I grew up in a bicultural/bilingual family and moved to the United States from Japan when I was eleven years old. My American grandmother visited us in Japan when I was seven years old, and one of her favorite memories was of me switching from English to Japanese mid-sentence. I thought everybody spoke the way that we did at home (in both languages) and couldn’t believe that she didn’t understand me!
Several months ago, I had an assignment as part of an art small group to share about myself, using any medium…I felt inspired to tell my story with pictures and photoshopped my face onto numerous cultural images (this is just a sampling of them.)
With my large eyes, I didn’t resemble my Japanese relatives but I also didn’t look like my American family either. I shared about a personal epiphany I had at around age eight when I saw a picture of a lady from Pakistan who had almond eyes, nose and fuller lips like me – I must be Pakistani! Something clicked within me at that moment, and I used to drape my bedsheets around me like a sari in an attempt to express my newfound cultural identification! Though I knew I really wasn’t from there, it was a tremendous relief to know that I looked like someone.
Depending on the length, style and color of my hair and whether I was tan or more fair, I was mistaken for being many different nationalities. It was comical at times when someone insisted that I was a certain nationality and therefore SHOULD be able to speak that language. But the times when someone made the assumption that I was a snob for not engaging in conversation in the native language, therefore treating me rudely, was challenging.
All throughout my growing up years into adulthood, I pondered the purpose of not looking like anyone in my family. Not quite Japanese and not American either. I eventually drew the conclusion that this was the intention of my Maker and that He had a specific purpose for creating me this way! I didn’t fit in anywhere because it was His intention that I fit in everywhere!
I helped a friend teach ESL (English as a Second Language), and some middle eastern ladies were quite welcoming to me because they thought my family was from that part of the world. When I worked overseas in Ethiopia and Bulgaria with an international humanitarian organization, I was often assumed to be part something…and it often gained me access to people and places.
The art small group (that I told the story of my background and the photoshopped pictures with) didn’t seem to understand what I shared and how significant it was for me…at the end I felt like a bunch of blank faces were staring at me. But as the picture and purpose for my life has come into sharper focus, I KNOW what a unique gift it is that God has given to me.