Sushi, Hair Metal, and My American Identity
I. How I Identify Myself
No one is ever raised the exact same way as their friends, cousins, co-workers, classmates, etc., and I’ve always tried remembering that when certain things about others seem weird to me or don’t make sense. Even in the apartment I live in now during school, the two other girls I live with have been raised very differently and have very different family backgrounds than me. I sometimes forget now, since I’m not living with or close with some of my family, that there is more to me than being just an “American.” There’s more to all of us than just being “American” and America really is a big melting pot of different cultures, beliefs, and traditions.
I grew up in a Japanese household with my grandmother, brother, and father. My grandmother and father are from Okinawa, Japan, and came here in the late 1950s or early 1960s. She was the main person who took care of me because of my father’s work schedule and a lot of her traditions and customs, which she raised my father on, were also taught to my brother and I. We were only allowed to speak Japanese at home and if we asked for something in English or said something in English, she wouldn’t acknowledge it because it was important to her for us to learn the language. She also made a lot of Japanese food, which I still like to this day. A lot of the cartoons, toys, etc., that I liked and remember playing with, too, were also originally Japanese and I think that’s because, besides her raising us that way, it’s what I knew and what interested me at the time. I even met my family from Japan and really enjoyed meeting them and learning from them.
When I started getting older, I started being interested in my own things, like most teenagers, and was allowed to hang out with friends more. My grandmother moved into assisted living eventually and I stopped really paying attention to a lot of her and my father’s stories, somewhat ignoring that part of me more because I didn’t really care at the time. I even lost the language once she moved out because I was barely using it. Once I moved out of that house and into my mother’s house, I wasn’t surrounded by those things at all and pretty much let go of all of what I grew up on altogether.
Now, being 20 years old and a senior in college, I’ve realized what is important to me and that a lot of my personality traits, what I like to do, and what I know have come from my childhood. I’m really disappointed I can’t speak the language anymore and have wanted to begin learning again because it is important for me to hold onto some of those things for the future, to carry down when I have a family of my own. My grandmother has even began losing the language because she doesn’t get to use it a lot, except on the phone with relatives, and it really upsets her because even though, at this point, she’s accepted the American culture, she still wants to hold onto part of where she came from. I still know how to make sushi and cook some of the food, which I am proud of knowing, but that’s the only thing I can truly say I’ve still totally held onto and know.
Besides where my grandmother and father came from, there’s a lot about me that makes me “me.” My father rode a Harley and listened to Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Poison, Kiss, etc., and those things have definitely been passed down on me. Motley Crue is still one of my favorite bands, and I have to see them live at least a couple times a year, and that’s probably one of the first things people that know me would think of when saying what I’m interested in.
At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my journalism major because I know I could never come right out of college being a clean-cut news anchor or something along those lines, but this far into it, I’ve found that it actually fits me very well. My biggest interests to write about and explore are music, body art, and motocross and it’s possible to be a successful, professional, journalist in those areas while still being myself. I’ve never cared about going into a field where I’m guaranteed to make a lot of money in the future, like some other students I’ve met. It’s more important to me to hold onto who I am and enjoy the rest of my life than hate going to work everyday, as long as I make enough to get by and provide for my own family in the future.
II. A Significant Experience With American Identities
My father fought in the Vietnam War and has told me small stories of his time there, but for the most part doesn’t really want to explain them to me or explain how scary it really was being there. As a little girl, I never knew exactly what the war was or how bad of a war it really was, but once I got older and started learning about it in school, I started realizing a lot more of what my father went through and why it affected him so much to this day.
I can’t imagine what he saw with his own eyes and it took me up until recently to start fully understanding his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how to not be bothered by it. It used to embarrass me sometimes how awkwardly social he was and how a lot of the time, he keeps to himself and doesn’t know how to act in certain situations, but I’ve really learned, especially this past summer, how to not let other people’s reactions to the “weird” things he does affect me.
This story about America, to me, is the one I feel has most affected me because a part of it is still with my father to this day, and throughout my life, I’ve had to experience and live with that part he carries with him. I don’t think many people truly understand the effects war has on people until they see it first hand and while we learn about the different wars throughout our school years, and while we live through one now, it’s hard for me to imagine all of the people going through similar things my father, as well as my grandfather in WWII, went through and are going through. The number of soldiers written out in textbooks is more than just a number and many people forget to think of it as an actual group of people like us.
All the students my age and older can probably recall where they were when the World Trade Centers were hit and right now we’re all living through something, some more than others, that will be a few chapters in a high school history textbook in the future. I was getting ready for school when I walked in my living room and saw my father watching it on TV. I had no idea what was actually going on because I was only ten at the time, but I started gradually understanding what was going on as people explained it to me. I didn’t think or understand at the time, though, that the after-effects would still be going on now.
Now, at this point, I’ve met many people my age back home in Buffalo that have been in the war, as well as students and friends in Fredonia. My roommate’s boyfriend was in Iraq for 8 months and came to Fredonia for school afterwards. It’s strange to think of how much he went through there and now he’s here just doing everyday things with us, once again, but still carries that with him. Many people I went to high school with have also gone over there and it’s changed my perspective a lot on my dad’s experience because I’m living through seeing them leave, not just hearing about it after it’s all over, and what they’re going through is somewhat similar to what my dad had to do.
III. My Beliefs/Principles On How We Ought To Define And Understand American Identities
America is full of many different people and I’ve met people from many different places and backgrounds, as I’m sure many others have also. Coming to Fredonia, some of my best friends here are from Africa and Jamaica. They still fit right in being here and I don’t see them as being any more different than anyone else, they’re just used to some different things than us. The “melting-pot” idea of our country is very true. We’re all a mixture of different ethnicities, religions, etc., mixing together and living together.
I feel like there’s a place in America for people of every color, race, religion, belief, sexual orientation, etc., and think the first thing any American should be is accepting or open-minded. We all know that this isn’t really a trait everyone in our country possesses, but to me, it’s what every American should aim for. I couldn’t imagine living in places like Jamaica, where my friend is from, where being a gay male is wrong and having a relationship with another man is against the law. Cops there even turn the other way when it comes to hate crimes against homosexuals, while here there are parades all over the country here and gay marriage is being legalized in many states, giving some of my friends the right to be who they are and have that equal opportunity.
I also feel like living here gives us the opportunity to make a lot out of ourselves. We can pretty much dream of doing anything with our lives and there’s a way to achieve it. There are so many different majors to choose from when going into tech school or college and we have the ability to change our minds at any time as long as we can finance it in some way. Everything in our country doesn’t always run smoothly and isn’t always the fairest, and many people don’t always agree with the governments policies or ways and some abuse government assistance, but we have a lot a more opportunities and rights than other places.
In Margaret Regan’s The Death of Josseline, the Mexican immigrants see America as an opportunity to make more money than they can back home so they can support their families, and it’s true that we are able to make more money than them, but being an American citizen, we have to pay taxes/pay our dues for being a citizen. Living here and making a life for ourselves here is expensive, so it’s not like everything here is just given to all of us and our country has its problems. While we are lucky to live in this country, the stereotypes others have about the “American dream” and us aren’t true altogether to that degree.
IV. What Makes My American Identity
After taking this American Identities class, it’s led me to really think about what all of those factors say about my American identity. They all seem to just work together and fit into being “American.” Growing up listening to hair metal and music along those lines and also facing a Japanese upbringing has made me the person I am today.
I believe the Japanese upbringing has made me more of the person I am today than I ever realized before this class. Like I mentioned in section I, I went through a rebelling stage of my upbringing, but I still hold onto some of it today and part of my personality comes from it. Even when I was trying to let it go and be my teenage self, I never realized that my self included some of the Japanese traits that my grandmother passed down to me and I can’t erase something that makes me.
I related to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother because of her daughter’s struggles with her unusual, strict parenting. In the memoir, Chua doesn’t see that her way of parenting is too strict, which in my opinion it is, and I think my grandmother was a lot like her, just not as extreme. I couldn’t hang out with friends a lot because she felt like homework was more important and I always had the pressure on me to not disappoint them. I played the flute and only practiced because it pleased her and my father. I felt like an outcast in school because I didn’t wear the cool clothes or do the cool things my other classmates did because she didn’t feel like that was important. I also studied a lot in school and did very well, and to add onto my embarrassment at the time, I was the biggest teacher’s pet. I eventually applied for City Honors School (CHS), which is one of the best schools in the Buffalo area, and began going there in 7th grade. They were so happy for me to go to that school because it kept me out of the rest of the Buffalo Public Schools that weren’t good.
Once I got into CHS, that’s when I began to rebel against my grandmother and father and met friends that were in similar situations. As much as I tried to ignore my home life, I look back at it now and realize how I really never did. The music I was listening to still related to the heavy-metal, hard-rock past my father passed onto me. The rebelling stage fit into exactly that image, as well. I may have worn more black, gotten more piercings, and acted less reserved than I used to, but it was nothing new. It’s the same sort of rebelling we see in many American movies and hear countless teenage stories about. I was still doing well in school, but didn’t care much and skipped a lot of classes. I think that might have been the biggest way I know how of firing back at my father and being an angry teenager.
I’ve gone through some other stages since then, but that was my most relevant one because it was at such a crucial time in life transitioning from middle school up to high school. Now in college, I’ve realized how reserved, or shy, I am compared to a lot of people, including my roommate, and this may be because my grandmother was always raised to be this way as well. I’m very soft spoken, unlike my roommate, who is Italian and is loud and vocal with everything she’s thinking or feels.
As far as the metal music goes, I can pretty much say that it is something I will never get over and in a way, I feel like some of it makes America. When I think of the perfect American spokesperson, I think of Bret Michaels running around on stage wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a ripped up t-shirt and singing to the troops, then riding his Harley around. My father’s love for Ozzy Osbourne could have been his rebelling stage that he went through against my grandmother’s upbringing, so I think we have that in common. He held onto that and somewhat Americanized himself, while growing up and realizing that he couldn’t let go of the Japanese part of himself either. My children will probably grow up getting rocked to sleep by me with Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, Poison, and Kiss on in the background and maybe they’ll hang onto it the way I do.
Thinking back to friends’ stories about growing up and their identity, as well as other classmates’, I don’t think there is one certain trait that everybody in America possesses that makes us who we are as a country. What we all do have in common is that our ancestors and/or ourselves have all come from different places and have faced different cultural issues. America is just a big melting pot of every culture, religion, race, and issue.
V. American Stereotypes
My boyfriend is from Nigeria and he considers himself very American. He’s interested in arts and music, which disappoints his parents because they came to America to make a better life for themselves and their children and they feel like he’s setting himself up for failure. His family back in Nigeria doesn’t have all that they do here and they feel like he doesn’t take advantage of that or appreciate it. He always mentions to me how proud they are of his sister for going through medical school and becoming a doctor. I’ve noticed many doctors I meet are from other countries and maybe part of the lazy stereotype of Americans is because we all don’t take advantage of education the way they do, or we don’t have the same goals that they do. As I mentioned earlier, money isn’t a huge deal to me and I’m happy pursuing a job in writing. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. My parents are a little worried about my future because journalism is a tough field to find a job in, but compared to his parents, it’s nothing and they’re still supportive. His parents are constantly on him about finding a good job or going back to school for something other than marketing and music business, but that’s all he wants to do and feels like he disappoints them sometimes.
When it comes to religion, I’m far from religious and am technically Jewish, but I’ve never followed it. My boyfriend’s family is very Christian and they think it’s a shame that our country is more lenient on religion. We’re free to believe whatever we want and in my opinion that’s the way it should be, but I can see where they’re coming from because religion has caused many issues between different regions in Africa and their culture is based on religion. America is more accepting of different people’s beliefs, including theirs so, I feel like we’re fortunate in the way that we can all live side by side with far less conflict. No country is perfect when it comes to different forms of hate, but at least here it’s not extreme.
Some of the American stereotypes we talked about in class may apply to myself and/or others, but I’m not sure if they’re only American traits. I’m going to London next semester to study abroad and I’m excited to be exposed to life there and want to see the way people act in their everyday lives compared to Americans. I’m wondering if I’m just ignorant to some American stereotypes being true because I haven’t been exposed enough to other cultures, or if they really are just false stereotypes that could apply elsewhere. I’ve taken vacations to other places and have met people from other countries that live in America, but I don’t think that has opened my eyes as much as that experience will.
Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.
Regan, Margaret. The Death of Josseline. Boston: Beacon Press Books, 2010.