identity: the struggle is me

A yonsei in the Canadian prairies, reclaiming and preserving Japanese heritage was a principle I grew up with, but it often felt external and performative; how I am seen, as opposed to how I see; what I learned to do with my community rather than what I knew to do at home. Being mixed race, even how I am perceived invites ambiguity.

My grandparents preferred their fluent English to Japanese, and their sansei children had dabbled but never learned Japanese. As a kid, I often wondered what the point of my odori practice was, or if I studied hard enough, when I would pass as a native speaker. Even after completing advanced Japanese as a university elective, I still freeze when anyone asks me about my Japanese, and have to resist my knee-jerk “sukoshi dake, just a little”.

I still ask, “Why am I like this?”

Meeting more yonsei and other Japanese Canadians, learning about their identity and language struggles, or complete ambivalence let me accept my journey as my identity, as valid as each of their stories. As an adult, I realize that feelings and pressures of “being the best of both worlds” and “having to prove myself” are part of the generational legacy and it’s actually helped me feel more firm on identifying as mixed race and Japanese Canadian, rather than Japanese or Canadian alone. Now, I try to hold my cultural practices for myself rather than for validation, and there is a gentleness and forgiveness to it that frees me, rather than makes me feel “less than” or like “an imposter”. 

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