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Quarter Life Identity Crisis

My quarter life identity crisis began out of nowhere on the late night G train back to Bedford Stuyvesent. Four stops away from my apartment I am suddenly plagued by an overwhelming sense of bittersweet loneliness and deep-rooted frustration. All I can do is dig out my journal from my backpack and write the following four sentences down on paper:

“December 2007-
I have realized…that all of my feelings of loneliness resorts from lacking a sense of belonging in this world.
I would like to have a family who looks like me.
To marry someone who is half-Japanese like me.
To have children who look like me and understand me.”

It took me twenty-two years to write those selfish thoughts down on paper and as soon as I did, I started to cry. I nearly missed my stop dwelling in my own misery and returned home feeling isolated from my loving, Nintendo playing, Midwesterner roommates. I can try, but I’ll never wholly share their identity. I’m always halfway from somewhere else.

Though part Midwesterner at heart (I moved to the Big Apple from Indiana), I was born in Kamakura, Japan to an American father and a Japanese mother and did not arrive to the States until I was six. Since then, I’ve spent countless summers traveling back and forth across the globe to visit my aging grandparents, various relatives, and friends at the dreaded Japanese school I was required to attend during my vacation from American school. Leaving Indiana, for me, was as routine as eating onigiri for lunch; and riding subways in the midst of rush hour frenzy was nothing of a spectacle. Besides, anyone who’s been to Tokyo would agree that Harajuku kids make New York hipsters look biz-casual.

Not to say that the Big Apple isn’t exciting for me, don’t get me wrong. When I first moved to the States in the early ‘90s, I spent my weekends eating potato chips and riding a pony named Cocoa in the hills of Irvine, Kentucky. To me, that was America. I have now been introduced to the gem that is New York City—the center of the melting pot. The beauty of this city has opened my eyes to such extremes that it may have become the source of all of my racial anxiety, which led to my quarter life identity crisis. Let me explain.

In New York, identity is key. We are virtually surrounded by places that scream out CULTURAL IDENTITY:
and countless others that I don’t even know about.

No matter where any New Yorker may originally hail from, they will always be able to find a community of people with the same cultural identity. But what about the people that don’t have a defined cultural identity? What about us?

I walk into a bar on Union Street with my roommates on a Friday night when the bouncer notices their out-of-state driver’s licenses. He smirks in the New York, looking-down-on-Middle-America sort of way, “Oh. Indiana.” Then it’s my turn. He smiles in disbelief as I pull out my Japanese passport.

“You’re from Japan?”

I smile and politely say yes although what I really want to say is “I am Leah. I am an Asian Girl with European features. I am a white girl with Asian features. I am from Kentucky. I am from Indiana. I am from Kamakura. I am from Nagasaki. I am a Midwesterner, I am a New Yorker. We had rice and fried chicken for dinner and I’m still bitter we moved to the States before I could watch the final episode of “Sally Chan!”

That night, on my way home, I am back on the G. It’s quite late, and I’m feeling particularly lonely once again. Only this time, I am not alone. Leaning against the railing directly across from my sticky seat, I see a beautiful girl whose blonde hair contradicts her Asian features but strangely assets her European bone structure. She smiles at me and I smile back. For a brief moment, on a dirty subway in the middle of Brooklyn, we belong.

As I start to slowly reach out to the Hapa community, I hope to share stories with those who have similar experiences growing up biracial and confused, wandering in between races for what seems like forever. I know my adventures in NYC are just beginning. A quarter life identity crisis is a blessing in disguise, a discovery in the midst of confusion. It has brought me to Discover Nikkei, NYC Mixed Race Meetup Group and the Kip Fulbeck exhibition. For the first time in my life, I am beginning to fathom what it may feel like to be part of a community I can truly call my own. A “people” I can truly relate to, half this, half that, and whole everything.

More to come...

© 2008 Leah Nanako Winkler

hapa identity multiracial new york