About Me · Community

Being Exotic…. Forever

I gripe about this a lot (in both my blogs), but let me go again. 


I wonder, I just wonder if, I am ever going to be considered a “normal” human being.    


I wonder, I just wonder if, people are going to stop asking me, “so, how are you Jewish?” or (even worse) “How did you become Jewish?”


One of the reasons why it irks me is because this experience closely resembles my condition in Japan, where I am constantly being asked, “So, how is it that your Japanese is so good?” (Why do you bother asking? I don’t have an accent or anything. It’s strange to you only because you think I shouldn’t be fluent in Japanese.)


In both places, the problem is that, “I look like I don’t belong.”


In American Jewry specifically, there’s this very fundamental problem (with both the Jewish and non-Jewish world) that relegates all Jews who are not white as “somehow, not looking Jewish.” 


It kind of astonishes me that some Jews sometimes even relegate Middle Eastern Jews as “not looking Jewish,” or “not being standard Jews.”  Uhhh, sorry, no, Middle Eastern Jews probably look a lot more Jewish—the way our ancestors in the Torah did—than you “white” Jews.  


Staying an exotic animal who always requires a tag of explanation is not such a pleasant feeling. It certainly makes me feel like wherever I go, I remain a foreigner, that I have no home.  Or, maybe, I should just print out some name-card size cards answering all the FAQs about me. Would you prefer that?




8 thoughts on “Being Exotic…. Forever

  1. On the flip side–I was introduced to your blog because people on the UWS kept comparing me to you. (We’re both half-Japanese and Jewish). That’s about the only thing we have in common. Our stories are totally different, and because I was not born Jewish (patrilineal descent) I often feel a hierarchy of Jewishness placed on me (i.e. I’m not as Jewish as you). Since I don’t speak Japanese perfectly and was only born in Japan, I also get told
    that I’m not as Japanese as you (which is probably true). Just to let you know, it could be much worse!

  2. Hi NAK,

    Sorry that you feel “less” Jewish or “less” Japanese than me. In my mind, no such thing exists. I also kind of hate the term “half” whatever. Again, also a kind of meaningless statement.

    I also refuse the notion that being “born” Jewish is somehow better than having converted to Judaism or having been born of a converted Jew. I think someone who has claimed Judaism as their own has much more to be admired than someone who was just plopped into it and than treats it like this annoying thing. At the same time, I do know that prejudice exists against “converts” (no matter how technical).

    Being able to read and write Japanese and English the way I can at this point did not come without super hard work so I really don’t feel apologetic about it. I feel like some parents make it their priority to raise their kids with certain skills and some don’t. In the same vain, some children take to that and some don’t. With parents it’s luck, which we have very little control over, with ourselves, that’s our own will (to a certain extent).

    I would be happy if you tried to look at what we have in common over what minute differences might exist between us. I’m sure you’ve also felt the unpleasantness of being seen as “exotic” all the time. I don’t write this blog to feel sorry about myself, I write it so that stories of “exotic people” like us can be known and the “non-exotic people” can understand a little of what it might feel like. I’m trying to normalize us. Because the fact is, no matter how different we might actually be, just like you’ve experienced, most people are going to see us as “the same” (at least initially). I hope you understand what I am saying.

  3. Actually, I don’t feel less Jewish at all. I just feel, as you say, that a prejudice exists against converts and that this is magnified by the fact that I am not a convert who can “pass” as Ashkenazi. (And yes, I am also disturbed by Ashkenazic hegemony.) As for the Japanese bit, I really don’t think you need to feel apologetic! I simply meant that among other things I don’t have Japanese citizenship. After living in Japan and Israel I’ve come to terms with the fact that while I don’t fit perfectly into either place, I can see myself in both countries. I mention this because Japan and Israel are escapes for me—my two motherlands as it were. The most difficult thing for me is trying to find my place in America.

    I guess my last sentence, “it could be much worse,” should be taken with a sly smile. I do continue to read your blog because of the commonality of experiences despite our differences. It has shattered my daydream that if my mother had been Jewish and my father Japanese people would somehow not make the same assumptions about me. My post was more a message to those that think that “we” are all “the same”—another aspect of being exotic. (It’s not like you’ve seen one Jewpanese you’ve seen them all!) I, as anyone else, would like to be treated like an individual, known for who I am as an individual, and if I do not do the same to others (something I’m afraid that I am indeed guilty of), reminded that it’s really annoying to be treated like a stereotype! Hope that makes more sense!

  4. Hi NAK,

    Thanks for the follow-up!

    >I just feel, as you say, that a prejudice exists against converts and that this is magnified by the fact that I am not a convert who can “pass” as Ashkenazi. (And yes, I am also disturbed by Ashkenazic hegemony.)

    I agree. I find this quite disturbing. Although, as you’ve realized, the situation isn’t so different which ever side it is that is Japanese (or non-Ashkenazi) looking.

    What is really hard for me is that there are some people who have been Jewish for generations or even centuries who are considered suspect Jewishly because of their skin pigmentation. It makes me realize how a chunk of the problem is really based in racism more than anything else.

    >My post was more a message to those that think that “we” are all “the same”—another aspect of being exotic.

    Thanks for adding to it. Sorry I couldn’t pick up on that earlier.

    Looking forward to hearing from you more!

    Thanks for keeping on reading and if you haven’t checked out Ayecha.org yet, I hope you take a loot at their site. I like what they are doing a lot (and I have more resources if you are interested).

  5. You should come to Maui with us this summer. You will blend right in with all of the hapa and super multicultural people. In Hawaii I always thought I looked odd since there were not many Jewish/Mexican people around. But when I moved to NY I found people who looked like me. I think it would really do something for you to walk around and see how really un-exotic you are. Plus, you would have a Hawaiian vacation. What could be better.

  6. Hi Lilsyweety!

    I love you and would LOVE to go to Hawaii with all of you this summer. But, I can’t leave Japan this year…

    Anyhow, the blending in issue is not an issue for me anymore. I’ve met a lot of people like me by now and that’s been really great. The hard part is though that there is very little room to look my way and also live my life as an observant Jew. That’s still an anomaly. There’s seems to be an expectation for all “mixed” people to be secular, or at least treat tradition “as tradition (or superstition) only” and so I kind of feel out of place in the mixed community and of course, the majority of the observant/traditional community is “white.” Which is why going to Mizrachi synagogues is refreshing and nice. But also, going to the Ayecha conference was great. For once, I didn’t feel like I stood out (because everyone else also “stood out”) or that I had to justify/explain myself all the time!! I would love to experience that again, but it’s a little difficult here. In fact, the communal split here is so bad, that I can’t just be a Jew, I have to be an “us-kind of a Jew” or a “them-kind of a Jew.” It’s really quite depressing.

    Anyhow, that’s another topic. I am enjoying seeing your babies grow online!!!

  7. I think that if you actually settled down and stayed in one congregation/community for a few years you would fit in fine with all the nasty whitey Jews. Sean seems to have done it, although I admit the beard helps to hide him. I think that unfortunately it just takes a while for people to get used to the idea, and then forget about it, and then you finally become you and not that Japanese looking person. Besides, being exotic is great. Who wants to be ordinary anyway.

  8. Hi Lilysysweety

    Yup, settling in is a great way to “blend in” although whether that helps or not seems to depend a lot on the community that you are in. Cosmopolitan communities with many “settled” people seem to be congenial to this. Also, very friendly/liberal communities seem to be good candidates. I’ve heard mixed reviews of other kinds of communities, and usually, not complimentary ones. I also sometimes wonder about how “cosmopolitan” a community is when the people “boast” about how multi-cultural/national their communities are; counting down all the “exotic” (read, black, Asian, Latin American etc.) Jews in their communities.

    One thing though, you don’t have to worry that I still worry about these kinds of things all the time. Rather, because there were times I thought about this a lot, now I can express them more articulately than I was able to before–the way I wish I could have when these things used to torment me.

    I write this blog more for people who want to say this, but can’t yet (for whatever reason), people who’ve gone through similar things, but not in the same way (so we can share notes), and people who might never know what this might feel like otherwise.

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