To My Dear Second and Third-Generation Children Who Will Surely Stand Out
My boyfriend is a first-generation Filipino-American. However, since his parents immigrated from the Philippines to America, and he is their child, he is considered second generation or Nisei in Japanese terms.
Looking around him, one might think that due to his occupation as a soldier, there would be an innumerable amount of immigrants who have been living in the United States regardless of their generation. However, the majority of his close friends are also Nisei.
When he returned home, I went with him. No matter how many of his hometown friends I met, he still seemed to be the closest with his Nisei friends. Either his Nisei friends or those who are future first generation international students who aim to become naturalized Americans.
According to him, there is apparently a pretty big gap between the Nisei and the Sansei, or third generation.
Nisei grow up with their parents, trying to protect the culture and customs of their respective homelands. In my boyfriend’s case, he has been best friends with Filipino food since childhood, attends Catholic mass every weekend, and continues to retain deep ties with relatives both stateside and in the Philippines.
In his own mind, since he is a soldier, he pledges allegiance to the United States of America. However, since the culture he grew up in and the language of his family are both Filipino, he says he feels like the identity that flows inside him is, in fact, Filipino.
However, according to him, he also feels like he does not really fit into the Filipino category either. He cannot speak Tagalog, and his way of thinking is very American. He sometimes jokes that he is like a coconut: brown (Filipino) on the outside, but white (white American) on the inside.
His identity crisis is undoubtedly that of a Nisei.
I was born into a Japanese family that has lived in Japan for generations, but when I first went to the United States, I questioned my identity as a Japanese person. It all started when an American told me, "You look more Japanese-American than Japanese."
Ever since then, I have been interested in the idea of what it means to be a certain nationality.
What does it mean to look or seem 'Japanese'?
I have been told that my face looks what we call ha-fu or someone who is half-Japanese. Is it because of this and the fact that I have an outspoken personality that I am excluded from seeming 'Japanese'?
In this way, I fell into an identity crisis myself even though I was born and raised in Japan. That may be why I felt deep admiration for the Nisei Japanese-Americans during the Pacific War who were similarly troubled with their identities and loyalty.
I also felt a little relieved when I found out some years later that if we go back many generations, my family, in fact, might have roots abroad. With this knowledge, I was somehow able to convince myself that there was a meaning to all of my worries.
In which category would a child born between a worried Japanese person like myself who might eventually immigrate to the United States and a worried Nisei like my boyfriend be placed? How would you categorize a child born between a first-generation person and a second-generation person?
It is not as simple as being considered third-generation if you choose American Citizenship or being classified as second-generation if you choose Japanese Citizenship.
Just as my boyfriend separated the Nisei and Sansei, I think the difference between the second and third generations, and the difference between the first generation and others is greater than I had imagined.
In addition, there is still room for understanding regarding mixed people within Japan. There are words such as ha-fu and jun-Japa (純ジャパ = purely Japanese) that are still used to separate people. To begin with, no one has even proven whether or not Japan is a country made up of a single ethnic group, so strictly speaking, there is no such thing as jun-Japa.
In addition, there is still room for understanding regarding mixed-race people within Japan. There are words such as jun-Japa and ha-fu that are still used to divide people into two categories: inside and outside. It is a division not only between yourself and others but your fellow countrymen and foreigners or “outsiders.”
Mixed is a more preferable expression than ha-fu, and jun-Japa is based on the unfounded premise that "Japan is a country of a single ethnic group." This being the case, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as jun-Japa.
The term jun-Japa is often used in a self-deprecating way by those who identify themselves as jun-Japa. Saying things like, "Because I'm purely Japanese, I can't speak English," etc. However, the word “純 (jun),” meaning pure, included in jun-Japa is increasingly being used in ways related to people's roots, regardless of whether or not they have experience living abroad or their ability to speak English, etc. I feel that people are not very aware of the fact that this distinction is marginalizing mixed-race individuals and other foreign residents within Japan in a negative way.
The children of couples like my boyfriend and I, at least in Japanese society today, may be marginalized as ha-fu or foreigners.
I wonder what it would be like in America. I personally do not know but according to my boyfriend, as a Filipino-American, he thinks they would become more like a Sansei and more American in this regard. The aspect of their Japanese roots may depend on the length of time actually spent in Japan and how they are brought up. If they grow up speaking Japanese and eating Japanese food, they might seem closer to a Japanese-American rather than a Filipino-American.
But does that mean it only depends on how we raise them? I doubt that too. It is sad to think but how they look, closer to one ethnicity or the other, would also be a factor.
All we can do as parents are leave our children with as many options as possible. If it were me, I would preserve their Japanese citizenship until they were old enough to choose their nationality themselves.
Together we can create many opportunities for them to experience all of Japan, the Philippines, and the United States. We can travel to other countries as much as possible and show them various cultures and customs.
If they wish to study in a different environment, we will provide them with adequate knowledge and enough money to send them there.
That is all we can do. The rest is up to them.
It is painful to worry about, but in a way, just having options may be lucky. There will be many chances to seize, and they could get used to making decisions and possibly become a person who has a firm sense of themselves.
Children are born in the image of their parents. Therefore, it may be our job as parents to provide our children with as many opportunities and choices as possible.
Recently, my boyfriend asked me, "If our parents were to ask us, What kind of values and ethics do you want to raise your children with?, what would you say?"
This is the answer we came up with.
Translated by Savannah Sutton
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by meitooso