Being Half Asian in China and Japan

Most people are stunned to find out that I’m half Asian half white.  They’re even more stunned to find out I’m not half Japanese or even Chinese:  I’m half Vietnamese (I know, I don’t look Vietnamese at all).

And I’m not only white–my father is 100% Irish.  So I’m a complete 50/50 split of two very different cultures.

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Being a Halfie in the USA

In my hometown (a very small town in Utah) my mom was the only Asian person in town, making my brother and I the only Asians in the school.  Despite how un-Asian I look, I was constantly teased for being a “gook” or a “chink” and never a moment went by where I wasn’t racially profiled.  Me liking Japan didn’t really help improve the situation,  so memories of people yelling “hey ching chong wong” and other such uncultured insults are still a very fresh memory today.

The ironic thing is, everyone in my town saw me as Asian and I was labeled with that stereotype–so you would think I would feel more Asian than white.  However, my mother never taught me her native tongue so I couldn’t communicate with family, and Asian Americans usually grew up and hung out with other Asian Americans in their community and therefore treated me, the weird white girl, with a strange indifference.  After all, I wasn’t really Asian (plus, I was from Utah).

So basically, I didn’t fit in anywhere.  In a town full of white people I was heckled and called Chun Li, then when I was with real Asians I felt like something was missing from my overall composition that prevented me from becoming one of the crowd.  I hear from other halfies this is quite common, and most half children tend to suffer severe identity crisis for quite a long time.

For the most part (especially in big metropolitan cities) most people don’t bat an eye at halfies.  They might “oo” and “ahh” for a moment, but that’s about it.  America is chock full of different races, so being half isn’t really that big of a deal.

Being Half in Japan

Are you half-Japanese, half-white?  If so, congratulations, the whole island of Japan adores you.  These halfies usually become movie stars or models, because that seems to be the norm in modern Japanese society.

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Becky, the half-American half-Japanese celebrity that drives me crazy

Half-Japanese, half-white children are automatically put on a pedestal.  They are regarded as the most beautiful babies and are fawned over by family, friends and neighbors alike.  The more “white” a child looks the better, since it will be all the more mysterious and foreign.

Some Japanese friends of mine have told me upfront: “I want to marry a white guy just to have half children.”

Some even go as far to say, “I don’t even need to marry the guy.  If he’ll just impregnate me with a beautiful baby, then he can go his separate ways and I’ll find a Japanese husband later.  That would save a lot of trouble.”

But wait, what if you’re not half Japanese?

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Mary-sensei, why is your hair black!?

My experience in Japan was the total opposite of my hometown.  Everyone treated me 100% white, and since I really looked the part they tended to ignore my black hair and brown eyes.

Sometimes people would ask why I had black hair, or if it my hair color was actually my natural hair color.

I would smile and say, “actually, I’m half Asian.  My mom is from Vietnam.”

Nine times out of ten, the Japanese person would completely ignore what I said and change the topic.

Once at school, a student asked why my hair was black.  When I told her I was half-Vietnamese, the teacher overheard and gave me an an admonishing stare.  I felt like I made some grave mistake by telling my student about my heritage.  It was then I realized that not only the fellow English teacher, but my entire school and Japan wanted me to fit into the perfect American stereotype mold–basically, not be Asian whatsoever.

I later learned that being half-Asian that IS NOT Japanese is mostly looked down upon in Japan.  Many men in the rural countryside of Japan tend to buy or bring in wives from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, etc.. and as a result have created a rather negative image for half-Asians in Japan.

In short, Japanese people tend to look down upon other Asian races.  If I said I was half Japanese instead of half Vietnamese, do you think Japanese people would have had a different response to my answer?

Basically, Japan’s treatment of a halfie will largely depend on appearances.  Since I was white, Japanese people only saw me as American and wanted to keep it that way.  If you tend to look Asian, you won’t stand out like bigfoot and Japanese people might mistake you as one of their own.

Being Half in China

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Being loved in China

“You look a little Asian.  Are you Chinese?”

“Nope.”

“Taiwanese?  From Hong Kong?  Maybe Japanese or Korean?”

“Nope.  I’m a 混血 (mix blood).  My mom is from Vietnam.”

“Mix blood!  Oh my goodness I have a mix blood in my taxi!  You know, you mix bloods are the most beautiful, most intelligent, and the most superior among us all.”

“Uh, I think that’s an overstatement.  Mix bloods including myself are just your everyday, average Joe.”

“You should take it as a compliment!  You’re beautiful, smart, speak Chinese–wow, I wish I had a mix blood kid.  I should have chased foreign girls back in the day.”

I can’t even count how many times I’ve had the above conversation in a taxi, or even in the grocery store or restaurant.  Chinese people tend to adore halfies–no matter what heritage they may be.  Most Chinese people were actually amazed that I was half Vietnamese, and continued to inquire about where my mother was from and if I had traveled to Vietnam.  It was a breath of fresh air after Japan to not only be recognized as half–but to have people be somewhat impressed by the fact!

China is THE ONLY PLACE where people knew I was half-Asian from just one glance.  Maybe it’s because within the Chinese community they have a myriad of their own “mix bloods” that include Han, Miao, Mongol, Xinjiang, etc.. so they’re more acquainted with identifying mixed races.

Half-white, half-Asian kids are also highly admired in China, but I think Chinese women won’t go out of their way and marry a foreign guy just for the half-white kid alone (as opposed to their Japanese counterparts).

While I didn’t receive any extra benefits for being a halfie in China, I also didn’t have any demerits.  People just treated me like a normal, human being.  In fact, it was the first time anyone not only recognized me as a half-Asian, but also took a great interest.  For the first time in my life, I felt good about being half.

Contrary to Japan, Chinese people will usually praise your half-asian-ness no matter what you look like.  In Japan I felt like I had to hide my Vietnamese heritage–but in China, I was not only happy to tell people about my background, but I said it with pride.

So whether you look white or not, if you’re half-Asian in China get ready for the throngs of compliments you’ll receive!

Finding your Identity

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In Vietnam with a little Vietnamese girl and feeling completely foreign

Being half isn’t easy.  Whether you’re half Black, half Hispanic, half Asian or half white–it’s always a struggle to figure out where you fit in.  Growing up, I constantly questioned whether I was more Asian or white and tried to find which one I tended to identify more with.  Growing up and figuring out who you are is hard enough already, but when you add racial identity into the mix it makes the situation all the more complicated.

My western appearances and inability to speak Vietnamese made me feel cut off from my family, but at the same time my Asian background and black hair made me different from everyone else in my American community.  Most halfies tend to struggle in this tug of war identity crisis while growing up, but I think once we mature into an adult we finally realize:

We are who we make ourselves to be.  Our races do not define us.

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In my mind, I’m not only Vietnamese and Irish;  but also American, Japanese, a little Chinese and some French and Italian.  Our character and personality can take on so many different cultures and features, and really, it’s up to us to create those characteristics and put them into effect.

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More than being Vietnamese and Irish, I’m simply just Mary.

70 thoughts on “Being Half Asian in China and Japan

      • Kawin says:

        Great read, I’m half Thai and half Irish, find a lot of similarities in growing up in all white chatholic school in Iowa, Americans see us as asians or “Chinese” and asians see us mostly as American unless you can really really speak your native language. But ya, I’ve always been adored for my “big eyes” always wondered how other nationalities viewed it, I know Thai people embrace it for the most part

  1. Mingso says:

    The majority of Japanese seem to have an attitude problem which could also be shown on some Japanese Americans I run into with. The problem is they are ashamed to be Asian but Westerners never consider them one of theirs. They feel superior and look down on others because they were ahead of their North-East Asians (let’s alone the South-East Asians) since their country had adopted modernization long before their neighbors – China & Korea. who are none ever less catching very fast with them and will pass them by. Their country geography and their rapid aging population only helps speeding up the process and not much they could do about it. For all their pride and confidence, they always have an inferior complex because (unlike Chinese & Koreans) they can never catch up in physical size as with their Western counterparts unless they eat more beef and less whales…

    • rubymary says:

      I think out of all the Asian countries Japan does more “white worshiping” than the others. I think many Japanese have a predetermined hierarchy system for countries in their head, with America/Western countries ranking top, then Japan, and then everyone else basically. I think now they’re just starting to realize that China AND Korea are becoming forces to reckon with, but still haven’t come to full grips with their sudden drop in the overall “global scale.”

      I also think for being such a developed country, it’s bizarre just how unfamiliar they are with the outside world. Compared to Shanghai, many people in Tokyo were always stunned to interact with foreigners and treated us like strange aliens. For a country that has had so much wealth and power over the years it’s odd.

      Yeah and whale tastes awful. Beef!

  2. Mingso says:

    I have feeling of affinity with you since like your mom I was born in Vietnam but of Chinese parentage. Also like you I was exposed to multiple different languages while going up there – Cantonese, Vietnamese, Mandarin, French, English and German – in that order. I came here to college in the US in early 70’s and only went back twice. I made three trips to China though – Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Xian & had visited my ancestral village in Guangdong, southern China. I could have gone to China in the 80’s while some of my Chinese colleagues explored opportunities there since we were (still are) in the high-tech field and there laid my regret. The same regret & self-justification I sensed in you in your previous post. Unlike me though at least you took off where your heart wanted and because the earth is flatter now plus the instant information at the finger tip is making going anywhere much easier. I hope you are just taking a temporary rest & will fly off in an instance to the destination of your dream. Remember – time is not on anyone’s side …

    • rubymary says:

      Wow, that is quite a coincidence–seems like Vietnam and China are very much intertwined in our lives. Can you actually speak all those languages? (6 languages, wow!). My mom also has not been back to Vietnam since the war was lost. I imagine your family is no longer in Vietnam? My relatives all relocated to France, so my mother said there is also no ‘real’ reason to go back, although I think she would like to see her homeland once more. Vietnam is also rapidly expanding now, and some even dare call it “the next China.” I think if you want to go back to China, now is a great time (not as good as a few years ago, but hey). When I met the 50 year old, solo-traveler, Dutch woman in the Thai jungle, I was really inspired by her charisma and motivation to go out there and accomplish her dreams without age interfering. If there is somewhere you want to go, or something you want to do, you should go out there and grab the chance.

      Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like China could offer me the same financial comfort or security that the United States could–which is one reason I came back here. Being a wandering traveler is great, but after a while wandering traveler needs money and something to fall back on. I’ll be off and flying away in no time, but until then spending time with family, saving money, and most of all “taking a rest” are priority.

      But you’re right, time is not on anyone’s side… We must make the most of every moment!

      Thanks for your lovely and inspiring comments… great to meet someone with the shared Vietnam and China background.

      • Mingso says:

        I hope your mother would make the trip even though there is no justification for it according to her reasoning. She would be depressively happy and elevated sad as I was when I made my first trip back in 2001 after 30 years. It would shock and at the same time awe you as the changes had taken place after such a long period of time while Asia and in particular Vietnam & China had been & still undertaking such a tremendous transformation. She would be more so since she was more connected to the land as a native while as a Chinese I was a little more detached because some of the native people kept on reminding me and all of my friends and neighbors of our Chinese-ness. Some of my teachers even called us by name just because we were a little more successful, more hard-working, more closely associated among ourselves making me wonder sometimes when growing up why on earth my grand-parents stopped there for but not continuing their journey further south to settle in Malaysia or in Singapore for instance or just stopped by and stayed in Hong Kong instead.
        I was going up on my mother’s side of the family in Sadec, a southern river town made famous by the film “the lover” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lover_%28film%29. My family (actually the families on my maternal side) and I knew the main character – Huynh Thuy Le (Chinese 黄水黎) very well since he was the landlord of my grandfather and later on of my uncle. His family was a major land owner and he owned approximately one third of the town. He was not my uncle’s favorite landlord even though they both shared the same surname and he kept on saying every time they met that somehow they had to be related as they always said so (according to Chinese customs) – I saw him sometimes on the way to school wearing his Chinese bamboo hat shading under one of his longan trees in the midday tropical sun (Chinese school had two sessions – morning & afternoon with one hour lunch break when every kid went home while Vietnamese school either had morning or afternoon classes). In fact the Chinese primary school where I went located just across the street from the “Vietnamese girl school – Truong Vuong primary school” which was so renamed after the school originally founded by the mother of Mr. Huynh’s French lover. We – my older brother, me and some neighbor kids spent some summer afternoons there in the garden of his house with his gardener while he was away (oversea maybe in France) mistaking the servant as the owner of house. http://www.vietnamheritage.com.vn/pages/en/1191333957540-Where-the-lover-lived.html
        http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/03/travel/03iht-trsaigon.html?pagewanted=all&module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&_r=0
        We kids would do small chores around the yard in exchange for tropical fish in the garden ponds and sometimes we would watch as older kids from the neighborhood bought and organized fish fighting in the balcony of the house. Off course we were not allowed to explore the inside of the house by the gardener and as well-behaved Chinese boys we took it to heart even while he was not looking, busying with his daily task. Later we could no longer be able to go as the gate was closed when the owner came back and that when I saw Mr Huynh once in a while on the way to school after lunch breaks as mentioned previously. My family said his grandfather came from Fujian province in Southern China but for some reason the love of his life – Marguerite Duras always mistook him as a Northern Chinese according to her auto-biography…
        We were speaking Cantonese at home to our relatives, Vietnamese on the streets (even among Chinese kids ourselves since our families came from different parts of China – Canton (Guangdong), Hainan, Hakka, Teochiew, Fujian, Henan), … and some of us went to the only Chinese Mandarin elementary school in town. Those were the three of the multiple languages I was exposed to as I mentioned in previous post. I left for Saigon for high school & took up the latter three languages since French & English were the required subjects in the national high-school graduation examinations (Baccalaureate I & II) and West Germany would be the backup destination in case I could not go to France or any English-speaking countries for college.
        Growing up I was always dreaming of distant lands especially European and longed for my poor and beloved China. I let my imagination run wild while I myself was confined to the same tired place listening to stories by my grandma reminiscent about the lives and places of the Southern Chinese village she left behind. Unlike you I was born in a different time and in an undeveloped place where conflicts were getting intensified and therefore could not go places let alone be able to afford to. Growing up we were not even allowed to explore in the countryside by our elders since the Communist guerrillas already made their presence known. The uncle of one of my classmates was killed and they laid him along with three other dead bodies by the bank of the river and I recognized him right away on the way to school one day and told my mother about it. My family knew his pretty well since they were one of leading families in the local community and later we were told that his uncle visited his friends in the countryside and could have panicked running away during a government raid against local guerrilla and thus got shot and killed – One of my uncles and one cousin of mine also died fighting in that war as did countless Chinese & Vietnamese classmates…
        Finally in the US and after finishing college I was free to go anywhere I wished but could not since by then I was attached to the love of my life and weighed down with daily obligations – family, kids, job, housing, … I came to this great country of ours alone without any life anchor working my way through college while kids who were born here (like you & mine) did not have to worry about the next meal and therefore got a chance to explore the world around and a selected few recognized, seized and experienced it…
        I kind of agree with you in hoping Vietnam fulfilling her potential. I wish the land of my birth the best in catching up with her Northeast Asian counterparts. It might take them a long time since like their cousins, the Vietnamese work hard and very intelligent but unlike them they are kind of complacent in their daily tasks. They are pretty much the opposite of the Japanese who when asked to review a certain project would repeat all the tasks faithfully while a typical Vietnamese would skim though each task and only pay more attention to the unfinished ones. They are kind of less patient and have the naïve assumption that if they repeat or copy what the other three countries (Japan, Korea & China) did, they would be as successful and the result would be just as identical. Individually each Vietnamese is as good as his/her Northeast Asian counterpart but as a group, they tend to be less self-discipline, slack off and not synching very well together. Culturally they are more Northeast Asian (because of Confucius root) but their habit and way of life are more of Southeast Asian…
        I thought being fluent in Japanese and Mandarin would give you an advantage in China since they need English speaking people like you in their corporate world. Being haft Asian as an American (white) person also accords you the head start and admiration you encountered in China where unlike the Japanese, they do not pay attention which part of Asia your other half came from. As for me I am trying to build something so I can bring it to China because of where it made me the person that I am. I feel fortunate that I make my living in America and it affords me the freedom of pretty doing what I wanted. The Chinese of me always reminds me like countless others of the desire of making China great again. We would make China great again so Japan would not look down on us and we would make her run for the money…
        As for your mother, I hope she will make the hesitating steps of going back to the land of her birth. She will not regret of doing so and it will flood her with all the memories of childhood and adolescence. She would have a chance to walk the streets and encounter scenes of a distant past mixing up with the chaos of the present. She would inhale the familiar smell when the tropical rain hits the concrete sidewalk and the traffic noise would add to the intense mix. To the locals she would be one of them with the look but as for her she would feel totally stranger in her own land and it would take several days to her to adapt. The emotion is worth the trip and that way one would complete a full life cycle and will never reminiscence of looking back again. At least now she and I have a chance to complete our full life cycle but for some of the people there, their life cycles are of very, very small ones indeed…

  3. Lisita N. says:

    This is a really fascinating experience of the different cultures and finding identity. While my heritage is all European, I am adopted and can relate to trying to make sense of identity, ethnicity, and how we´re raised with certain societal norms and taboos. Plus, now I have Chinese + Taiwanese students (but I live in Peru) and I love learning more about the cultures…definitely to visit one day!

    Btw – I bet you´d love Marielle´s blog, since she has interesting experiences and analysis´ about these things. http://mariellegreen.com/

    Best!!

    • rubymary says:

      Hey! Thank you so much for the comment!

      Your background is VERY amazing! I bet you have some interesting stories to tell in regard to that. Where were you raised, by the way?

      It wasn’t until I hit my mid twenties that I realized being Asian or white wasn’t what really made me who I am.

      What are Chinese/Taiwanese students like in Peru!? Interesting mix indeed! I heard there is a huge Asian community (tons of Japanese in Brazil) from the big immigration that happened a few decades ago.

      I actually follow Marielle’s blog and love her writing (I feel like we have a wealth of things in common as well). I have yet to comment or contact (need to prioritize my time better!), it’s on my to-do list!

  4. Marielle says:

    Wow, this was really interesting. I love reading about the experiences like these because my nieces (and any future children I have) are biracial. I just read a recent post by Amanda about this; if you haven’t seen it, here’s the link – http://musicalpoem.me/2014/09/18/being-biracial/

    I can sympathize with your feelings on being half in America. I’m a Korean adoptee with a white family, so when I met Asian Americans in college, I never felt like I fit in. They always seemed “more Asian” since they had immigrant parents/grandparents and some knew the languages.

    That’s a really neat comparison of being in Japan vs. China. Similar to Japan, I think being a half non-Korean Asian is looked down upon in Korea, for the same reasons, and half-white children are seen as “more beautiful.” It’s definitely weird.

    And hey, I just saw that comment above! I just found you since I creeped on my WordPress followers and I’m glad I did!

    • rubymary says:

      Hey there! Yes, I have been blog stalking you for a while and have been meaning to comment, but my life rarely allows me time for even blog posts (I’m so terrible at updating!), so I interact online at work when I can. Anyway, I really enjoy your blog and how open you are with your thoughts, it’s quite a relief reading released prose of someone’s inner thoughts and musings, but using words and flow to keep it organized, interesting, and relevant. I enjoy your writing very much and it is a joy to read when I’m commuting to work (or at work).

      I’m glad you can relate on the Asian American thing… After growing up in my white community I was kind of excited to meet more of my ‘own kind’ but was a bit thrown back about how entrenched they were as a group and how difficult it was to step into their circle. It’s weird how Asian Americans all band together in the USA and form their own little Asian ‘clique’s, but then when they actually go to Asia it’s like they’re thrown in a tub of cold water and experience instant shock. They usually don’t fit into their own original culture and struggle to even speak the language properly or understand modern day China (at least, I saw this multiple times in China–I don’t’ know about Korea).

      Yes! I heard about that with Koreans.. Chinese and Japanese people love halfies, but I heard Korea kind of looks down upon them. I once asked my Korean friend if all the TV celebrities were halfies like in Japan, and immediately he said no. He told me halfies are somewhat frowned upon and Koreans tend to marry other Koreans.

      Glad we finally connected! Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

      (BTW, did read musical poem’s post! Shared a lot of similarities).

  5. Charlotte Steggz says:

    Really lovely post – I really liked it. However, half Japanese kids don’t have it all that good, you know. I can’t find it for the life of me but Daniel Feit wrote an amazing piece on his halfu son and how people treated him like an idiot and asked him what his favourite Japanese food was and stuff. Half kids are mocked at school and called bananas quite often as well.

    • rubymary says:

      Hey Charlotte! Thanks for the post!

      Actually you’re 100% right, Japanese kids don’t have it that easy. It really depends on if they look more white or more Japanese. The white looking half children usually have a hard time in Japan because they’re seen as foreigners and they truly struggle. I think growing up half in Japan would be the worst because even though you’re Japanese, no one will treat you that way or accept you into the culture.

      I think this youtube video sums up the ‘looking foreign in Japan’ dilemma best:
      http://youtu.be/oLt5qSm9U80?list=PLS82ENLQBoW2z5T-6_FJjt0kdJAw1pm8f

      The younger guy speaking at the end grew up in Japan and I’m pretty sure he can’t speak English. It really makes me wonder… what were his parents thinking!?

  6. Manda | musicalpoem says:

    When I visited Vietnam, I was sometimes approached by locals in Vietnamese and got SUCH a look of reproach when I had to apologize (in English, obviously) for not speaking Vietnamese. They assumed I was half Vietnamese when in reality, I’m half Chinese. I also experienced very similar things to you when in China and everyone talked about how beautiful/smart/etc I was because mixed means having the best of both worlds. Also, everyone knew right off the bat that I was half Chinese, which is a rare experience for me!

    • rubymary says:

      Haha, I think it’s funny that we have the exact opposite problem! (Everyone in China thought I was half-Chinese, while in Vietnam no one could tell that I was half).

      Strangely I kind of miss that about China. I think them being able to see that I was half right away helped me feel like I fit in more, even though they did go on their strange rant about how ‘biracials are better.’ In America people just assume I’m white, until later they usually ask ‘are you some kind of mixed ethnicity…?’ In Utah everyone thought I was from Mexico, ha!

      Thanks again for the comment and shout out!

  7. John Joseph says:

    Lovely read. As a Filipino Italian “halfie” I found this to be quite amusing. Mainly because I could relate on so many levels.

    Cheers!

    Take care Mary.

  8. Lani says:

    I’m so glad you gave me this link. I feel like so much can be said about this. Since I grew up in Hawaii, I’ve grown up around mixed races and so I can recognize halfies right off the bat. It’s funny b/c folks will have worked with someone for awhile and then I enter the office and ask, “What’s your ethnicity?” and everyone will suddenly discover their co-worker is half-Peruvan or part Native American.

    When we relocated to small town California, I was a minorty for the first time in my young life and it was horrible to be recognized for being different. So I can relate to your Utah experience and a little bit of your abroad experience, too. Being an Asian American in Asia is quite it’s own world…

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m feeling inspired to think about this issue even though I’ve written about it, in a new way. Hugs from Thailand.

  9. Lydia says:

    I am half Viet and half Irish too!! I grew up in a small white NH town and was *constantly* made fun of for being Asian (my Viet father packed my lunches). I had a hard time making friends with the other white students (no Asians in my town!) so I ended up hanging out with my Viet cousins and having a much stronger connection to my Asian heritage. It was really weird later on in college when everyone assumed that I was white!
    I have also noticed that perception of my ethnicity changes in different places. Depending on how I do my hair and who I am around I get mistaken for a bunch of different ethnicities. I have been mistaken for Middle Eastern, Latina, First Nations, South American, Pacific Islander and French. lol! When I tell people that I am half Viet they usually tell me that they can’t see it at all. But I dated a Chinese guy and his mom could tell right away, for some reason she always thought that I was half Korean though. It was really nice for someone to notice and not be negative about it! Sometimes other Asians can tell that I am mixed (especially southeast Asians) but White people almost always see me as white. At least until I take out my lunch!

    • rubymary says:

      Wow!!! Another half Irish half Viet!!! We’re a rare breed, haha. I haven’t met another one in person, so it’s really great to find you on here!

      Yeah, growing up half in a small town in the USA is quite the experience. I’m glad you had Viet family around to bond with!! Can you speak Vietnamese? Did your dad teach you? I think because my mom was the only Vietnamese person around me, I wasn’t exposed to Vietnamese culture that much so I feel more foreign with it than I should (when I went to Vietnam I felt more like a lost cat than someone who had returned to her ethnic homeland, haha).

      I also get mixed up for other ethnicities, too!! I often get Latina or French, haha. Few people (I think only two so far) have guessed that I was Vietnamese right away.

      Really wonderful to meet you!! Another fellow half Irish girl! Yay!

  10. R Zhao says:

    I know this is an old post, but I just came across it because of Jocelyn’s link on Speaking of China.

    Thanks for writing about this. It’s really interesting to hear about the different treatment you’ve received. My son is a 混血 and I feel like he’s a little celebrity here in China. When we were in the US, people didn’t ask about his heritage but he did get compliments about having pretty eyes and things like that. I do worry about how he’ll be treated in the US when he gets older. I suppose it depends a lot on what kind of community we live in?

    I also worry about him not having a true sense of identity. Then again, I feel very little connection to my heritage, but I suppose that’s a bit different? I hope he can feel connected in China and we plan to speak Mandarin at home with him. I know other people whose parents didn’t speak their native tongue with them and they wish they had. Did your mom think it would make you more “American”? Help her better assimilate? Or was it just easier sticking to speaking English?

    • rubymary says:

      Hey no problem! This is actually my most popular post (and probably one of my most touching), so I’m glad to hear your comments.

      I actually think being a 混血 is a blessing; it automatically means your child will be international, open-minded, and have a very unique identity. I think being a mixed child in China is definitely a nice perk–Chinese people were VERY nice to me and I wasn’t even Chinese! (I imagine your son must be getting a lot of attention!). I heard from other biracial people in big cities that they are treated no different from anyone else. I think if you’re in a big city (like NY, LA, SF etc..) mixed children are much more common and no one really bats an eye. I think in the inland states and smaller cities they may feel somewhat excluded or torn about their identity, but it’s something that ALL adolescents have to cope with (biracial or not). Unless you live in the boonies in the USA, though, I think he’ll be fine 🙂

      Believe me, I was ALWAYS upset with my mother about not teaching me Vietnamese, mainly because I couldn’t communicate with my family. For example, when we went to see my Vietnamese grandpa in France I couldn’t even speak with him and it was really heartbreaking for me. I was upset with her for the longest time, but now that I’m older I realize it was not only a cultural decision, but it was also hard for her to do. We lived in a town with NO Vietnamese people and my father couldn’t speak Vietnamese and had no desire to–so for her to teach me she would have had to put a lot of effort into it. How are you teaching your son English? Has it been kind of hard or do you have a rule such as ‘English in the house, Chinese at school’? I think people imagine that if you just talk to your baby in a certain language they’ll grow up bilingual, but I think it requires a lot of dedication from the mom. I think since your husband and you both speak Chinese/English you shouldn’t have any big problems raising your son bilingual!

      Finally I think instilling culture is a big, big deal. My mom tried her best given the environment we were living in, and honestly, I kind of just picked it up from her weird cultural habits and tendencies. She used to drag us to the Asian market where all my senses were assaulted, I would listen to her Vietnamese music constantly had playing in the living room, she would CONSTANTLY feed me mangos and other subtropical fruits that she used to eat in Vietnam, etc.. Maybe the everyday actions you do for your son is already imparting American culture on him–and you don’t even realize it!

      Holy crap long reply. Anyway, thanks for the comment!! Your son is so super cute I can’t wait to see where his future will take him!

      • R Zhao says:

        That makes me happy to hear that you feel being biracial is a blessing. I hope one day my son feels the same. I agree that we all have our crosses to bear, especially as adolescents.

        As far as speaking two languages, we primarily speak Chinese at home. I think (and hope) my son will speak Chinese well because it will be the language his sister and grandma will use with him. My husband and I are kinda guilty of speaking a lot of Chinglish which we should probably try to correct. Anyways, since we plan to live in the US, I doubt William will ever learn written Chinese unless he takes an interest in it himself. I doubt we’ll find the time to sit down and teach him (so I can understand where your mother was coming from on that).

  11. Jelgar74 says:

    I can really identify with your story about growing up in Utah, since I was raised up north in SLC. I too was one of the 2 asian kids in my elementary school(the other was my sister). The racial teasing stopped once the other boys realized I was just as good or better than them at athletic activites. I must be lucky or living in a bubble, because other than small town stares(like Price) I don’t really remember overt racial discrimination, other than one memorable time when a UTA bus driver complimented how well I spoke English…had to break it to him I was from here. I too didn’t grow up speaking my parent’s language, and then got called on a mission to their home country(irony).

    • rubymary says:

      NO WAY! You grew up in Utah!? What a coincidence!!

      I actually never got racially discriminated once I left Price. In SLC no one really batted an eye (like you said). Still, sometimes friends or acquaintances would make Asian jokes that were kind of crossing the line, such as “hey Mary, why don’t you dig us a tunnel and we’ll get out of here? har har.” They always made some reference to me and my “Asian-ness,” even though most people in Asia were floored to find out I was even Asian at all!

      Wow that’s great you ended up learning your parent’s language in the end! Are you still living in Utah? Oh my goodness I miss there so much…

      • Jelgar74 says:

        Yeah, I did have/still get those kind of jokes too, though most of them were along the lines of being a ninja, like a backhanded compliment. It was always the ‘ninja’ speed, agility, reflexes, guile, cleverness, or something along those lines. Even today I was told to use my ‘ninja mind-bending’ skills by a former co-worker(current friend) when I mentioned my office politics situation to him.

        There are alot of benefits to learning Mandarin(parents are from Taiwan), it was nice finally getting to actually know my grandfather, since he didn’t speak english. Before I always thought of him as a kindly, patient person, but once I could actually converse with him, he was the biggest joker, loved being the center of attention, and enjoyed flirting with the ladies. However, talking about speaking Mandarin, there was one time in Taiwan I did have a kid ask his mom, right in front of me, if I was mentally handicapped, since I looked Chinese, but spoke it like a ‘American’.

        Yes, I am still in Utah, and it still is a pretty great state(do you remember that motto?). I have 2 daughters now who are ‘halfies’ so it is quite informative to read your blog, since they will be running into the same ‘fun’ times that you lived through. Thanks again for the great posts!

  12. Lisa says:

    You can’t claim random heritage and nationality, just because you feel like it! In this case, I should be half white (Canadian and Dutch) and half Japanese and Taiwanese on my dad’s side! My mom has a little bit of red hair and lighter brown eyes, which makes me half white! Both of my parents are full blooded Asians (Taiwanese ) but I get “are you mixed with white or Spanish blood ?!” from my Asian friends a lot when I was growing up! Maybe this is because I don’t have Chinese ppl’s slanted eyes and I have big almond shaped eyes and double eyelids! I have a lot of mixed friends, some looked more white than Asian! You looked 90% Asian and 10% white! When you photographed next to your Vietnamese mom and friends, I can’t tell you guys apart! You looked 100% Asian! The comments you got from your Asian friends is not that special! I got those a lot from my Asian friends and some of my white friends (Argentine) who thought I was mixed, but I’m not! “Oh my god, you are absolutely gorgeous! Mixed babies are the most beautiful in the world!”from one of my white friends! Please don’t tell people your half Vietnamese in Taiwan! Vietnamnese is definitely looked down upon in Taiwan, most people will think your mom is a mail order bride, a maid or the cleaning lady! I have a lot of Vietnamese friends that came to America as refugees, so I see them as my own and don’t think badly of them! =)

    • hapagirl@hapa.com says:

      Not sure what you are trying to say but 1. your post is full of offensive stereotypes and 2. this isn’t a contest as to who looks more mixed…The reality is that the author of this post is mixed (regardless of whether she looks white, Asian, green or purple) and you stating that people often ask you if you are mixed has nothing to do with it. Why are you so proud that people think you are mixed when you are NOT? Self-hating Asian get off this blog!

    • Heidi says:

      Lisa, you are delusional and jealous. It seems like you really want to be mixed – sorry but other people asking you if you are mixed does not make you mixed. So what if she looks 100% Asian (which she doesn’t, but that is not the point), is that a bad thing? You need to get some self-respect. Both Asians and whites hate self-hating asians like you!

    • Foxy says:

      Well the author looks way more mixed than you ever will be. You look fully southern chinese to me , your eyes are obviously almond shaped ( therefore slanted, don’t forget southern chinese has ”big eyes ” too ) and you nose are wide and flat and u’ve got straight black hair so I am afraid I don’t see anything about you that’s no east asian.

  13. Kendall says:

    LOL, you are either trolling or delusional. I’m an real asian, as in born and raised in Asia and she definitely looks more white than asian, to my asian eyes, in these pictures at least. Or maybe you don’t have many asian people wherever you live but you seem to have a close-minded westerner’s view of asian people with all the stereotypes you blurted out. Maybe you need to visit the land of your ancestors for some time?

  14. Matthew says:

    Hi Mary,

    Its quite a coincidental thing that you too are Irish and half asian. I’m Irish on my dad’s side and Hong Kong on my mother’s. I don’t know what experiences you have had, as a female anyways, but I suspect you may have had some of the same thoughts and feelings as I have.

    If not, let me shed some light from a male ‘hapa’ perspective.

    First of all, the asian community I have interacted with in Ireland, Hong Kong and elsewhere have been very positive and very embracing of mixed race white/asian people like myself. I don’t know the reasons for this. Many asian women marry white men here and also in other Western countries so there is a small but rapidly growing number of us.

    Strangely a good majority of white people don’t know I’m mixed at all from my looks. I’ve had people ask me whether I dyed my hair, whether I was Italian/Spanish or just be shocked when I say I’m mixed. Its quite odd, because I’m perhaps more asian looking than other hapas, including my own sister (see my blog)

    I would also note that I too have had questions about my identity. Its muddled in that my dad spent most of my childhood abroad and so I was basically raised like a single parent family. My mother gave me the typical ‘Tiger Mom’ treatment. Perhaps you have heard of this book? The end result was a quite deformed teenage life for many years. Fortunately my story does not end there.

    I would say on balance I’m certainly much more Western that Chinese in outlook and beliefs etc. I have a good sense of humour that I don’t see with many asians (although asians that have grown up in the West tend to be funny too). However, there are definitely Chinese psychological characteristics to me that I can only conclude have a strong genetic basis.

    I notice that I have a a very Chinese attitude to work/study, dogged determination to get tasks done despite much pain and toil and a ruthless inclination to forego social contrivances and pleasantries to get the job done. My mother is very similar actually. I’ve read the anthropologists link this to the rice paddy culture and associated psychological inheritance. Rice farmers work a lot harder than grain farmers. Its hard wired into us. I suspect you are the same in relation to your american peers.

    The other major thing is of course, that my intelligence would be considered well above average given my socio-economic background. Taking into account the fact my dad was merely a private in the army, and my mother never finished even primary schooling, this effect is almost entirely nature and certainly not nurture. You would almost write a ‘how not to raise a kid’ guide based on my own childhood experiences in fact.

    In particular, memorisation, conceptual thinking and synthesis of knowledge is quite easy for me. The fact that I didn’t have a parent to read to me, had no books in the house outside of the bible and a few 50 year old encyclopedias and grew up in a small hillbily type town and still made it to a very respectable position today (with more to come of course!) must lay credence to a genetic inheritance. I strongly suspect this comes from my mother. And of course, it was no surprise to learn Hong Kongers have the highest average IQs in the world.

    So much for the good stuff.

    The bad stuff is that my spatial-motor co-ordination is not great. As a guy, not being good at sport is not the end of the world, but during one’s teens is a bit annoying. I wouldn’t say I’m not athletic (in fact my natural fitness and dexterity would be above average), but the type of intelligence it takes to play a game of soccer and co-ordinate complex movement with others or likewise basketball is beyond me. Racket sports are tough too (I thought I would do well at table tennis, ha ha)

    I also would have been considered a massive nerd back in the day. Still am to a smaller degree. I developed an addiction to video games.

    But for whatever reason, I never fit in with white nerds at all. Asian nerds I got on fine with, but white nerds I just never clicked with. Whereas Asian nerds are sometimes A-sexual almost, and neutral, a good chunk of nerdy white guys I’ve met tend to be effeminate which was difficult for me to handle back then. Indeed in later years, many came out.

    I think in the end I am a very good balance between Western and Asian influences. I’ve lived in Singapore for a while and there are some things in that culture and in the way that society is ordered that appeal to me. On the other hand, I distinctly not asian in many other respects.

    I’m grateful to have both strands in my life and its only been in recent years that I’ve taken a more active interest in learning more about my eastern heritage.

    Theres no doubt that I was very different psychologically and mentally to most people in the town or the whole country to be honest. And then,also different to most people in Asia and finally now in London where only Latinos make up a smaller minority segment than Hapas. Such is life. I’m proud of my background, and I’m genuinely delighted in the very rare instance when I get to talk about this stuff with another Hapa.

    • rubymary says:

      Hi Matthew,

      Very, very interesting comment from you. It’s also great to meet another half-Irish, half-Asian mix (I don’t think I’ve ever met one here in the United States besides myself, but I did grow up in a rural area). Judging by your blog and your past successes, it seems like you did indeed have the tiger mom treatment (and yes, I’ve read the book!). My parents were actually quite the opposite, I think my mother (after escaping Vietnam) wanted to raise me in the most American way possible, which is ‘discovering my own path’ and ‘doing the best I can.’ She never pushed me hard–but in a way, I secretly she did give me a small dose of the tiger treatment. A little tough love might have made me go the extra mile. But alas, too late for that now.

      I think I’m with you when it comes to being western in outlook and beliefs. I think this is probably due to the fact that we were raised in western countries, and not in Asia? When I moved to China, I was alarmed to find just how different Asian Americans were compared to their blood-brothers–the China-born Chinese. It was like watching two different worlds collide, despite the fact they were both of the same race. Many China-born don’t even see Chinese-Americans as someone they could even distantly relate to. In fact, I didn’t really know what being Asian meant until I moved to Japan and China. It was during my years abroad in Asia that aspects of Confucianism were subconsciously pounded into my brain (respect your elders, take care of your parents, etc..).

      Yet no matter how long I lived over there, there were many western mindsets I couldn’t shake (and I’m glad I didn’t).

      Growing up I never fit in with Asian Americans, but I think that’s because I grew up in a very white and rural community and I never had a chance to be around them. In America Asian-Americans also tend to hang out exclusively with Asian-Americans growing up (or at least, the majority of their friends are also Asian-American), so when I tried to join their group, they saw me as ‘white’ and I didn’t feel very accepted.

      My parents were also not educated (in fact, most of my aunts and uncles aren’t either), but all of us kids turned out really well. My brother is a computer scientist, my cousins in France and around the world ended up going to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, etc.. and while I’m not shining star of the pack, I still managed to come out with a good education and useful set of life skills (working around the world, etc..). My parents were good parents, but they definitely could not write a ‘how to raise a good kid’ book either. Although they did the best they could, I remember struggling a lot.

      Hey, I also got addicted to video games! (not so much anymore). That is one of the reasons that I fell head over heels for Japan and ended up living over there for a while, and consequently learning the language.

      Anyway, while this has absolutely nothing to do with being half, I would love to know what living in Ireland is like. I saw one of your posts said that Ireland is one of the most unequal countries in the world (in terms of the gini coefficient) and I am supremely shocked. Is life in Ireland hard? Life in the U.S. (despite the recovering economy) is very difficult. Wages haven’t gone up at all, while cost of living has sky rocketed. Many people here live paycheck to paycheck… it’s tough here. Is Ireland somewhat similar?

      And do you consider Ireland a nice place to live? What do you like and not like about it? Do you much prefer London?

      Sorry for all the questions, but since I’m half-Irish and my parents and grand-parents go on and on about how lovely Ireland is, I’m really curious. Plus, I also just claimed Irish citizenship (woo) and have been thinking about moving to EU someday (America isn’t my favorite place, despite it being my ‘home country’). Just curious how Ireland ranks, it seems nice but perhaps looks can be deceiving.

      Thank you again for your lovely comment!! It’s always great to hear stories from other biracials and swap stories. Its surprisingly therapeutic for me to read all of these comments from other mixed kids, ha.

      • Matthew says:

        Hi ruby,

        Thanks for responding. I would say on balance ireland is a great place to live and a great place to raise a family and have a good standard of living.

        There is inequality but those figures are before welfare and taxes, so in reality most irish people have a decent standard of living after government intervention.

        I would say that the question depends also on where in ireland you wanted to be. Dublin is amazing, thriving and has a real vibe about it thats even better than london. I felt like the good times were back when i went back last month. Its a young city, with cool people and a great many opportunities to make friends and have fun.

        The west of ireland is the “real” ireland. Thats the rolling hills, farms, flinty rural folk and old men in the pub nursing a pint of guinness. Id recommend strongly visiting galway and using that as a base to explore the west. Galway is a great student town and youll jave great craic there.

        I prefer dublin to london but dublin’s financial sector is a lot smaller and not able to provide the opportunities i want. While i would never be poor i would never be rich staying there. I will definitely go back at some point. Of that im certain. London has been an extraordinary rollercoaster, many walls in my mind have been broken down. Evolution at its purest. Sink or swim. Its not for the faint hearted. I know things i would never have learned in ireland or indeed singapore/hk.

        Theres nothing more that could realistically be thrown at me now in london. Ive seen some of my greatest fears come true in a very graphic manner and suffered crushing failure but you know, my metaphorical compatriot murphy always contrives to find something improbable and bizarre to stick me in the eye

        But if i can pull through here i can be a lord in ireland, conversely i would be a nobody coming from ireland. It all depends on what you want from life.

        Do you want the stars or do you want comfort?

  15. Egle Xiao says:

    Hi, thanks for interesting post. I feel you ~ I am half Lithuanian half Chinese, but I got too much white and European look, that I even don’t look like Asian :/ I even got my mother eyes with mixed colors. And now since I do not look like Asian…, how can I proof that I am half Asian? Well it’s a weird question maybe, but sometimes I want to have a proof for those who doesn’t believe me 😀 I think only my surname Xiao proof that I am half Lithuanian, half Chinese… And well I think the other proof could be that I feel too much for Asian culture, but sadly my father didn’t teach me Chinese since he died when I was 5 years old T_T and my mother change her surname and now she want to change mine surname so I won’t get a proof … She want me to be more familiar with my culture, but actually I want to go for music auditions and to become a singer in East Asian 🙂
    What do you think? How could be possible to proof that I am half Chinese without a photos or my surname ? 🙂 Maybe blood DNR? 😀 😀
    Bye

  16. Honey G says:

    I am living in japan over 10 years, I can feel how you feel. the Japanese does treat white skin people better than others. for example, be a English scholl teacher, as long as you are white, it doesn’t matter you are native speakeror not, you will have 90% opportunity to be hired, but if you have anther skin tone, although you are native English speaker, they will think about to hire you. and I have Japanese friends ,they want to marry to white people just for mixed blood kids, and they think mixed white skin tone babies are prettier than other skin tone. I am Mongolian -Chinese, in china, I was very happy, they treated me normally, here in japan, if you tell them that you are Chinese, well, some of Japanese will ….you know…. but well, every country has this kind of people, so I do not really care, but still most of Japanese are nice, and I do enjoy my studying here.

    • rubymary says:

      Ha, it sounds like I hit all of the Japanese stereotypes right on the head!

      Being Chinese in Japan is hard. Really. I super respect Chinese people in Japan. The whole reason I became interested in China, actually, is because I met some truly wonderful Chinese people in Japan that helped introduce me to their culture. They were very open and welcoming. I often found that, while Japanese people were flocking to me and asking to be friends (for the English practice, mainly), my Chinese friends were hard pressed to find any Japanese people that were willing to befriend them. Like oil and water, Japan and China just don’t get along.

      However, I think Japanese people that study Chinese or take an interest in China are actually super interesting (or REALLY weird, either or…). I usually find them to be more open minded, not only about history and the past but about the world. While I may be overstepping boundaries here, I believe that due to America’s tight control of Japan post WWII, the Japanese people have a weird, almost eerie obsession with Americans. They love us–and for no real reason. It’s odd.

      Anyway, glad you’re enjoying Japan. After you find your place in Japan, it really is a wonderful country to live in. The nature, the safety, the food, the beauty of it all–everything about Japan is gorgeous. Although it may be difficult to live under the rules of the Japanese, it’s still an amazing, almost surreal place. Like a fairy tale.

      I hope you enjoy your studies there 🙂 BTW, what are you studying?

  17. J. Gi says:

    There is a powerful「iikanji」kinda feeling from knowing and re-discovering that there is an entire community of us happas and kids that check the “Other” box out there, besides yourself, going through the same …*experiences.* It’s nice to be a part of a group and to know that you aren’t the only one.

    • rubymary says:

      Yeah, I love meeting other hapas and halfies! In my whole life I have only made one ‘halfie’ friend, so it’s great to be on here and meet so many more. There’s so many experiences to share and bond over.

      Thanks for the comment! 😀

  18. vietjew says:

    I’m also half Viet, half white (German/Austrian Jewish). I haven’t lived in Asia but I can relate to everything you said about your experiences in the States.

    My dad didn’t teach me Vietnamese or many Vietnamese customs / traditions, so I also feel somewhat disconnected from Viets. But white people certainly still see me as an Asian guy, both in my hometown of Atlanta and my current location, San Francisco. The only places I’ve ever really felt like I belong are Jewish communities, who embrace me as their own even if I stand out a bit, and Hawaii (yay hapas!).

    Anyway, thanks for writing this, I like your blog!

    • rubymary says:

      Wow, half white/Jewish and half Viet! That is quite the combo.

      It seems like Jewish communities are extremely tight knit and welcoming. I’m glad that you were able to find your sense of belonging somewhere.

      I think it’s sad that we’re disconnected from our Vietnamese heritage (sometimes I really wish I could bond with Vietnam somehow), yet still, I’m very happy to be Vietnamese. AT least we have awesome food 🙂

      Anyway, thanks for the comment and for stopping by! I would love to hear more stories about your hapa life as well 🙂

  19. engsamnang says:

    Thanks for sharing us your story. I am also mixed race, except that my blood is not 50/50 divided but my entire family from both sides are the descendants of Chinese Portuguese, while my dad is also quarter North Indian. Still, we have been called out for not looking Asian enough or White enough by others.

    I’m pretty much agree with you about the fact today Chinese people appreciate someone like us. I had been told by my Chinese friend that being mixed blood considered as intelligent, healthiest and most beautiful and I should be proud of it.

    ”We are who we make ourselves to be. Our races do not define us.” – This is such a heartwarming quote that keep us sleep well at night and wake up in the morning realizing that we should be blessed for being the best of both world. Interestingly, I did wrote down a similar thing to your statement in my notebook.

    Keep up with your life. 🙂

  20. Cat (talkingofchinese) says:

    Wow, it is really interesting to hear how different your experiences were in Japan v China! My fiance (who is Chinese) and I have spent a lot of time in Japan and many people commented how “kawaii” our babies would be. We are yet to travel to China together but I think it is interesting you say Chinese people can always pick if some one is mixed race – my fiance has the ability to pick this very accurately as well. While many people mistake him as being Korean or Japanese (he is full Chinese) he can usually pick someone’s race with a high degree of accuracy. When he sees someone who is Chinese he can even immediately tell which part of China they are from.

    • rubymary says:

      Haha see, your fiancee has the magical Chinese power of pointing out halfies and telling races a part! I noticed the Chinese were quite good, my Chinese friends were always quick to say who was Korean, Japanese, etc..

      Yes, you need to travel to China together! It’s a great place. I’m sure they will also tell you that your half children will be super cute 😉

  21. Lina Le says:

    I know this is old, but I’m a half Vietnamese, half German woman living in Japan. I live in Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi-ken where I teach English. I have had a totally different experience than you have. Most Japanese people tend to mistake me for one of their own. Most of them don’t look closely enough. My pale skin and black hair really help. Also, when I tell them I’m actually half Vietnamese (not Japanese), they look surprised but usually respond in an interested and amazed manner. I haven’t had any negative experiences so far.

    • rubymary says:

      Hello! Thanks for stopping by! It’s great to see another half-Vietnamese person as well 🙂

      If you look more Asian I think you tend to blend into Japan better (I’m half-Vietnamese, but most people mistake me for being white). I have a half-Malaysian, half-British friend that also taught in Japan and her experience was completely different from mine. She was often mistaken for Japanese and was more frustrated on that aspect (where I was fed up with being treated like a stupid gaijin, despite my efforts). I notice in Japan, a lot depends on what you look like (and that goes beyond just halfies, surface appearance matters in every aspect of Japanese society). While I had some negative experiences in Japan (mostly due to this kind of loneliness), 99% of it was very positive. Japan’s an amazing, amazing place.

      Thanks for sharing your story! I’d love to hear more about what your life is like in Yamaguchi-ken as a fellow halfie!

  22. vanillamacaron1 says:

    I encountered your blog via Google search. I’m half Japanese half American (of Irish and Italian descent from my dad’s side). I was raised in both Japan and the US- although since graduating from high school, I’ve lived in Japan. I am bilingual in Japanese and English as well. I grew up in medium sized suburbs near larger cities in the US, and in a small city in Japan. In the US, I never really received ill-treatment—in fact, many kids thought it was cool that I could speak Japanese and that I watched anime as a child. In Japan, there were some stupid kids who made fun of my foreign last name, but the kids who treated me nicely or at least neutrally, outnumbered the idiots. When I went to junior high in Japan, nobody made fun of me. Actually, they thought it was cool that I was bilingual, and considered me the smart, bookish kid. As an adult, nobody makes fun of my appearance or name, because adults are mature and know that it’s rude to make fun of your name. There are some people who assume I’m totally white and can’t speak Japanese, but if any confusion arises, I make it clear that A. I’m half Japanese (my mother is Japanese), B. I’m fluent in Japanese and the local Japanese dialect, and C. I was partially raised here. At that point, they treat me the same as any Japanese person. (I don’t know how they really think of me, but in terms of interactions, they don’t treat me as a socially clueless foreigner.)
    There may be people who don’t like me, or say awkward things to me, like “Is your hair color real”, but I have Japanese family members, Japanese friends, and a Japanese boyfriend—they all accept me for who I am. I treasure those people in my life.

    As for Vietnamese people, they have a bad rep in Japan because of the bad behavior of some guest workers living here. Also, mail order brides are not seen as respectable in Japanese culture, so regardless of ethnicity, mail order brides will be looked down upon. Vietnamese people in Japan commit more visa overstay offenses than Americans or Europeans in Japan. Many Vietnamese/Thai/Filipino women in Japan work in seedy bars, so again, that’s not considered respectable. If Southeast Asian people in Japan want fewer negative stereotypes, they need to clean up their behavior.
    As for Chinese and Koreans, while there may be racism, most of the Japanese people I’ve talked to say they don’t like their behavior. Many Chinese people have bad manners, and their government uses anti-Japanese sentiment and anti-Japanese riots to deflect the countries of their problems. Also, police statistics in Japan prove that Chinese and Korean citizens in Japan, have the highest crime rates among foreigners.
    I don’t think your experience with people changing the topic when you mention your Vietnamese heritage is representative of all Japanese people, though I’m sorry it happened. I know a Korean-American English teacher, and no one really has a problem with him. They just don’t ask much about his parents because that’s rude, and they know he was raised in the States.

    So, does racism exist in Japan? Maybe yes, but not as bad as foreigners claim it to be. For people living here, there is less tolerance for bad behavior, and not learning the language, though .Just my perspective. I love living in Japan, btw.

    • rubymary says:

      Hey thanks for the comment and it was great to hear about you and your experiences!

      I just went to Japan recently and I was mistaken multiple times as half-Japanese. I felt that Japan has become more international in comparison to my last visit and many Japanese are increasingly becoming accustomed to being with foreigners. I felt like no one blinked twice at me because I was a foreigner, although when I went to rural Wakayama I did have a few junior high school students stare at me.

      Maybe it depends on location in Japan, as well as your role in society. When I was a JET, I was in a VERY VERY small town (like, only one 7-11 and nothing else kind of place) and since I was the English teacher there, everyone treated me like a foreigner.

      In regard to the Vietnamese thing, no one was really outright racist to me about it but I could tell the Japanese kind of wanted to avoid the topic and held no interest in it. I know a lot of foreigners in Japan don’t act well, including the Vietnamese, and it’s a shame. I hate how the stereotype of “oh if your wife is Chinese/Vietnamese/Filipino then she was bought for money” kind of thing exists in Japan, but it’s there to stay. I just hope some people in Japan understand that my father and mother married because they love each other not because my dad was a salaryman in the countryside who couldn’t find a wife.

      ANYWAY, Japan is racist in different ways, but compared to other countries it’s not bad at all. I would say Japan may be passive-aggressive racist, but maybe that’s preferrable to outright racism that I see in the United States (uh, trump anyone?).

      Japan’s a great place and I’m glad you found where you belong. Best of luck to you!

  23. Tim says:

    “most half children tend to suffer severe identity crisis for quite a long time.”

    Very true, Ive had the unfortuante experience of working for some. They were really messed up. I didnt know China wasnt so hung up on the issue like Japan, thats interesting. Basically, if your not Japanese or 1/2 Japanese, your nothing, this is how they process the world. Very weird and racist, but its how it is.

    You look more Irish, to me anyway, than Asian. If Utah is mostly white, then why not move to NYC, NO, ATL, SF, Seattle etc? In some of those cities the majority is Asian, or even mixed people. Any of those states like SD, UT, ID, are mostly white. Even TX has a large Asian population now.

    • rubymary says:

      Haha are you not half-Asian?

      Yeah most people are floored when I tell them I’m half Vietnamese. Some even say, “haha, nice joke,” to which I give them the “I aint jokin'” kind of stare.

      I actually feel more uncomfortable around Asian American people, since they are more clique-y than, say, white people overall. I was once asked why I wanted to join the Asian-American club, since I’m not really “Asian” (and hell no I didn’t join that club!).

      I actually feel most comfortable around like.. Asian-asians that have some experience abroad. They are much more true to their culture and don’t make it a goal to prove that they are more Asian than anyone else (because that’s just ridiculous, of course you’re Asian!). When I was in China, many Chinese-Americans looked down on the locals and thought themselves better because they grew up in a developed country (disgusting behavior). It was like night and day to see Chinese-Americans with local Chinese… it was like two cultures clashing to extremes.

      Growing up half-Asian in a small town was really hard, but now that I’m older (and the world is more globalized thanks to the internet), I’m pretty much comfortable anywhere (even Utah!). I think once you travel abroad and meet people from different races, you start to realize that anyone can get along and skin color doesn’t matter.

      Thanks for comment!

  24. The International Brit says:

    In reaction to your comment that “Half-white, half-Asian kids are also highly admired in China, but I think Chinese women won’t go out of their way and marry a foreign guy just for the half-white kid alone (as opposed to their Japanese counterparts)”, my experience has been totally different. I’ve come across countless Chinese women (Chinese from China, Chinese from Chinese diaspora, and overseas born/raised Chinese) who will go out of their way to marry a white man just to have “beautiful” half-white kids. The number of blogs/Instagram/general social media feeds out there dedicated solely to showing-off half white 混血儿 kids is mildly disturbing.

    I’ve had the misfortune to meet a lot of these women (in China, Japan, Singapore, and Europe). Some of them only wanted to befriend me because I’m half (which they found out through other people), and said all kinds of shocking things like “I don’t like to hang around with Asians, only white people [and black people]”, or “Has your father remarried?”. These women are toxic. It seems that you might not have met so many (judging by your comment) which is a relief, as most of them also are horrible people and/or have serious issues which they inevitably pass onto their kids (prizing your child for being half white is bound to create some issues)..

  25. Todd says:

    Have you ever lived in Viet Nam? I visited there once, and found it to be a wonderful experience. Probably allot of sensory overload happening, but was so different than Japan. Visiting and living, however, are 2 entirely different things, this I know well.

    Just wondering about your thoughts on it. I liked that place, incredibly cheap and people were amazingly kind

    Food was awesome, as was the weather. Ive never visited another Asian country quite like it before. I guess Malaysia would come in second, never been to PI. Hated Korea, hate Japan, (both about the same to me, Korea more dirty, but attitudes towards foreignes about the same) and Thailand wasnt all that great, either. Tawain is nice, but the people seemed xenophobic like Japan, and it has allot of Japan influence since they were Japans first colony. West China is o.k., but crowded and dirty. Singapore just seemed like a multicultural Japan, hard to explain, but just a place controlled by rules, like Japan, but without the xenophobia

    Viet Nam seems more like the “real” Asia, but it could of changed since I visited.

    • rubymary says:

      I haven’t lived in Vietnam! I did visit like you and I absolutely fell in love with the place (and I’m not saying that because I’m half Vietnamese). Like you said, the people there were kind and, most of all, genuine. They were really giving and helpful and, although there are some scammers, I didn’t feel the pull of swindling locals like i did in China.

      Everyone raves about Thailand, but it feels a bit fake and constructed to me, especially in the touristy areas. I think Thailand tries to cover up its culture in order to please foreigners, and hide behind a happy visage of happy customer service for westerners. In Vietnam, I didn’t feel this at all. I was able to fully experience the culture and the people as soon as I stepped off the plane. In Thailand, however, it was a struggle to find someone willing or open to teach me about Thai customs and the local life instead of show me the Disneyland paradise that is now Phuket.

      Singapore is a bit too sterile for me, and Taiwan is a clean Japan, basically.

      I think Vietnam is changing, and I hope it doesn’t become the next China with its rapid growth. The Vietnamese people are wonderful and I honestly think Vietnam is one of the best places I’ve ever been. I’d totally retire there.

  26. Todd says:

    Yes, I had the same vibe when I visited there. I stayed at a hotel in Saigon (or Ho chi, whichever you prefer) that was from the colonial era, like a French design, maybe you know it.

  27. Melany says:

    I don’t get why asians (like china, japan, korea, mongolia(where im from) etc) have so low self-esteem about how they look. Worshipping white people like that. There is a girl band in my country consisting half russian, half black, and a mongolian girl. And this girl band got famous because how beautiful they look to mongolians, not cause of how amazing they sing, they suck at singing seriously. And one of the girls, who is half black (but not so brown, she has a light complex) just put some picture in her instagram story saying “The girls who look like me, mixed kids between 10-15 needed for an ad, dm me” what about the regular asian looking kids I thought.
    In here, no matter where your half comes from, like half mongolian half black or half turkey half mongolian, half korean half american, THEY get the attention. Some guy in my school who lived few years in europe even said he just want to marry a white girl to make cute babies.
    And the funny thing is in our society when a mongolian guy marries a white girl, then thats a real man, he doesn’t get judged. But when a mongolian woman marries a white guy, then she is a disgrace to our nation, she only married him cause of money (mongolians tend to think white people are rich lol). And then they talk about pure mongolian blood and bs that they don’t even know such thing don’t exist here.
    And their kid would get all the love from the people around her/him, cause she looks different, exotic. I’m not saying I have anything against mixed kids (my best friend is also half white half mongolian) its just that they shouldn’t judge and select (lets say for a job, ad, as an actors, singers etc) people based on their appeareance wise.

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