I have been traveling across the country, looking at America. And America has been looking at me.
On book tour for my novel, THE SPY LOVER, I read to Mexican and Latino audiences in California and Florida, articulate book lovers who, in spite of my half-Hawaiian heritage, posed questions to me as if I were a pure-blood white woman, perhaps because my skin was not brown enough for them. Conversely, I've been amongst white Texans, Georgians, and Alabamans (my white father's home state), some of whom I felt regarded me as not-quite authentic American, perhaps because my skin was not pale enough.
Alone in motel rooms, I stared into mirrors asking the old, worn-out question I have asked all my life: "WHO AM I?" That is, where do I belong in society? To what group do I owe my allegiance? With my white heritage? Or with my brown-skinned heritage? And why does it have to be either, or? This is a song all multi-cultural, bi-racial, half-breed, mulatto, mixed-bloods have been singing all our lives: Who am I?
We don't belong in any one group, and thus are forced to 'blend,' to resort like chameleons to 'cryptic coloration.' That is, to consciously slip into the cadences and vernacular and dress-codes of each group we encounter, to adapt ourselves to each environment, each situation, each racial and cultural gathering in order to be accepted, to belong. (A friend calls it 'working both sides of the street.') This is not an intelligent way to live because one rarely feels authentic, even to one's self.
At home in Hawaii, I am often thought of as too 'haolefied' that is, too white, too mainland America. But in New York City I'm considered an islander (replete with shark fin tattooes circling my ankles), the token 'exotic' of which there is one in every hip NewYork gathering. This confusion has often resulted in a shizophrenic self-image while I juggle two totally different personas: the island girl and the city girl, neither of whom really fits in.
Oh, I grow weary! My hyphenated friends grow weary - all my Asian-American, African-American, Native-American, East Indian-American friends with a mother from one race, a father from another. We are tired of adapting, tired of the subterfuge, the cryptic coloration. We long to be ourselves. Maybe we should take lessons from the youngsters: multi-colored, multi-tongued hip-hoppers who are beating the 'established' English language into submission. Perhaps this is their urgent dispatch to the world, that the mixed blood coursing through our veins is precisely Who We Are: Hybrids of the Future. And the future is here. It's now.
In one of his brilliant novels, John Le Carre wrote that "Everything must wear a disguise in order to be real." Except when it applies to undercover agents, this strikes me as oxymoronic. The only thing real is the skin that covers us, and the deeper truths summoned from our soul.
So, the next time someone stares at my kinky hair, my tattooed ankles and tan complexion, and asks me what I am, what my 'background' is, I have resolved to gaze at them with an unblinking fixity and respond that I am simply - unapologetically - me.
There will be more to come on this complex subject. I welcome your comments.
Thanks and alohas, its good to be back! Kiana