I joke that my Fiancé and I are both JAPs: I am a Jewish Anglo-American Princess. He is half-Japanese.
While my “Jewish Identity” has been the subject of many a Saturday morning, and many a six-week sleepover summer experience, his identity as a Japanese-American has been one of quiet observation alongside active assimilation with what comes after the hyphen. American.
Beyond a love of sake, sushi, and a Kimono, there is very little that he owns of his Birthright. Even though both of our grandparents were born and raised in the good old US of A; mine were spared the horrors of the Shoah by convenient citizenship while his were punished for it. Their land, their property, their equally American dreams were snatched away as they were imprisoned in work camps right here in America, all because of the actions of a country they no longer called home.
It is interesting to me to track the parallel experiences. When one generation is burned, the following generation either suffers for it or benefits from it – usually a combination of the two. On and on and on. My Fiance’s great-Grandparents came from Japan, proud of their heritage, and determined to make a name for themselves. They gave their children Japanese names and spoke Japanese at home. Those children (my Fiance’s grandparents) grew up in the camps under an awning of shame, and so the Baby-Boomers all got American names and were not taught the Japanese language. Without exception, my father-in-law to be and his brother and sisters all married Caucasians. All their children are hapa.
When my mother – a good little Jewish girl from Skokie, Illinois who, as the youngest, always asked the Fourth Question at a Seder, and who snuck out of synagogue on Shabbat to run to Barnum and Bagel with the other good little Jewish girls – met my Father, genus unknown, from England (where there is no such thing as universal circumcision!!), my grandparents were FURIOUS. He was from Europe. Where the Germans were. He was going to sell my mother into White Slavery. He would never be a doctor, or a lawyer…and there is a story involving a Fountain that I cannot repeat. Even to hear my Dad describe his family’s reaction is off-putting: “Richard, what are you doing? She’s American, she’s Jewish, come back to our side”.
Consensus was it would never last. Too many cultural differences.
Tracking the parallels, though, it seems the strongest thread of cultural experience is that of change, stronger than what someone’s identity actually IS. In this case, I have known my entire life that whatever relationship I enter into would be a mixed relationship. I am a person of mixed identity. And if change is my heritage, my birthright, my seshuu, then I am lucky to be sharing my life with someone who knows it as I do; on a cellular level.