About Me · Community

Looking Different and What That Can Mean (aka “Just So You Know”)

To the vast majority of Ashkenazi American Jews, I seem to look Japanese or Asian.  That, combined with the fact that I speak an American-accented English seems to lead many to assume that I am a hyphenated American: Japanese-American or Asian-American.

In a sea of American Jews who feel quite comfortable being “American”–just American, non-hyphenated Americans–suddenly again, I am a “foreigner”–a presumed hyphenated American, unlike them non-hyphenated American(Jew)s.

It makes me feel like I am back in Japan again and that I am back to being… oh, anywhere from age 3 to 17, when people insisted that I looked “foreign” (外人っぽい).  A boyfriend once insisted that my sister and I looked like twins after seeing her for the first time.  Sure, my sister and I biologically sprung out from the same couple and look like we are siblings, but we are not that similar.  It made me angry that someone who was supposed to know me better could not see our differences.  Luckily, I had friends from childhood who said, “sure, you two look alike, but of course you don’t look like twins–you are not that alike!!”

I no longer walk around everyday thinking about things like this.  But, when certain things happen, these emotions still come flowing out and attack me.  I call them the rude awakenings.

Today, it was when someone who I had never met before confused me for someone else who was “Japanese.”   The person who confused me for a another “Japanese woman in a Jewish context” did not notice the mistake until we had been standing there for about 5 minutes trying to figure out where we knew each other from.  I had never seen this person before, but I am used to standing out and being noticed much more than the average person, so I thought that maybe we had crossed paths somewhere.  Then came the explanation: “Oh my god! I am so sorry!! I mistook you with someone else!!”  Apparently, someone else has a “Japanese wife.”  What an incongruous site; a Japanese (in this person’s eyes) woman in a Jewish setting!! How could there be more than one!!  I even heard the name of the person who I was confused with.  Honestly, I didn’t want to know any of that detail.  I just wanted to hear an “Oh, I confused you with someone else, I am sorry.”  That way I could have went on guessing what the source of confusion was.

I will tell you why it is doubly annoying to me.  To the person who confused me with another “Japanese woman,” it was an innocent mistake because it was only mistaking me for another person of my tribe, right?  Well, the hard part for me is, if that person who I was confused for sees me, I doubt that she would think that we look alike all.  Because if she is “Japanese” she probably would think that I look “white,” like a foreigner to her.

Here we go, back to square zero again.  Neither Jewish nor Japanese.  Incongruous among both of my people.

If you are 50, even 40 and older and you are like that, I don’t blame you.  But if you are in your late 20s or younger, have travelled away from home, have lived in a big city, and are still like that… you’ve been lazy or your education has failed you and I have no sympathy.  Shape up!!!!


4 thoughts on “Looking Different and What That Can Mean (aka “Just So You Know”)

  1. Hello my lovely. I really do think you should spend some time in Hawaii. You can hang out with the hundreds of thousands of Hapa kids (mixed ancestry) and rejoyce in the fact that you do look just like everybody else. And you can meet the super mixed up kids who can list off five (or more) or their different ethnic origins, and how much they know about each one. My little Hana is Japanese, Russian & Ukranian Jewish, Spanish, Mexican, American Indian, Irish, German, Scottish, French, and English.

    By the way, Sean has grown a beard, and now instead of saying he looks Mexican, people say he looks like a terrorist.
    Fantastic New York Jews.

  2. Ahh Lils!!

    I know it probably would have been great to have spent some time in Hawaii in my youth. But at this point, I don’t know how much of a difference it would make… It probably would be a nice vacation from all of this though… When, would be the next question I guess.

    >By the way, Sean has grown a beard, and now instead of saying he looks Mexican, people say he looks like a terrorist.
    >Fantastic New York Jews.

    Unfortunately, I think that may be most American Jews. Do people in our age-group say that too?? I never used to be told that when I was on the UWS. Was it just the niche I was in or what??

  3. It’s nuts. He got the comment from people at shul, and his random friends at work. So it is both Jews and non-Jews. Basically, they say he looks like that nasty al-Zarqawi terrorist guy. I think the beard shape is similar or something. Who knows. Sean likes the beard because he doesn’t have to shave all the time, and also, he’s just happy that it finally grew in. He has the Japanese limited facial hair gene. Anyway, he shows no sign of wanting to shave it, he doesn’t care what people say.

  4. > he shows no sign of wanting to shave it, he doesn’t care what people say.

    Good for him!

    You know when I wear a head-scarf people always tell me I look Muslim. I don’t care at all, in fact think that that’s kind of cool. But then I notice that people always look guilty or something after having said that. Like it’s bad to look Muslim or something. All terrorists might call themselves Muslims, but far from all Muslims are terrorists. I guess if I was a guy though that’s what people would be thinking of. 馬鹿みたい. I don’t think that I have time for that either.

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