Embrace Your Inner Chameleon

Written by a half-blood on March 7th, 2018

Being a third-cultured kid often adds complications to our identity.  Often, we live in multiple separate and contrasting regions, and we try to decide whether to become an individual of one region, of another, or a mix of multiple.  

The journey to discover one’s identity is never easy, but paradoxically, the more perspectives we are exposed to, the more difficult it becomes.

I grew up in Japan until I was six years old, and this was the foundation to my identity. To this day, I have friends and family that I still connect with in my hometown of Wakayama.  That’s why moving to Fresno, California was a challenge, because I would be leaving everything that I knew: my culture, my lifestyle, my friends.

I continued to live in America despite the initial hardships living in a country whose characteristics barely represent Japan. I was determined to stay the way I grew up–as a Japanese. But since I looked like a full-blown Caucasian, it was reasonable to assume that I was American; when someone claimed that I was American, I denied adamantly, “I am Japanese!”  

But by the time I went into middle school, I did not know how to respond.  

It felt unreflective to claim that I was Japanese... but I was sure not American!  I was confused. I did not know who I was, or who I was supposed to be.

My answer began to sway, “Japanese, American, Half,… I don’t know.”

Around then I recalled the uncomfortable experiences I faced while living in Japan.  As a Japanese student going into first grade, I was the only white student at my school. During breaks, students would peer into the classroom window. Then I would go home, crying to my mom, asking why people were staring at me.

The memory made me realize that even though I wanted to be Japanese on the inside, I would never be fully Japanese on the outside.

Often I worry that I do not get along with different peoples because my identity will not match theirs, and that if I try too hard, I will put on a face and lose my true identity. However, my friend, Karen Kilbourne, who also grew up as a third-cultured kid, gave me a new perspective.  “Become a chameleon,” she said, “use the perspectives that you have gained to blend with other cultures and peoples to grow stronger with them, but depart from these experiences while still holding a firm grasp upon your own individuality, your identity.”

Even to this day, I am still searching for my identity, 

but I have learned to treat different life experiences as blessings and not as curses.  

Just like anyone else’s, my identity continues to evolve, but I will not let it be determined solely by the expectation that I must choose American, Japanese, or both–of black, white, or grey.  Like a chameleon, I strive to discover an entire color palate while still maintaining my heritage.






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