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Priyanka Yoshikawa Is A Reminder That There Are No 'Exceptions'

11/09/2016 10:36 PM IST | Updated 14/09/2016 8:19 AM IST
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We are in an age when the internet and social media are making human interactions transcend every kind of disparateness -- national, time zones, languages, cultures. Yet, the world will never cease to surprise us with its strong affiliation towards homogeneity or the mainstream, the predictable, what is perceived as "standard/normal."

One such surprise was how Priyanka Yoshikawa -- Miss Japan and the country's representative for the Miss World beauty pageant -- was treated after she won the title.

As technology, our world and our lifestyles change at a rapid pace, have our attitudes been able to keep up to speed?

Born to an Indian father and a Japanese mother, Yoshikawa (and apparently many like her) have been seen as a contradiction to the Japanese idea of being a racially "pure" mono-ethnic nation of one language, one race and one culture. That, in one of world's most advanced nations in terms of technology and industrialization!

This raises a very fundamental question -- as technology, our world and our lifestyles change at a rapid pace, have our attitudes been able to keep up to speed?

Consider this: reports have it that by the year 2050, 40% of the Japanese population will be age 65 or older. A Harvard Institute study ranks Japan, along with the Koreas, as the most racially homogeneous countries. Experts, meanwhile, recommend a more relaxed immigration policy as a potential remedy to the dwindling birth-rate.

But Japan seems to be holding on to its homogenous legacy. For haafu -- children born out of mixed parents (Japanese with non-Japanese), the country has a law. Such people are entitled to the benefits of dual citizenship only until they are 22. Apparently the legality is based on the rationale that this could avoid contradictions in case there's some kind of international friction or military action between a dual-citizen's other country and Japan.

The irony is while Japan's mainstream population continues to age at a rapid rate, causing a decline in population, the only demographic that continues to show an upswing is Japanese and non-Japanese mixed-race couples.

Yoshikawa says she is following the footsteps of Ariana Miyamoto -- the child of a Japanese mother and African American father -- who won Miss Universe Japan in 2015. Sadly these trailblazers – because that's what they are -- many a times seem to give in to mainstream stereotypes. For example, Miyamoto once said that the word haafu defines who she is. "If it was not for the word haafu, it would be very hard to describe who I am, what kind of person I am in Japan," she said in an interview.

And then there are hierarchies which have been created to fit different categories of exceptions.

Eurasian haafu children are admired for their "exotic" look, while their Asian counterparts are looked down upon as not being fully Japanese.

In Japan, as per this personal account, there is something like a selective racism -- a notion that children born out of Japanese and non-Asian parents embody better looks and a higher living standard than all-Asian haaku.

Yumi Nakata, a descendent of Southeast Asian mother and Japanese father, recounts how Eurasian haafu children are admired for their "exotic" look, while their Asian counterparts are looked down upon as not being fully Japanese.

Apparently, the real issue arises when haafu children grow up and start looking for a job. Many conservative Japanese firms are still reluctant to hire haafu, especially those who obviously look mixed.

It is this that inspired Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi to make the documentary Haafu about the intricacies of the experiences of mixed-race Japanese.

"One of the reasons we made this film," Nishikura stated in an interview with The Japan Times, "is that the growing number of haafu here are not celebrities or models. We wanted to put a hole in the stereotype of haafu — to show that not everyone is Caucasian, well-to-do and beautiful. There are a lot of people who aren't like that, who are struggling with the language, with life in Japan and with their own identities."

Quite a few personal blogs recount how owing to this discrimination many seek opportunities outside Japan -- especially in the West.

But has the West completely bought into the idea of heterogeneity yet?

In her book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World , Sharon Chang that shows how the world's cultural potpourri -- the US -- isn't as heterogeneous as it is thought to be. Chang, the daughter of a Taiwanese father and White American mother, talks about the "framework" that places White people at the top, Black people at the bottom, and other people somewhere in between.

Asian Americans, she says, fit into the idea of a "model minority, or as forever-foreigners," where each group is assigned distinctive traits allotting higher values to lighter skins over darker ones.

You can't stop the influx of "exceptions" into the mainstream. So accept it. As long as human interactions happen, culture will remain a fluid term...

Then there are regions that shape their treatment of an approaching heterogeneity based on world events. Take for instance the case of Emilia Tynes-Mensah -- an African American in Russia whose father, George Tynes, was an African American agronomist from Virginia who moved to Russia in the 1930s.

Tynes belonged to that generation of African Americans who came to Russia escaping the social inequality in Depression-era America. Erstwhile Soviet gave them job and a better life.

This reversed during the Cold War era for African Americans.

Today, the acceptance of Blacks in Russia is apparently far lower -- a trend that inspired Tynes-Mensah to start her non-profit called Metis that offers support to mixed-race children.

India -- the ultimate boiling pot of races, languages, cultures – has a built-in heterogeneity, but here too there are fissures. There is an attempt to create an idea of a mainstream or a standard that many like me from the North East India would have felt. In our first year at Delhi University, we students from the Northeast often complained, "Why do they think their Hindi is more right than ours?" or "Why should eyes as large or nose as pointed as theirs be more normal than ours?"

Unfortunately, trying to create a homogenous mainstream also creates a group of "others" -- a section that is alienated while trying to fit in or attempting to create a parallel order. That to me is at the root of everything we see -- the wars, the extremism.

You can't stop the influx of "exceptions" into the mainstream. So accept it. As long as human interactions happen, culture will remain a fluid term -- there's nothing called a standard or a mainstream here.

Can you stop the influx of "exceptions" into the mainstream? Here are some facts worth noting:

  • In America, by 2050, one out of every five Americans will be mixed-race.
  • In Japan international marriages increased tenfold between 1965 and 2007
  • Marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals make up roughly 1 in 30 unions — and around 1 in 10 in Tokyo.
  • At the Rio Olympics, these star performers of Japan were born to mixed unions: Mashu Baker (gold in the men's under-90kg judo; American father and Japanese mother); Aska Cambridge (silver medal-winning men's 4x100m relay team; half-Jamaican); Taro Daniel, an American-born Japanese athlete, won silver.

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