishing and hunting, truck driving, dirt digging, Norwegian Viking redneck. I am mother of three that I (not so secretly) wish was five. I am Christian that knows the ins and outs of sin, swears like a sailor, and accepts all people from all places and all walks of life. I am lover, sister, friend. I am a teacher and a leader, a business woman and an entrepreneur, a dog lover that owns a cat, and an aspiring homesteader.
I am so many things, and I am these things because at some point, I decided for myself what I expect OF myself.
I could not be happier than I am right now, because I fought to find what I’ve got, and I earned what I fought for.
My friend, it is so important that we know who we are. Not “all the way right now,” but SOMEDAY. We must be in constant search for our true self, and we must fight to let her out. We must keep fighting, never stop, never give in. WE ARE WORTH THE FIGHT, and we have infinite opportunity ahead of us to apply the best of who we are to the world around us.
I say “find yourself, change the world,” and I mean it.
Once you know who you are, once you DECIDE who you are because you choose to be that way, there is absolutely nothing you cannot accomplish.
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Live every day like it’s your last one. Find yourself, own your truth, and change your whole world. Forge Depth, and never stop digging.
Push on, my friend.
Always push on.