Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Michiko's Dilemma, Diana And Upcoming Events

Since there's no Hip Hapa Homee to feature this week, I'm posting a lengthy comment from a reader. Let's just call her Michiko.

My original question: Okay. So, what do you readers think? Do mixed-race people with black ethnicities tend to shun that part of themselves? Drop us a line at and tell all!

Hello Yayoi!

I just read your 20 May blog on Watermelon Sushi World, and would like to reply to your question.

The following has been my experience:

Before I entered public school, my only experience with people outside of my immediate family were my white neighbors and my mother's Japanese friends (who were also married to black service members) and their children. At that time, I had no idea that I looked any different from anyone else. I never gave any thought to it.

On the first day of school in the first grade, I was surrounded by a group of black kids. They encircled me, and one of them asked, "What are you, anyway?" I really didn't know what he was asking, so I didn't answer. Then, several of them chimed in with, "Yeah, what are you?"

Still, I had no clue what they were saying so I just stood there and said nothing.

One of them asked, "Do you speak English?"

I answered, "Yes".

He said, "Because you look Chinese. Are you Chinese?"

I said, "No."

So again he asked, "What are you?"

At this point, I became frustrated and started to cry because I still didn't understand what I was being asked.

A little white girl named Carol walked into the middle of circle and took me by the arm. She looked at the kids and said, "Leave her alone. She's colored, okay? Now, leave her alone."

The other kids were shocked. "What do you mean she's colored?" they asked.

Carol put her arm next to mine, compared them and said, "See! She's colored."

That put an end to that and from that day on, I was known as the "colored girl with the Chinese eyes and the good hair."

As I entered adolesence and young adulthood, I was confronted with several odd questions and heard the opinions of many blacks on my mixed ethnicity. (Here's where I get the meat of your question!)

I have been told by some black girls that I'm not "really" one of them because I have "good hair" and, thus, I became the target of several bully girls who would sneer that I was "trying" to be one of them, and that I thought I was better than them because I was "light-skinned with good hair". These traits most certainly meant (to them) that I had a hidden agenda, and was out to get whatever it was that they were entitled to which was only given to me because of those traits. Those traits also meant (according to them) that I was conceited, stuck-up and "fast".

Because of those experiences, I have never really felt accepted by black women. My closest friends were mainly gay men and open-minded white women.

When I married my husband (who is an extremely dark-skinned man from Central America, exceptionally intelligent, kind and a practicing M.D.), my mother told me that one of her black female co-workers made this statement: "Your daughter is so beautiful. She could have had a white man. Why did she marry someone so dark?"

When I returned from my honeymoon and showed one of my black female coworkers my wedding pictures, she commented, "I'm really surprised that you married someone so dark."

After not seeing my high school best friend's brother for several years after graduation, I met up with him when we were living in Las Vegas. As my two children and I walked through a lobby, my friend's brother said, "Oh my god, Michiko! You have black children! I never expected you to marry a black man!"

So is it that we shun that part of ourselves? Or, do they shun us?

Our family lived in Italy for three years. We lived in a farming community where most of the residents were older Italians. To them, I was just "American". I no longer had to feel concious of explaining my ethnicity to strangers.

Then, we moved from Italy to Okinawa where there are many Americans.

One day, I was in the officer's club with my young son who was about 16 months old. He walked up to a black American man and gestered that he wanted to be picked up. The man asked me, "Where are you from?" I said, "New Jersey". He said, "No you're not. Where are you really from?" I replied, "I was born in Virginia, but I moved to New Jersey when I was three months old." At this point he was getting annoyed with me because he thought I was trying to be fresh, but I was simply answering his question, 'Where are you from?'. He said, "No. You know what I mean." So, I reverted back to my first-grade answer, "I'm colored." Well, I didn't say "colored". I said, "I'm black". He said ,"No you're not."

I had to walk away because I was getting frustrated.

So to answer your question, I think there may be some who shun that part of themselves. I, for one, love my black side! I love black culture, and I feel so proud of that part of myself. I also love the culture of my Japanese side.

If you ask me today, I will tell you that I am half black and half Japanese. In the past, I heard that 'you are what your father is'. But I always felt that I couldn't look at my Japanese mother and not give her credit for contributing to who I am.

Whenever we move, I always encounter people who "wonder" what I am. When they finally ask and I tell them, they say, "I knew there was something black about you, but I knew there was something else, and I wasn't sure what it was." Sometimes people will use the word "exotic".

I feel that the people I encounter these days seem to be more enlightened on issues of mixed-race people, and that makes me happy. And today, I can say that I feel accepted by my black peers.

I think that we are all entitled to declare "what we are" based on our experiences and our own self-concept. I can understand why Halle Berry and Barak Obama say they are black. And I can also understand why Tiger Woods says he is Cablasian.

Thanks for listening!


Unfortunately, Michiko wishes to remain anonymous so I don't have a photo to post. Instead, here's one of my family that probably looks similar to hers. In my own life, after our family left the security of military bases where mixies abounded, I found that my best friends were often Latina women. Perhaps because of their own mestizo backgrounds, they understood better the dilemma of being multiracial. So, I've also posted a pix of me with my old buddy Diana (left, above) whom I haven't seen in years. Like a lot of Latina women I've known, Diana dated men of every racial make-up.

The countdown is on! Next week, I'll be moderating the panel "Mixed-Race Relationships" at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival in L.A. If you'd like a copy of the program, hollah at

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of Hip Hapa Homeez on Facebook. We now have close to 600 members, and we promise to get more active with this group soon!

And, don't forget, we're still offering Hapa*Teez t-shirts to support our Watermelon Sushi film project--which we're auditioning talent for while we're in L.A.

Mad luv to all of you who continue to be cheerleaders for Watermelon Sushi World. I can't thank you enough and I promise to always be...

Your Hip Hapa,



Marisa said...

Yayoi, I was so pleased to find your blog and read about your Watermelon Sushi film project. As a daughter of two black parents, I cannot relate to the full extent of the struggle of being mixed. But I am a black female sushi chef from Mississippi so the issue of black women and Japanese culture is something that is a part of my daily life. I'm glad I found your site.

Cheers to you and your film project!

Yayoi Lena Winfrey said...

Aloha Marisa,

Thanks for your comment! I'd love to blog about you if you're up to it. I think it's cool that you're a sushi chef in a Japanese/male dominated field. Except that I'm vegan, I do appreciate your skilled artistry. Let me know if you'd like to be featured. I'll need to ask you a few questions about your work, and also a photo (maybe one without the fish in it--sorry). You can email me at:

Thanks, again!

Your Hip Hapa,