Opinion: My Hafu life – not half a life
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Opinion: My Hafu life – not half a life

Reverse racism is something that you come across a lot when you’re of mixed race. It’s never something that I’ve taken offense to, but questions about my unusual heritage of a Caucasian mother and Japanese father (ordinarily, it’s the other way around) can become tedious.

So was being stopped on the streets of Tokyo as a child and having schoolgirls include me in their photos.


I was always the only Hafu child in my neighbourhood in Japan. Pic: Anna Watanabe

And so are the conversations between my friends of Asian heritage who plan on marrying a “White Person*” so they can have “mixed babies*”.

But tedium aside, I’m proud so say these so-called “mixed babies” are the fastest growing community on earth. And I do mean “babies” – 41 per cent of people of mixed race are still under 18.

In 2011, it was revealed 50.7 per cent of Brazil’s population identifies themselves as mixed race. And with the largest Japanese expat population in the world, many of these mixed-race Brazilians will have some percentage of Japanese heritage.

Even in Japan, a country infamous for its monocultural make-up, almost 1 in 30 children born will have at least one parent who is not Japanese.

And as strange as it is to say, the reverse racism is kind of justified.

There have been many studies showing people of mixed-race are more attractive, more genetically compatible and less susceptible to genetic defects. This week, the New York Times reported that bilingual children are smarter than monolingual counterparts.

But despite all the praises being sung of multi-ethnicity, as an individual of mixed race I feel like there are still social issues that are being overlooked.

Sean Lennon, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono probably best summed up what being half Japanese, half Caucasian is like.

“If, like me, you are Japanese and English, you will in Japan be considered white, and in America be considered Asian. This can be lonely at times.”


Sean Lennon says he's caught between two cultures. Picture: Flickr/ phonogalerie.com

Not only is it lonely, but I find myself voluntarily assimilating into my surroundings; taking on different personas depending on which ‘race’ I should be around different people. Unconsciously I make the stereotyped ‘peace’ sign in photos when I’m the token Asian, but will ham up an Aussie accent if I’m in rural parts of Australia.

I’ll be quiet and demure when visiting my farming family in Fukushima, but happily provide free English lessons to the old ladies who chat to me on the Keihin-Tohoku train line in Japan.

Some may just call it good socializing, but I feel the problem with voluntary assimilation is that it hinders the development of a mixed race identity and community.

In the past few years there have been people exploring this issue on a social level, like the Hafu Film Project and Jeff Chiba Stearn’s documentary, One Big Hapa Family.

But it’s Stearn’s latest documentary Mixed Match that I think highlights the real problem about an underdeveloped mixed race community.

Mixed Match looks at the problems surrounding people of mixed ethnicity on bone marrow transplant lists. In the US over 30,000 people are diagnosed with blood diseases like leukemia each year.

Bone marrow donations must have a certain amount of genetic similarity to the recipient making it difficult for people of mixed race to find a donor. Even the odds of finding a donor within their family are significantly reduced.

And although the mixed race community is the largest growing community on earth, only 2 per cent of registered bone marrow donors in the US are of mixed race. Complicating matters further, because there is an infinite number of mixed race combinations, the odds of finding a suitable donor can be as low as one in a million.

As the population of mixed race people grows, hopefully a sense of community and belonging amongst those people will also grow with time. This may sound like a hope for exclusivity or isolation from the wider world, but it’s not – it’s more a want for complete belonging and a Hafu life. Not a half life.


*I realize these terms are quite racist but they are used in daily conversation with no ill feeling. Growing up in Australia where almost half the population was either born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas, it’s easier to use well-intentioned, politically incorrect slang to describe all manner of paler-skinned persons.

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