Dear Me Who Thought I Was a “Ha-fu Failure”
I always thought I was a "failure" as a "ha-fu".
My papa came to Japan alone from Nepal, a small country next to India, to make money when he was 16. He married my mama and they created me, who was born and raised in Tokyo, half-Nepali, half-Japanese.
My whole life has been a series of having to explain this. When I meet someone new, the conversation always begins with “Your family name doesn’t look Japanese. Are you ha-fu?” And then, “Where is this country, Nepal?” “How did your mom and dad meet?” “Where were you born?” “Do you speak the Nepali language?”… It goes on like this. I have been repeating the same line that I memorized when I was a little kid because it’s always the same.
I always seem to get evaluated for my “Japanese-ness”. People test me to see if I am Japanese enough and if I fit in this box labeled “Japanese”. This was how I was repeatedly reminded of how ha-fu I am. Because I am ha-fu, I thought I had to smile and explain my personal story to someone I had only met five minutes ago.
That self-intro situation was not the worst one.
“You’re ha-fu? But You don’t look like one!” I can’t even count how many times people told me this. “Oh yeah, I thought you look ha-fu!” This one either. I wonder what this “ha-fu looking” idea is that people always have in their minds.
When I am in Japan, I get tested on how Japanese I am. When I’m in Nepal, I have to tell people that I am from Japan, not from Nepal. My Nepali family was all very sweet, but I felt isolated there, too, since I could not join them in their Nepali Conversations.
I didn’t know who I was, nor where I belonged.
Growing up like that, I always thought I was a failure of a ha-fu. When I was a kid, the beauty standard in my small world was highly dependent on TV celebrities. People defined as pretty/beautiful on Japanese TV always had light skin and big, round eyes. They looked different from me. People who claimed to be “ha-fu celebrities'', who had white skin, high nose bridges, blue eyes, and curly hair, did not look like me either.
There was nobody who looked like me.
“I guess I’m not pretty”, I convinced myself.
When I hit puberty, kids around me started to wear sunscreen because “they didn’t want their skin to get darker”. They started to make their eyelids double so that their eyes looked bigger. “Ha-fu celebrities” were always what they dreamed to look like.
They said since ha-fu people are genetically blessed and meant to be pretty, they wanted to look like one. But they were not talking about ha-fus like me.
“Ha-fu people can speak English and have pretty faces. I wish I was born ha-fu!” Someone said to my face. “Well, I am ha-fu too! But I guess half-Nepali doesn’t count!” Every time I made fun of myself like this, it felt like something that I loved inside my soul was breaking into pieces.
I always wished I was half white. I hated my dark skin, hooded eyes, and that I could not speak any foreign languages. I always needed to explain my ha-fu-ness, but I did not get called pretty, nor could I speak English. I felt like I was a loser. “Why am I half-Nepali? Why does my dad have to be Nepali? Mama, why did you not get married to a handsome white man?” I questioned my mama, which definitely made her feel sad.
Now as a 21-year-old, I have A LOT of things I want to tell me from that time.
Hey, you don’t deserve to disrespect yourself like that.
Hey, you will learn that there is so much diversity among the people in this world and that they, including you, are all precious and beautiful.
You will realize that you don’t have to look like the people on TV to be beautiful.
Well, people still tell you that you look ha-fu, or you do not look ha-fu.
But you will learn not to care about it because you will get so much stronger.
Do not let anybody tell you otherwise because you are so beautiful.
You, at 21 years old, are loving yourself so much.
I mean… look in the mirror, you’re gorgeous!
I met people who tried to label me again and again. People try to define me, put me in either the box of “Japanese” or “NOT”, even though I cannot be put into either of them so simply. I know most of the time they do not mean to hurt me. But… just because they do not mean to, does not mean they had the right to hurt me.
I want to tell myself in the past.
What I needed someone to say to me back then.
I don’t have to be in any of those boxes.
Because I am me.
About Umi Thakali
My name is Umi Thakali, and I was born in Tokyo in 1999 to a Nepalese father and a Japanese mother. I am currently a sophomore in college. Now that I have learned and practiced self-love, I am very happy. I taught myself English as well so all is good! My hope is that both mixed race and non-mixed race people will learn to love themselves without being told otherwise by those around them.
Graphic by Ayumi White
Edited by Emiru Okada