Thursday, October 19, 2006


The sun is actually beaming, and temperature is just right. If I don't notice the change of orange, red, and yellow on the trees, I'd really be mistaken to think that today is a spring day.

In fact, it's just an atypical mid-autumn day. Atypical, because it's so warm ... So warm that it doesn't make one happy but sad to think about the gruesome winter about to come.

Identities, identities, identities ... I'm supposed to lead a discussion session on the issues of identities in a few days. What an irony, as someone who's the last one to know which identity(ies) she really beholds.

"So what's the definition of 1.5 generation, Professor?", a student in class raised his hand.

"Well, according to sociologists, it's the generation of people who left home at their formative years of their lives and lived in a new country where they have the language ability of both home and the new and understand both cultures well."

"So what if you are a baby who arrived in the states at the age of 3?"

"Well, then you are more qualified as the 2nd generation. Because what we mean by the 'formative years' really refer to, say, the teenage years, so ... junior high or high school."

"What if you go back and forth, even now?", another student of Chinese-Indonesian descent asked?

"1.8 generation?", the girl across from him suggested.

Everybody laughed.

"Sojourners," the Professor put it at last. "You are a sojourner, an international one."

The student smiled. His beaming smile, however, told me that he hasn't really figured out what that means.

But I do.

"Would it be possible that your interest in Japan and your passion for this 'foreign culture' really is just an escape from reality for you? An escape from learning about who you really are and where your home/ID truly lies?" A friend challenged me the other day.

Woh woh woh ... Hold on a sec ... You could've put it in less straightforward terms, you know.

"Well, I have to admit that when it comes to learning about Japan and Japanese culture, in a way I can detach myself from it because, yes, I start as a blank sheet of paper, with no expectations, no baggage, no attachment. Whatever I learn I take it as a step forward. No personal, inner struggle, and no questioning of my own identity ..."

"Yes, in a way, it's a much safer route," I said, at last, finishing my long monologue of nebulous thoughts.

"So why don't you spend some time getting to know your root, your culture, and the place where you grew up from?" My friend challenged again.

"Well, the thing is, I was never brought to the consciousness that I don't know anything about that piece of land. For whatever little or big that I'd known of that place, I learned it through experiences, through growing up here. So who is to challenge that and say that it's not complete or real?" I fired back. Well, at least I tried to put it in the nicest terms to hide my little rise of anger inside.

"I'm not saying that what you'd gone through wasn't valid or anything. I'm just saying ... There's still a lot more to learn, and why don't you spend some time getting to know the other story, the other voices? Perhaps through that you'd be able to find a sense of rootedness or belonging to ..."

"But so what if I don't? So what if I don't have a home, a sense of rootedness or belonging?", I cut him off and put it forward. I must have said "so what" more than 5 times.

So what?

So What?


I thought I was told in class that all of these hot words - "nation," "nationalism," "culture," "identity," "home," "rootedness," and so on - are nothing but merely construction of ideas. If they are constructed, they are equally prone to deconstruction as well, aren't they? And hasn't grad school trained me to become an expert of deconstructions?

At the end of the day, as long as each day of my life passes by with something concrete done in the area of helping people and making someone smile or happy, who cares who that person is? Who cares if he or she is African, South American, North American, Australian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indians or what not? Who cares? Human rights are entitled to all beings, and all beings are entitled to love and happiness. Who cares who gets cared for? I'm too small of a being to do too much all at once. So what's the big deal with the loyalty issue?

But is that reality?

Somehow ... Somehow at the end of the day, I wish I could be sitting in the Cafe Comsa ism in Harajuko overlooking the streams of people flowing underneath in front of the Harajuku station. Among all the places that I've ever been to, that place came to mind in particularly.

Sometimes, there's comfort in being in a place where no one knows you, no one judges you, no one cares about your existence. You flow in and out of the crowds, like a wandering spirit. You may choose to participate, or you may choose to remain in silence behind the scene. You understand most of the language spoken around you, but you don't understand it all. But it is precisely such inability to understand it fully that grants you - ironically - peace and liberation and a cozy personal space in which you are allowed to speak your own language that joins and combines all the mixes of languages that you know. And you don't need to worry about grammar, accent, or the terrifying need to sound "authentic."

There are blessings of being an outsider, though lonely, extremely lonely at times. But perhaps only by remaining an outsider that I could have the fullness of all my cultural, ethnic, and spiritual ID's remain intact.

It's like sitting in a semi-crowded, post-working-hours local train home in Tokyo. I sit among the people, my make-up, handkerchief, feminine outfit, and cell phone text messaging help me blend into the crowd. Yet with the playing of a Chinese pop melody in my iPod, all my mind and thoughts are concentrated on memories of home, that one afternoon at the beach of Kending, or that day before high school graduation. Stepping out of the train and following the salarimen up the stairs, I spot a white expatriate walking past me trying to offer a flirtatious smile.

"Thank you sir, but I'm not interested in your Asian fetishism," I want to tell him, in fluent English.

An outsider with constantly shifting of identities.

The story of my life.

梅ちゃん at 6:17:00 AM



at 10/27/06, 1:27 PM Blogger Evergreen said...

I like this one a lot.... it's good to think about these things....but I think it's all about what you choose.... where you want to be at and what you want to be.... Asian, American.... even the Kingdom of God.... I guess I am both generation 1.5 & a sojourner.... don't really know that word until today.... Hope you are well.....

at 11/8/06, 12:31 PM Blogger debbiechang3 said...

Huh, I guess that means I'm more 2nd generation, but I feel that I am at least 1.2, since I can always say that I was born in China and have that bit of connection with Chinese nationals.

And since you seem to be comfortably bicultural, I thought you *were* rooted in your cultures, though it's true that there's always more to learn. We all make choices in life, but perhaps learning another culture can illuminate aspects of your own culture.


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