by Skye Patton
I was given dual citizenship when I was born on a military base; American citizenship and Japanese citizenship. Most people would see this as an interesting fun fact about me that I would share on the first day of school. What does dual citizenship even allow me to do? So far, it has only made the process of traveling to the US and Japan easier. I don’t have to wait in the line for foreigners entering other countries as I am a citizen of both countries. This dual citizenship status can seem pretty irrelevant, but it comes with other citizens questioning my loyalty to the countries, and believing that you are “other”.
I grew up in very diverse and mixed neighborhoods growing up with many others having dual citizenship. I never thought much about the loyalty you are supposed to have toward a country as I moved to a few, and I even moved to several different states in the US. It never occurred to me that people would drift away from me depending on my indifference between whether or not I would fight for the US or Japan. My answer is simple, I would fight for neither. If another war were to break out, I would not fight at all and instead I would help people survive. The next world war would be catastrophic on a level never seen before with all of the new technology the military has been working on. I say this in seriousness, I would just try to survive. This answer isn’t acceptable to prideful citizens of the US and Japan.
The obvious answer would be to change my answer. If I see an American, say I am committed to being a US citizen, and when I see a Japanese person, say I am committed to Japan. I’ve come to realize that question doesn’t even matter, because it runs deeper than nationality, it extends down to my DNA. My observations started out small. When I moved back to Japan into a military base, there were many half-Japanese kids with dual citizenship just like me. However, some of us were more “americanized” than others. I had always had a hard time with learning Japanese and I wasn’t alone in that. Many of the half-Japanese kids went to an after school Japanese learning center to catch up after having lived in America for a period of time. I tried really hard in those classes and the reading and writing just didn’t stick. My speech was much better, so I decided to leave base and venture into actual Japanese territory. 8 year old me was ecstatic to use my knowledge of the Japanese language and speak to locals nearby. Yet when I approached them, they glared at me and scurried away. Did I do something wrong? Confused, I went about my business and tried again. I tried to enter stores, but was denied entry. I hopped on the train, everyone moved into another cart. What was I doing wrong?
It was the American part of me that was wrong. The first thing they saw when I walked down the street was my brown skin, and they either hated it or were afraid of it. I was told to cover my skin and straighten my hair from strangers, followed around in malls, worst of all, told to bleach my skin. If I did all of those things, I would erase the physical attributes that make me American, which was their goal. I either had to be full Japanese or nothing at all. My 8 year old self was shattered and my mind is still discombobulated to this day. I am Japanese, ethnicity wise and nationality wise but to them, I am not unless I adhere to their rules. 4 and a half years living in Japan and I had adhered to many of their rules, until the military decided to relocate my family back to the United States, where other disputes about my nationalities developed.
Moving back to America was fairly liberating. I was fortunate enough to move to a very diverse neighborhood and go to a diverse school with other students who had dual citizenship. There were several half-Japanese students who had dual citizenship like me. I became more accepting of my skin color and curly hair as I was around many other brown kids just like me. I saw America as a safe haven, a place where I was socially accepted for the first time in a long time. I felt confident saying I was both American and Japanese. However, not all of the other dual citizenship holders would agree to that. The other half-Japanese students would constantly mock me for my illiteracy and broken Japanese even though they lived in Japan longer so the language was easier for them to learn. They prided themselves on being half white which made them the beauty standard in both the US and Asia, while they gave the occasional microaggressions for being part Black and Latina. Now, I had moved back to the US in 2015, so the next presidential election was nearing, and social injustice toward Black and Brown people was increasing exponentially. I had a talk with my parents on what to do when I am around police officers and what to do if one approaches me. With the social injustice and sly bullying I was receiving from my half-Japanese peers, I felt completely alone.
It felt as though no country wanted me, and my citizenship status meant nothing.
What was supposed to be a little fun fact about me turned out to be the very thing that rips me apart. I try to be accepted in both the US and Japan, but the world just isn’t ready to be accepting. Yes, I was fortunate enough to live in diverse places in the US, but I turn on the news to see many of my people dead, incarcerated, or locked away in detention centers. It reminds me that I am “other”, that I am not allowed to freely exist in the space I occupy as an American. Then I look at my Japanese citizenship. It seems as though Japan does not want me at all. I am not this enough or not that enough. I am too brown, I am too stupid. I am American and they do not like that. But America is scary. America separates families who look like me. America looks down on people who look like me. America kills people who look like me. I am scared for my future here, so I try to pry my way through to be accepted in Japan. When it is time to give up one my citizenship and announce my full loyalty toward one country, I do not know what I will pick. At this point, it is between safety and social acceptance, and I feel completely, utterly alone.
If you ever want to discuss Americanization and intersectionality between POC communities, hit me up!