As university students, we all have identity issues. As we mature, we start to see an array of hypocrisies in the world of adults that we once trusted unconditionally. Searching for insights within different facets of our personal experience – whether it be race, sexual orientation, or religion – there’s a sense of firm ground to stand on in what we consider to be inherent and “in our blood.”
Our external – i.e. racial – appearance is undeniably an influential force in where we see ourselves in the world as it is one of the easiest modes of categorization. But what happens when what is considered to be “in your blood” doesn’t match up with a set of clearly defined expectations?
“I don’t feel like I have an identity. It’s more confusion. I don’t feel like I have a race,” said Daniel Amin, an Arts student of half-caucasian, half-Pakistani descent, who was raised primarily by his Pakistani mother. “Once in awhile, I still realize that certain things aren’t common to white people. There are differences in parenting between white and brown parents; you slowly figure out what’s what.”
Interestingly, none of the people I interviewed defined themselves by their ambiguous ethnicity; it seems that cultural influences – aspects gleaned from parents and the society you’re brought up in – are more significantly formative than anything in your blood. Aaron Kurts is a half-Japanese and half-white U1 Arts student whose Japanese family has been in Canada for about three generations, and lived through the internment camps during WWII.
“I only feel Japanese because I have the blood,” he says, “[It’s not] in any linguistic or cultural way.” According to Ian Condry in Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization – a book that deals with issues of race, class, and subculture in contemporary Japanese society – ethnic belonging is traditionally conceived of along the blood lines, not based on external appearance or the environment in which you were raised.
Jason, however, feels differently; for him, living in North America, what’s in his blood isn’t enough to give him a strong sense of ethnic identity. “People see me as more Japanese than I feel,” he said. “I’d get to Japan and say, ‘What the hell? This is weird. I am not Japanese.’” He noted that one of the only particularly Japanese aspects of his life is that he uses chopsticks at home. “I’d like to say cultural loss through the generations is a bad thing. But it never really affected me, so I don’t know what I feel about it.”
Mona Matthews, a U1 Management student, is half-Lebanese and half-white. She said, “After awhile, it’s no longer, ‘I’m part Lebanese.’ But, ‘My grandmother was Lebanese.’” Matthews’s Lebanese heritage isn’t obvious when you first look at her. She felt that the Lebanese that she encountered didn’t recognize her as part of their culture. “I don’t identify with the first generation but with the food and traditions that I grew up with. I am attached to the culture and not the country.”
A friend of mine described race and culture as being part of a colour continuum; we wouldn’t understand what it means to be black or white without the context of the other races around us. The dominant North American culture is often misconstrued as being some kind of general “white culture” – and hence, bland and non-existent. But realistically, someone of mixed Latvian and Italian descent could be as culturally diverse as anyone with a more conspicuously mixed background. Each of us reflects a certain face of world history on a tightened scale; we carry the history of our ancestors in subtle ways that may not be immediately obvious to us.
“Even if I don’t identify with it, I still am Japanese,” Kurts acknowledged. “Maybe it has influenced me more than I realize.”