Sarah’s Column: Through my multicultural lens


I didn’t know I was different.

When I was young, I thought everyone spoke Japaspanglish and ate chorizo con gohan. As time went on, I began to realized that not everyone was like me.

In Spanish, chorizo means “sausage” and in Japanese, gohan means “sticky white rice.” Together, they make an unusual, non-traditional meal that my family often eats, due to my unusual background.

I am Japanese-American, which seems like a justifiable statement if one studies my Asian facial features. However, I am also of Argentinian descent, hence, Japaspanglish.

The story goes like this:

After World War II, all four of my grandparents individually moved to South America from Japan and ended up in Argentina. Both sets of my grandparents met, fell in love and raised their families. Over time, the stories diverged as my mom’s side of the family decided to move to America.

Ten years later, my dad decided to come to America to improve his English skills. Then, the  plot twist occurred; my Argentinian-born Japanese parents, who had immigrated to America, met and got married.

Within a few years, my big brother and I were born. As I grew up, my parents spoke Japaspanglish, without a clear differentiation of the three languages. This, in the long run, muddled my cultural identity; to this day, I still mix up Japanese and Spanish words. However, by studying the phonetics of the words, I can usually figure out which words belong to which language. English was my first language as I grew up in the United States, and it was the most prominent language spoken at home. However, my parents occasionally speak in Spanish, which was their first language, around my brother and me. They do not speak as much Japanese, which is why my understanding of Spanish is much better than my Japanese.

Needless to say, I come from many different backgrounds. My family tried to instill the best values from each culture: to work hard in school but not stress too much, to dream big but be realistic.

Through my multicultural lens, I am now able to see things through different perspectives. With my Japanese lens, I can understand the idea of gaman, or patience. This term is prevalent in the Japanese culture, and is often told to the younger generation going through hardship. It means to work hard, but don’t complain, and persevere. This is similar to the idea of “Asian tiger moms” who feel the need to push their children to do well in school; they believe it can lead them to greater success if they have a superior work ethic and time management skills.

Looking through my Argentinian lens, I can see that too much stress can overwhelm a person. What is important is how one copes with the stress that can allow one to reach great heights. In Argentina, most stores close for an hour or two in the middle of the day for siesta, or “nap” in Spanish, when workers take a break. Argentinians value leisure time as well as hard work, which is a value that both my parents have instilled in me throughout my years in school.

When I look through my American lens, I can see that it’s important to strive for something great: dream big but know my limitations.

I am different than my peers, but I have benefited from this difference by seeing and experiencing many situations through different lenses. The result of interacting with those of varying cultures is a deepened understanding of human interactions. So if someone offers you chorizo con gohan, I recommend saying “yes” because I am convinced we learn more about ourselves from the mixing of disparate cultures.

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