I grew up without any mention of my “real” father. According to my mother, he fled the country after the birth of my younger brother – when I was nearly two – to avoid paying for child support. He ran away from his own children without any explanation, compensation, or care, and ever since he left, I have grown to hate him with all my heart.
I have never seen the blue shade of his eyes, but I imagine them to be dull, dark, and lifeless. I have never heard his voice, but I imagine it to be haunting, relentless, and detached. I pictured myself running into him one day, when I have a happy family of my own, and showing him how successful I became without any of his help. Though my resentment toward him burned a slow and steady flame, the torment I put on myself for resembling him spread like wildfire as the years went by.
Being half Caucasian and half Japanese, I have never been one to fit in – especially with my Japanese family. To them, my brothers and I could never become more than Barretts – bearers of his name. Whenever he would come up in conversation, this perfect stranger suddenly became my father, as if no one else had a connection to him. Whenever I was too quiet or too upset, my grandmother would shake her head as she said, “you’re just like him,” as if I actually knew what he was like.
If the ridicule from my extended family wasn’t enough, my own mother would leave me feeling like a freak. “I’m not the white one…It’s in your blood, not mine,” she would say with a chuckle like it was some kind of joke – a mere tease that I was supposed to brush off. She would make me feel like I chose to be this way – a hybrid of two cultures.
When I left Hawaii and came to San Francisco, I was hoping – praying – that people would see me as I see myself – Japanese. I craved a new beginning away from my family, whose way of showing love and affection was through relentless ridicule, torment, and countless talks about how “crying gets you nowhere.”
Unfortunately, my hopes of starting anew were crushed within the first months of my college career. “You don’t look like you’re from Hawai’i,” “You’re not Asian,” and “I would have never guessed,” were just a few of the comments I got when I introduced myself. There was a girl in my dorm who said, “You’re from Hawai’i? But you’re white,” discarding the fact that I am half-Japanese and implying that I had to be Asian to come from my hometown. During class, I was explaining to a friend how I identify myself as Japanese more than Caucasian when a boy stated, “people who hate being white, when they are part white, just have daddy issues.” I was shocked to find that the problems I had desperately attempted to run away from had traveled with me to San Francisco.
Even in a city as diverse as San Francisco, our society demands for things to be sorted, labeled, and categorized. By boxing people and entire ethnicities into dumbed-down stereotypes and prejudices, we strip these people away from their vast identities and struggles.
Growing up, I just wanted people to see me in my entirety – for the parts that can be seen and for the parts that cannot. All my life, I have hated myself for being what I really am – Japanese and Caucasian. For some reason, I once thought that if I denied that side of me, I could be a step closer to what I thought I was – full Japanese. However, that is not the case. I realized that I cannot change what I look like, but I refuse to be defined by the boundaries society forces upon me.