Growing up multiethnic (a mixture of Japanese, Filipino and Spanish blood) on three continents (Asia, Europe and the U.S.) means that I feel at home in many environments; or rather, that different parts of me feel at home in different environments. It means that I am not 100 percent the child of any one country or culture, but the child of many, and my mixed background has allowed me a unique perspective on each element of my identity.
I am proud to be a mixture, a mutt, a mini melting pot; but this was not always the case. I was born in Tokyo and spent the majority of my childhood in London. Throughout elementary school, my classmates were mostly the children of Caucasian American expats, and I wanted to be just like them.
When I was eight, I spent the entire school year writing an epic novel about a fantasy Texan girl named Stacey who had blond hair and blue eyes and who went to magical places I had only heard of, like Chuck E. Cheese, and ate mystical and amazing candy that I had yet to try, like Jolly Ranchers.
I had grown up with a mélange of Cadbury and Nestlé chocolates, aniseed balls, Ramune, Miruku no Kuni, cassava bibingka, ube, halo halo, and cakes like Brazo de Mercedes. At home, I ate Shepherd’s Pie, (was forced to try) natto and umeboshi, loved chicken adobo and sinkutsar, and enjoyed paella. I had never even heard of T.G.I. Friday’s.
I knew that one side of my family was humongous and that I had a zillion aunties, uncles and cousins who could all dance and sing and party like it was 1999, and I knew that the other side of my family was much smaller and calmer, but equally as exciting in its own way. No one was blond and only my ojiichan was blue-eyed, like Sayuri in “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
It wasn’t until middle school that the student body at my school in England became much more diverse. Suddenly, my classmates were Thai, Nigerian, Egyptian, Brazilian, Colombian, French and Greek. They were from all over. Everyone was different, and everyone was normal. At last, I felt normal.
I realized that the merging of various ethnicities was not only natural, but beautiful. My brother and I were born out of this unity, this love and open-mindedness for new ideas. I could appreciate the roots of my personality and hobbies and could see the varying ethnic origins of my family’s traditions.
Though I have heard, “Where are you from from?” more times than I can remember, I wouldn’t change my background for the world. Not even for blond hair, blue eyes and an exotic name (to eight-year-old Eri) like Stacey, Kristy or Jessica.
I finally know what it’s like to eat at TGI Fridays, and while Jolly Ranchers are pretty tasty (especially the watermelon ones), I still prefer my Cadbury’s, the candy isle at Nijiya, and the baked goods from Goldilocks.
Being multiethnic has allowed me entrance into many worlds where I am able to draw on all the cultures that make up who I am. I am at home chatting with my obaachan in Tokyo in Japanese; I am at home with my giant, extended Filipino family surrounded by Tagalog and Ilocano; I am at home in London with my British accent; I am at home with my friends in Paris speaking French; and I am at home here in the Bay Area speaking to everyone in American English.
Home is where the heart is, and my home is all over the world in many different cities. I carry these places and their people with me everywhere, and my heart swells for them all.
Eri Tagaya was born in Tokyo, Japan, was raised in London, England, has also lived in Paris, France and Lugano, Switzerland, and currently resides in Marin County. She is a lover of language and travel and can’t wait to see where life takes her next. She was the 2009 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen, and will be attending is the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UC San Diego, working toward a masters in Pacific international affairs with a concentration in international management.