They say the eyes are a window to the soul.
At first glance my windows are brown. At least that’s what my driver’s license says. On closer inspection they are a sunburst of mahogany on a patch of green-grey, surrounded by a thin rim of black. One has the thick eyelid of a Caucasian; the other has a hint of an epicanthic fold, common among Asians. Both are slightly almond shaped. I am effectively hapa, a hybrid of my father’s Japanese American and mother’s European characteristics.
My mother once told me that when I was an infant, well-meaning but insensitive people would ask her if I was adopted. They saw nothing of her in me. As I child I was unaware of this. I never noticed that my father’s family’s looked different than anyone else. They were simply people. But racist comments and attitudes snuck into my world and the innocent veil was torn from my eyes.
For a long time I straddled two worlds: did I belong to the Japanese American community or was I white? Who did I relate to the most? Where did I fit in? I can’t say this was a comfortable time to be me.
Honor. The family name. Excellent work ethic. Besides giving me my olive skin and his nose, my father cultivated these concepts in me. To fail was unacceptable because it would reflect poorly on our family, therefore bringing dishonor to the family. A little harsh? Perhaps, but it kept me in line growing up! I knew my dad would never hurt me (oh, I got spanked, don’t get me wrong—but I mean he never hit me in anger) but I never wanted to disappoint him. Seeing his raw umber eyes droop with sadness was worse than any punishment.
Musicianship. A sensitive heart. Taking time for people. These are traits from my mother. I also have forever-long fingers which have worked to my favor as a pianist. My mom has taught piano longer than I’ve been alive. She tells me that I used to crawl into a room when a student was doing well, and crawled right back out when they started making mistakes. I can pick up on the mood in a room in an instant. I love connecting with people—to have a genuine conversation, even if it ruins my schedule. My husband insists that I sound more and more like her every day.
As a result of growing up in this environment, I’m the most relaxed type-A person I know. I love to have order and lists and a plan. But I’ll drop it in an instant if someone is having a crisis or if I feel like being spontaneous. My creative side clamors for attention which results in projects began with fervor and finished out of a sense of needing to check it off the list.
The older I’ve become, the more distinctively half I see myself. I am my own category and happy for it. I can take the best from both heritages and apply it to how I live my life. I know it will influence how I raise my children, and I hope one day they will be able to explain their unique qualities by looking back to me and the generations that came before.