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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Not Asian enough

I don’t like the way my real name — Megumi — sounds in English. When it’s said in English, the “u” sound is emphasized too much (“Meg-ooo-mi”), so it sounds different from the smooth and natural way my name rolls off the tongue when it’s said in Japanese. That’s why I go by Meg. It’s not out of shame of my real name because it’s something that I really love and am proud of — I love the meaning of the kanji that makes up my name (恵: the character for “blessing” or “blessed”), I love that I have a very traditional Japanese name, I love the way it sounds with my last name in Japanese (where my last name is said before my first name, instead of the other way around), and I love that my name connects me to my parents, to their homeland and to my ancestors. I appreciate that my family and my best friends from back home are the only people who call me by my real name instead of “Meg” because it makes me feel closer to them and like they know me fully.

But, it got to a point a few years ago where I got sick of people butchering my name, of teachers misreading my name (M-e-g-u-m-i) to be “Megan,” of the pause in every first day of school roll-call reading, and of feeling like my name — something for which the meaning and connection to my ethnicity is so important to me on a very personal level — was being belittled in a way. It was convenient to go by “Meg” because it’s just a shortened version of my name, so it didn’t feel as unnatural as changing my name entirely like many first or second generation Asian Americans do

Lately, I’ve started wondering whether, by going by a more Anglicized nickname rather than my Japanese real name, I’m “whitewashing” myself. Whitewashing, or calling someone whitewashed, is basically when someone who is not white is told that they act white or want to be white while erasing their own or their family’s cultures. I know that I tell myself and others that I decided to go by Meg because I was just tired of people mispronouncing my real name, but could it be that I was really trying to fit in more to a predominantly white hometown and college? On top of that, I can’t speak Japanese well (even though I can understand it), I don’t listen to Asian music, I don’t have an Asian friend group at Notre Dame, I can’t cook Asian meals and I don’t feel all that connected to Japanese or Asian culture. In other words, I don’t feel Asian, or even Asian American, enough — despite being 100% Japanese with immigrant parents and being a dual citizen of both Japan and America. Everything from my name (my real name), to my appearance, to my citizenship is as Asian/Asian American as someone can get, but I still don’t feel like I’m enough of one. 

It’s an interesting place to be because I find that I feel most Asian and “different” when I’m with my non-Asian friends, but I feel most disconnected from my Asianness when I’m with other Asians. So, no matter what, I often feel like an outsider who’s stuck between three worlds and cultures (Japanese, American and Asian American) yet not fully belonging to any. I think this is a struggle that a lot of second generation Asian Americans who grow up in predominantly white places experience. It might not be the same for those Asians who grew up in places like Orange County or Hawaii — where there’s a significant population of not only Asians but Asian Americans, too. It’s also a struggle that, for me, has come with a lot of guilt and even a sense that I’m almost like a fraud. I feel sad that, throughout my life, I might have subconsciously been repressing my Asian identity — responding in English when my parents speak only Japanese to me at home, listening only to American music growing up, not taking Japanese weekend school seriously enough, not joining the Asian clubs when I came to Notre Dame three years ago, etc. 

At the end of the day, I don’t think any amount of guilt or regret, or any lack of Asianness, that I might feel and have felt for my whole life makes me any less Asian. Being Japanese and Asian American is something that I’m very proud of, and it’s a central part of who I am because it ties me to my family and where we come from. I’ll never forget or take for granted stories of my parents leaving Japan in the 90s and landing in New York City without knowing a single person, not having any family or friends here to lean on and not speaking English yet working hard, persevering through struggle and building a good life for our little family of five here. So, I don’t think it matters if I go by Meg or Megumi, if I’m “knowledgeable” about Asian culture or not — it shouldn’t and doesn’t change who I am.    

Meg is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in data science and business economics. Besides writing, she enjoys spending time with the people she loves, riding on public transportation and listening to good music.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.