My Japanese American Grandpa Didn’t Know Where to Sit by Stacie Taniguchi

Today I went to lunch with my grandpa. At my brother’s beckoning, he started talking about his time in the Japanese Internment camps of World War II, his time in the military afterward, and a few things in between. One thing he joked about was always feeling like the minority. He talked about how no matter where he was stationed he was the only Asian man in his regime and sometimes that led to situations where he had to really think about where he fit in.

He recalled once when he was in Kentucky in 1951. He said the first time he stepped onto a public bus there he was confused where to sit. All the Black people were seated at the back and all the White people in the front.

“So where did you sit?” my brother asked him.

“In the middle, I didn’t know where else,” he replied. “But later I was told I could’ve sat in the front with the Whites.”

My grandpa’s first sentiment of being in situations where he was not quite sure where he fit in resonated with me. As a social justice educator I have spent a lot of time questioning my identity and how it plays into the work I’m passionate about. Sometimes I feel like I have an endless argument inside my head as I try very hard to see many sides to all situations. But one thing I can’t help but feel is a bit confused.

A few times I have been in a setting where I have been the only Asian person in a space that was divided largely by race. When I think back to my days in college, I would always gravitate to the student of color activist groups that included a very racially diverse community. But in my current environment that is less racially diverse, it often seems like a Black, White, and me situation.

I understand that race is not everything and that we see the world in lenses that are dictated by many other parts of our identity such as sexuality, gender identity, (dis)ability, religion, and socioeconomic status to name a few. But I do not believe in colorblindness or that we live in a post racial world. I believe that race, while socially constructed, has meaning to us as individuals who are a part of a society.

The second statement my grandpa made led me to think about a controversial article that I saw on my Facebook feed a few months ago about Asian privilege. While I later found out that this article was a parody that tried to discredit the concept of White privilege, the whole concept made me really consider how I show up in the world. How does being a fourth generation Japanese American from a family that chose not to live in one of the Asian communities in Los Angeles but rather a predominantly White community affect how I understand the world? Or how did going to a private school for most of my childhood with mostly White, some Black, and few Asian children affect how I understand the world? Finally I thought back to a dinner I had with a close friend a month ago who revealed to me that while growing up he considered me to be like him in almost all ways possible. He even presented the idea that I had benefitted from White privilege just like him, and once again I considered how this affects how I understand the world.

I feel that I’m often at a loss trying to describe the role my pale skin but dark eyes and hair has on the activist work I do. I feel that I gravitate to different categories depending on the situation but never feel quite comfortable. First trying to fit in the White, Middle Class world I grew up in as a child, and later rediscovering the value of both my racial and cultural background makes for confusing situations. I wonder if other people of color have ever felt the same; this push pull of where you feel comfortable based on how you show up in the world in situations that present binaries.

My continuous quest for self-awareness and consciousness is a bumpy one. I write this blog entry in the hopes that others, specifically Asian identified people, will respond and offer their experiences. I currently live in a space where very few people look like me and as much as I have internally oppressed my Asian and Japanese American identity in the past, I finally feel like I am ready to explore it fully, I just need the community to do it with.

Stacie Taniguchi is a second year graduate student at the University of West Georgia’s Professional Counseling and College Student Affairs Program. She currently works in the First-Year Experience Office as a graduate assistant. Ever since becoming involved with student of color, queer, and feminist groups in undergrad, she has found her passion in learning about and advocating for social justice. Stacie is thankful for the opportunity to write an entry for the ACPA CSJE blog and cannot wait to be more involved in the future. She hopes people will connect with her to share their experiences and thoughts by emailing her at stacietaniguchi@gmail.com or stanigu@westga.edu

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