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!!!!