I make it a point to visit my ancestral home once a year, it’s a big expense and it takes me the entire year to save for it. I’m lucky that I can stay with family when I visit. Half the time I don’t take the family with me; airfare to Japan is robbery and that’s when you get a good deal. While I miss them terribly, one of the best things about going home is losing myself in a crowd. Floating on a sea of faces that look like mine is beyond ebullient, I feel slightly warm. That feeling continues when I turn on the TV and see a version of myself. I go to the movies and see another version of myself. I read the newspaper and magazines, gee they look just like me.
After a few days I don’t notice it anymore and the slightly warm feeling forms a group consciousness/identity with my countrymen. Now when I’m out and about I don’t I notice Asians, just every white, black or brown face in the crowd and I don’t think anything of it, I just notice that they are different. The familiar is important on a conscious and subconscious level. When we leave our collective, we notice that we are being noticed, this can be a little chilling, not in a racist or demeaning way just in a way. The separation we feel is normal and instinctual in my opinion and cannot be evolved away with modern sensibilities.
In America, my collective is different because I am in a multicultural family. Back home, I never feel truly accepted in my Japanese community. There has never been an incident but you can just feel when you are being noticed. The exception is my immediate family although this was not always the case. It’s funny how grandchildren can make tolerance turn into acceptance and acceptance into love. (I mean parents for my husband). When I first got married my mother threatened to harm herself. Oh why couldn’t I be like my sisters who married good Japanese men. She threatened to drug me, pack me in a crate and return me to Nippon. After I popped out two beautiful grandchildren and my siblings did not deliver the goods she now tells them its not too late to find “good Negro man as they are more potent!” My mother's misconceptions aside, she now shows off my husband to her friends at every opportunity. At family dinners my husband sits between my mother and father (this is the most honored seat at the table in my family). I sit next to my father, the children sit beside my mother, and my siblings find a seat where they can.
I’m always beyond anxious to get home from a trip and revel in the faces of my family, to joyfully toil in my garden and walk to the ice cream shop after dinner. The first few days back as we walk down the street people notice us. I know that most of them are like me when I am in Japan and not thinking about anything at all just noticing that we are different still you feel that chill. I nudge my cheek into my husband and on cue he puts his arms around me. I look into his brown face as we tow our tan children by their hands. They squirm a bit but eventually relent and I feel very warm.
Camile Ryerson is our new contributing writer. Her weekly column appears on Wednesday. Find her views on politics, world affairs, pop culture and of course, what she's reading. Her favorite genre is sci-fi.