Hyphenated: Who Do I Identify As?

ABOUT ME, family

The Right Trousers

A bit of a change of pace for this post, while I put on my ‘serious’ trousers. You know, the ones with the knife-edge crease and the sober belt loops. They chafe a little so I may remove them at intervals. I want to thank Anne of the delightful Middle aged Momma blog for inspiring me to write at length on my childhood experiences.

Those of you looking for the usual cartoon and silliness? Normal service will be resumed – I just thought I’d share my personal (I dislike that term ‘journey’) experiences with you. Perhaps you may even find it silly . . .

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Some cute Earthling children.

 


Where Are you From – a Dialogue

I am always happy to answer that question, in spite of the fact that it seems to lead to followup questions, as if my answer were somehow not satisfactory, or dancing around a much more juicy and warty truth.

ME: Winnipeg. (in answer to preceding question)

(beat)

Random Stranger (RS): Uh huh. But where are you REALLY from?

ME: (stifling urge to push my eyeballs into my skull with my thumbs) Yup, still Winnipeg. Heh! Heh! Cough.

RS: Okay, but where are your folks from?

ME: Oh. (funny you did not ask me that in the first place, is that an interrogation technique?). Well, my mother is originally from England, and my father was born in Vancouver.

(beat)

ME: (to put RS out of their self-imposed perplexity) My father’s parents were from Japan and came to Canada in the early 1920’s. My father met my mother, and hey, Bob’s Your Uncle, ta DA! Behold! The miracle that you see standing before you  . . .

RS (penny dropping, lights go on): Ooooh! (scurries away)

I have been through many such iterations of that conversation. As a (holding nose as I say this) visible minority, they have been unavoidable. My favourite is: WHAT are you? Gets right to the point, and is typically a question asked by kids, and a few adults, sadly. (what BREED are you, were you a rescue?) For my sister, the questions take on a different tone: My, you’re exotic looking. Like a tropical plant I saw in a conservatory once. 


3 Guesses, the First Two Don’t Count

Depending on my mood, my answer will vary. If I am feeling playful, I might say, Well, look at my face. What do YOU think? 3 guesses. (Very few have EVER guessed)

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My mother and sister are the accomplished pianists – I am still stuck at the level you see here.

 

I grew up in a predominantly White neighbourhood, German, Ukrainian, Jewish, Polish. There was one Japanese girl in my school (Wokako was her name, though perhaps that was her pejorative name) and I never spoke to her. That was the extent of other non-White ethnic groups. I did not even meet a Black person until I was in grade 8.


The Métis and Canada’s Strained Racial Relations

In any case, Winnipeg (which had, and still does, have a poor reputation in North America as a particularly racist city) was a never a favoured settling place for Asian peoples given its landlocked position smack dab in the middle of North America. Winnipeg has one of the largest indigenous populations (Métis, among others) in Canada, and perhaps this is the key to the racism problem.

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Some lovely Métis people from my province, BC.

Métis comes from an old French word meaning ‘mixed’. According to Wikipedia, the Métis are members of ethnic groups native to Canada and parts of the U.S. that trace their descent to indigenous North Americans and European settlers..

White people (some not all), at the time I was growing up there, had a very combative and hostile relationship with First Peoples. I remember vividly at age 10 being asked to leave a public pool; not by staff, but by a patron, who stated, ‘I don’t like Indians.‘ What was I going to do with that information? I promptly left, and something told me not to mention this to my parents, especially my father, who worked a federal job in Indian Affairs, as it was called back then. I eventually did return, (loved swimming, the sting of chlorine in the eyes) though the incident shook me a bit.

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This was what I looked like to that pool patron. An accurate depiction of Native Peoples.


Cue the Violins . . . and Kazoo

I did not suffer many other such incidents and, in fact, enjoyed a great childhood, and had a pretty big circle of (yes, White) friends. However, in school, a Mrs. Miller seemed to single me out for wrongdoings and, such was her ignorance, thought I was Chinese, in spite of my clearly Japanese surname. She dubbed me the ‘Chinese Chatterbox’ given my reputation for loquaciousness and need for attention through ‘comedy’. (one day I came to school wearing my mum’s sunglasses and rode that schtick for a week or so) The name, of course, stuck, and I was known as that for the entire year! It is so hard to be on all the time, I can tell you. I did and made it look good.

Later that year, Mrs Miller cobbled up some imaginary infraction that excluded me from the eagerly anticipated Winter Carnival, which hurt like hell then, and still resonates to this day. I still remember crying quietly, knowing I couldn’t go, the entire class silently regarding me. I could not say positively that Mrs Miller had it in for me because I was ‘other’. It certainly felt like it.

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This is not me, though my face wore a similar woebegone expression.The lower lip starts to quiver, as the tears well up. Music swells.

This is not a ‘poor me’ diatribe, by any means. I am trying hard not to drift into that territory. I thought that it might be of interest to some, who are not familiar with life here in Canada, and our strained relations with the First Peoples, and other non-White races.


To High School, and Beyond

In high school, for the most part, I did not encounter such racism. Certainly not from staff, although there was some invective hurled at a few Asian groups, from other students. I had moved to Vancouver by then, which, of course, completely changed the playing field in terms of race and racism. Any fracas that I became involved in was a result of not my not being able to shut my mouth, rather than anything race-based. Thanks a lot, mother, for my flapping tongue.

I did have some mild incidences when my perfectly enunciated speech, and ability to use multi-syllabic words came as a surprise to some other kids. They probably expected some form of Mickey Rooney-esque pidgin English. I would have done that 100% if I had had the foresight!

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You can always count on the Sixties to give us honest, sensitive portraits of ethnic groups.

AM I Hyphenated?

In conclusion, let us return to the title of this post. Who do you identify as, Wilt, you ask?(Which is strange, why do you talk to a white screen?) Are you a hyphenated Canadian? That is, do you identify as Japanese-Canadian, or as a Canadian with Japanese heritage? A Japanese with maple syrup in their veins? Some are more militant than I am in their own stance, possibly owing to negative experiences. Myself, I have no problem with identifying as Japanese-Canadian. Since I am the third generation of our people to reside in Canada, I am sansei. My father is nisei, my grandfather issei. My children are yonsei. (I’ll spring it on them one day)

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I did not eat a lot of this growing up. Mainly at Xmas parties, or my grandparents house. My father made sukiyaki. He’s still around – these days he likes sapporo ichiban ramen. You know, the instant noodles that you crave like crack cocaine.

Hope you enjoyed this post. If you made it this far, bravo. Go have a well-earned lie down. I am delighted (and proud) to tell you about my background, and often will, to captive audiences at the bank, or at the grocery store. They say the Japanese are a quiet, introverted lot and that is true, by and large. However, those who follow this blog (you know who the two of you are) will know that my mum is English, that is, from England. As Eric Idle says, ‘Say no more.’

Comments will be given the red carpet treatment they deserve, though ‘likes’ are never not appreciated.

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I ate a lot of English cuisine, like this, thanks to mum. On a few memorable occasions, I brought a yakisoba sandwich (I cringe as I type that) to school for lunch. The bread soaked up the soy sauce like a sponge, so that it was uniformly black by lunchtime. For some reason, I could find no takers for ‘tradesies’.

 

 

About Me

ABOUT ME, life

621bc869-b400-43a4-aba1-b48288dc9f98.png     I was recently nominated for this award, by the wonderful This Made Me Smile Today blog. Check it out! Not only is it awesome, it DID make me smile. Thank you for the nomination, Candice! It took awhile to post this, my apologies.

I shall now answer the 11 questions that This Made Me Smile submitted for me.

When did you start your blog, and why? 

2009. I liked the ability to post my thoughts, fancies, etc, and receive feedback. So cool, Love the community.

Where did you grow up? 

Winnipeg and Vancouver, Canada

Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet/have met?

Dead: Spike Milligan – big influence, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, and many many more. Living: Steve Martin, Stephen King, Hayao Miyazaki. The way all their minds work is fascinating. Also, the first person who thought oysters might taste good. The STONES of that individual.

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Miyazaki, creator of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, et al.

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Spike, my hero.

Who was the greatest influence in your life?

My family. And Saturday morning cartoons. Not in that order. Kidding!

If you could go back in time, when, and where would you go?

I know if I say ‘caveman days’, my credibility will go out the window. So, I’ll say late 70’s early 80’s, the intersection of great movies and music, Jaws, punk rock, new wave, blockbusters. Love that time but was too young to fully appreciate.

If you could stay at any age, what would it be?

(thinks) Wonder if anyone says the age they are now? In the interest of answering, I’ll say  22, old enough to be treated like an adult, but still young enough to enjoy the newness of things. I have a couple of kids, on the opposite brackets of adolescence. I observe their lives with loving interest.

What’s your favourite pastime?

Okay, what is this, an interrogation? I love to run and weight train, I have been in (meaning I wore a number) some marathons, and 10K runs. And, surprisingly, I love to draw and paint. Love patting dogs and often will do so, even during a marathon, and still achieve scorching times.

Do you have a pet, or pets?

We now have an awesome hamster, name of Mochi. We feed him greens and non-greens. (yes, processed snacks) In the past, we have alway had dogs (shout out to Harold, Rosie, Laika, wonder if they were reunited with their balls up there. Another mystery.)

What is one highlight of your life?

Ah so many. But you said ‘one’. Getting to live in England in a small village was one. (I have dual citizenship) Having my artwork displayed across Canada in the 90s was two. haha sorry (I was contracted by a sporting goods company to come up with a cartoony character for their apparel.)

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Wimborne Minster. Lived here for awhile.

What’s your favourite holiday?

(thinks) Does anyone ever say their birthday? (in this narcissistic selfie stick world we live in) What the hell: my birthday! Oh and Christmas. Does anyone ever answer otherwise? Guy Fawkes Night is awesome. Any holiday that ends with huge bonfires is tops in my book.

What’s your dream job?

Easiest question yet: syndicated and in the papers. Or its digital counterpart!

Hey, that was fun. So, here’s some bonus questions. (thanks AV Club)

If you could spend the rest of your life inside one movie or TV show, what would it be and why?

For movie, it would probably be Stand By Me, because that movie most mirrors my early adolescent years, skirting trouble, teasing dogs, breaking school property, walking across train trestles. Lived in the forested environs of North Vancouver, BC and the unforested Prairies. (that is, Manitoba) Almost everything, in fact, except seeing a dead body, a human one anyway. A lot of dead dogs, birds, and a dead cat (my friend’s dad accidentally shot it with an arrow). Hmm, but for LIFE? I love Santa Rosa, the town that Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt was filmed in. In spite of its dark theme, I would love to live in that setting with the eccentric townspeople. And discuss methods of murder with my neighbour.

TV shows I would to spend my life inside? Adventure Time. My young son and I watch that show for hours. (which I suppose I’ll regret on my deathbed but not the time spent with my son) It is so unpredictable/surreal and has a humour and sophistication that appeals to me. I would love to live in such a universe, where nothing is as it seems, idiotic things happen, and what is seemingly normal is rendered absurd. Also, Happy Days. As antiseptic  and artificial as they come, who WOULDN’T want to live there? NO ONE eats cereal out of a huge bowl at dinnertime there.

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Adventure Time. My son and I enjoy this show. My older daughter, not so much. Or perhaps resents our enjoyment of it.

Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase? How often do you use it and in what circumstances?

Yes, I like to use the word ‘defo’ for definitely, most assuredly. ‘Fxckwit’ for someone who is an idiot. Useful when driving. ‘What the blazes’ is a favourite of mine, useful in all situations where there is instability and chaos. It is archaic and somehow satisfying. I feel like Mark Twain wearing a straw hat when I utter a ‘What the blazes is going on here?‘, to my kids. I frequently use the ‘not too shabby’ phrase in answer to the ubiquitous How’s it going?

When my children were younger and easier to command, I would often say the following in response to annoying requests from my kids, Okay, hmmm, what’s the word I’m looking for . . . Oh yeah: NO!

Thanks for reading, everyone back in the pool . . . remember: four long whistle blasts means imminent missile attack.