Thursday, November 1, 2007

off to the races.

(Joshua Masayoshi Huff)

Recently, USC's (don't worry, this isn't a rah rah post) quarterback Mark Sanchez has been wearing a mouthguard with the Mexican flag on it. Sorry, I'm having the hardest time finding a picture, but you can imagine what it looks like. Surprisingly, it's been pretty big news here in LA.

There seems to be two schools of thought--one commends Sanchez for wearing the flag (only mildly, though) and the other saying that he is American....and that we're all American.

Obviously, this is a very personal issue, and I think it's one I've wrestled for my entire life, for many reasons.

With a name like Huff and the looks that I have, one would have to look at me pretty hard to think I was anything but Caucasian. But, of course, the Masayoshi and the Hirashima eyes would probably give away the fact that, yes, I have Japanese blood in me.

So, the things I think about are am I white? Am I Asian? Am I American? Am I a Japanese-American?

Of course, it's sorted. What makes us anything? Does speaking the language make one a person race? What if they don't have that blood? Growing up, my friends were primarily Japanese-Americans. We go to Shinto church on New Years and eat Japanese food and have a Shinto shrine in our home. We take off our shoes at the door. I've taken Japanese classes since I was a child. Is all of this cancelled out because my family has been in America for so long?

The logistics that the professor makes about "Americans of Mexican descent" seems a bit off. I really don't think that this term and Mexican-Americans are any different. One just rolls off the tongue easier.

The thing about America is that we don't have a common culture--we are a nation of immigrants. We pride ourselves on being the cultural melting it's strange that now people are so vehemently calling for us to all just be Americans. Fine, maybe the differences and idiosyncies would make it logical to say that this is the reason we ARE Americans...because we are so different.

The fact of the matter is that I just can't accept that. So many nation states are falling apart because of ethnic feelings. Yugoslavia dissolved into six nations based on race, and after the Czechoslavakian people rebelled against the communist government during the Velvet Revolution, the state dissolved into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Belgium hasn't had a national government in months because of the disputes between the Walloons and the Flanders--and 60% want the country to dissolve into two nations.

With globalization, nation states are starting to mean less and less. Borders are being destroyed, and people are more mobile than ever before. Nation states mean less and less because everything is easier...and Sanchez is just showing that this sentiment is alive in the US.

So what am I? A fourth-generation Japanese-American. I am American, but my upbringing has as much to do with who I am as the imaginary lines that make up this country. Crossing the Mexico-US border, nothing changed. We drove from one side of the desert to the other side of the desert...and a fence broke up this stretch of desert. That's who I am supposed to be? That's what line makes me American before anything else? That line trumps what's in my heart and in my past?

Who we are is all about people and customs and culture, not about states that don't exist anywhere other than in our own minds. I am not simply Japanese, though, because my family's version of culture has evolved in an American way.

I am not Japanese. I am not American. I am Japanese-American. And I'm not going to apologize to anyone for that.