By Emily Okawara
Northwest Asian Weekly
While I was sitting in the cafeteria with the rest of my second grade class, the recess teacher who helped me to open my lunch told me it smelled disgusting. And from that day on, I began to hate it. The way that my friend’s parents tried to be courteous by making me rice to go with my hot dog when I stayed for dinner. The accent my father spoke with when he volunteered in my classroom. The un-American, un-traditional Christmas dinner I was served, and the way that my peers would look at me and expect me to be a math genius. And it’s not that I wasn’t exceptional at algebra or that I didn’t enjoy the rice – I was different. I was half Japanese.
I went out of my way to bring a paper sack lunch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day, and tried not to hang around the “Asian crowd.” Anything and everything that would have associated me with being Asian, I would hide – my grades, my family traditions, my interests. I was desperate to get out of that stereotype. So desperate that I did not realize I was forsaking a big part of who I was.
I did not realize! I did not realize that I could always win the game of two truths and a lie because nobody would believe that I had two passports. I did not realize that I was the only one of my friends to have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo Disneyland, or experience the rich culture of schools, temples, and gardens all over Japan.
Now, I realize how lucky I am to be a part of two incredible cultures. I realize that because of my story, I am able to understand and appreciate the differences of all world cultures from a special lens. Through the years, I have found the courage to fully embrace my culture – helping to found a Japanese Heritage Club at my school, participating in community events, and using my background to constantly enhance the culture of my environment in many ways.
Through my own background, I have fully realized the importance of diversity within a community. I know that wherever my future takes me, I will carry this knowledge with me to create a richly cultural and diverse environment around me. (end)