To my dad, however, I appear safe. I appear inconspicuous. If I walk quickly enough past a racist, they won’t be able to place my ethnicity in time to start throwing rocks and punches. I did not inherit the gentle eyes that join in the corners like those of my grandparents. My hair is a few shades lighter than my dad’s stark black. My skin is tan, but only in the summer, when everyone else is getting darker too.
While the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community urges me to embrace my Asian heritage, my dad’s choked-up sentiment lingers in the back of my mind. In being proud of my Japanese genes, I rebel against the notion that I am a fully assimilated American.
There is a reason America is called the great melting pot. Cultural and linguistic differences are rejected for their foreign feel, slowly melting immigrants and their descendants into the greater white American culture.
When my great-grandparents immigrated to America, they were Japanese. The following generations were Japanese Americans. As a child, I would ask my mom where her family was from and she would simply answer “America.” She believes her family’s arrival can be traced to early British colonialism, so her ethnic identity is informed by hundreds of years of being white in America.
After four generations of living in this country, when will the rest of my family be considered American? Do I meet the requirements? Am I white enough?
I am uncomfortably reminded of the days before and after the Japanese internment during World War II. Japanese Americans, my grandparents included, buried their Japanese flags, strictly spoke English, and tried to convince strangers they were Chinese.
As AAPI hate crimes rise, my father rejoices that my flag was buried when he married my mother. In a time when Asian Americans yearn for protection, my safety is afforded me by my white mother – a form of defense that cannot be taught to the oppressed or provided by even the most earnest ally.
Amy Hattori is from Marietta and is a student at Washington University in St. Louis.