[Imagine this as a digital piece. Section 1 displayed in short chunks, erasing line by line soon after displayed, with only hyperlinks (here marked with underlining) remaining, requiring a click to continue. Section two scrolling, too fast, until the one hyperlink, then scrolling quickly again. Section 3 in erasing chunks. Section 4 in one chunk with two links remaining, the second one replaying the same section. 5 in chunks. 6 in one chunk. 7 as a single line scrolling horizontally until it’s all gone by and the screen is left blank.]
My mother is Japanese, my father white. But my father was never in the military and she was no war bride. My mother is from Los Angeles, my father from citrus orchards and almond trees outside Sacramento. He grew up in the seminary. She liked hiking. They met at Camp Pendola in the summer of 1964 when she was twenty-three, he seventeen. In order to remember the year, my dad counts forward in his head from Kennedy’s assassination. Let’s see, Kennedy got shot in November of sixty-three so…
They were all quirk, no cliché. And yet I am a familiar story.
When my parents announced their engagement, my father’s mother turned her head away in disgust. My mother is Japanese.
To recall the year they decided to get married, my mother reminds my father of the ‘summer of peaches’. His older brother planned to get him a job as a peach grader. The job never panned out, and my dad never graded a single peach, but the summer of 1969 is nonetheless known to my parents not as the summer of love but the summer of peaches.
I remember my father’s mother’s mother mostly for her bad hearing and her sloppy kisses. We called her Nangy. Somewhere near the summer of peaches, Nangy wrote to my father urging him, kind as my mother was, to find a woman of his own kind. This was not self-interest. She believed she and her husband would die soon anyway (she didn’t). Instead she asked him to consider the children, what it would mean to have them, how horrible it would be for them. How horrible it would be for me.
I was born before I was born, but deformed, a defect. A bad peach. A failing grade.
When my parents got married in the summer of ’71, she wore flowers in her hair. He wore a linen shirt and a lei of carnations. My grandmother drank too much and draped herself on my mother’s cousin. Anyone who didn’t know why would’ve just thought she was a drunk.
Three years would go by before my father’s parents spoke to him again. My sister was born on the twelfth of July, the summer of ’74. Before my grandparents’ first visit to the yellow baby, my parents joked about buying body paint to cover her in a yellow and white checkerboard. You have to laugh at it, my dad says, or else it makes you crazy.
I was born on the fourth of August, the summer of ’77. My parents went to the hospital, my sister with an aunt and uncle to the zoo. After I arrived, my mom told my sister over the phone that she’d be bringing home her new baby brother Daniel. Like Daniel Striped Tiger?
Daniel Striped Tiger lived in The Land of Make Believe on the children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Daniel lived in a grandfather clock with no hands. He had no parents. Despite the clock that was his broken home, Daniel had no grandparents, but wanted some and so got pretend ones from an opera entitled A Granddad for Daniel.
You have to laugh at it.
So I’ve always been an imaginary tiger, of two colors.
It makes you crazy.
I was almost eighteen the first time my father’s mother touched me. Or that’s what I remember. Nineteen or twenty the first time she told me she loved me. This in response to me admitting I’d always believed she didn’t. As a child I visited her house and watched the walls, covered with photos. Blonde hair and blue eyes everywhere. Cousins, aunts, uncles. One picture of me, one picture of my sister. Easy to spot with our black hair.
My mother’s mother died when I was five. In one of only two stories I can tell myself about her, I remember I walked into the kitchen where she sat, sat on her lap. I asked her to draw a picture of me. She drew a small nut with a face.
But that’s a nut!
You have to laugh.
A couple decades later my mother’s father married a white woman. Her daughter was blonde with blue eyes. He removed his four children from his will, sold the house he’d built with his two sons.
It makes you crazy.
On the last day of his life, I played a guitar by his bed. My mother dipped a wet sponge between his lips. He slipped in and out of consciousness, his eyes floating around the room like fishing bobs on water, couldn’t speak. We remembered a person he hadn’t been for years. After he died, his newer wife decided on no funeral.
Does any of this matter?
What am I trying to know?
I am the future. I do not say this to make claims of super-humanity, only of humanity. Let me say it another way. I am the face of the future. And the future is – ambiguous, as am I. As is my face. I am the ambiguous face of the future.
I am a fourth generation Japanese American. I am half white. I am yonsei, nikkei amerikajin, hapa, haafu. I am never white. Look at me. I am the ambiguous future. My hair is dark, absorbs the color of the sunlight. My skin tans brown in the summer, fades in the winter. My eyes, can you name their shape? Mongoloid. Caucasoid. Mutt. In the mirror I inspect my face; pull at my skin; count the red hairs in my beard, gifts from my father. I look in the mirror and I see me, my ancestors, my progeny. I see the future. And I know – if I live or if I die, I will be there.
I am the future, born of the past. I walk the present. And I will not apologize for feeling my way from here to there.
Here, the world is shrinking. Everyone’s reach is extends as we crowd closer together. Today we talk of the global economy. Technology makes us faster. Bullet trains literally fly through the countryside, banking left and right, so fast the sensation of motion disappears. Planes fly people around the world. Faster planes fly richer people around the world faster. The richest men fly to the moon because they can (afford to). Now, the world-wide-web can mean so many things.
And so I am. I am racially mixed, as are millions of others. In the year 2000, the same year Alabama became the last state in the nation to remove a clause banning interracial marriage from its law books, 1.2 million of us checked more than one box on the U.S. census (the first time such an option existed). And that was just the ones who showed up to be counted.
Interracial unions are chipping away at the myth of race. I am the harbinger. Psychology Today magazine published a story including studies showing that ‘Eurasians’ are considered more attractive than Asians or whites, and that we are healthier because of our genetic diversity, associated with a lower incidence of some diseases.
So, let me get this straight. Not only am I to be yoked with the common Asian American stereotype of the ‘model minority’ that expects me to be smart, hardworking, and well behaved, but now I have to be genetically superior too? No thanks! Never mind, I’m not the future. I’m not even the present. I’m just present.
My name is Daniel, not Zion. I’m only 5’11”. I can’t bench press a car, or outrun one. I catch colds. I get zits. My eyes are puffy in the morning when I wake up, and my breath smells. I drive a compact car and I live in a small apartment. I get horny, hungry, happy, and lonely. I have bad hair days and I piss and shit just like the rest of you. Just like the rest of us. I’m no poster child for globalization. Can’t I just be me? Why can’t I just be me? Isn’t that enough? Or is that too much, too much to ask?
It makes you crazy. Laugh at it.
When I was small, on the playground, I was always “it”, the lava monster. Little kids pointed and laughed, ran away. The monster. I was a nip, a jap, a stupid chinaman. Peed on. Ching Chong Chinaman!
In high school my girlfriend – blonde hair, blue eyes – liked told me she liked my “exotic eyes.” Beat up at soccer practice. Happy Pearl Harbor Day! Lived just up the road from the KKK. We filled out applications. It’s funny! You have to laugh at it, or else.
In college I was a member of the Asian American Mentor Program. I wrote papers about identity development and internalized racism, didn’t get to talk during discussion of interracial dating. My parents had already done it so it wasn’t a problem I faced, right? You’re only half. Aren’t you white? It has to make you crazy.
Why do I write any of this? It makes you crazy. The conversation is nothing but sound bites. What are you? Krause? You don’t look German. I have a friend whose half ______. Isn’t [celebrity du jour] mixed? You look a lot like him. What are you? I heard Johnny Depp was part Philipino. What are you? What’s the point? It makes you crazy. 1.2 million people and counting could tell this story. I am not special.
I ran away to the other side of the world.
In Japan, sometimes I was John Lennon, sometimes Boo Radley. A spectacle. I was revered or feared for my difference. Little kids pointed and laughed, ran away. Women fucked me – different enough to be exciting, same enough to take home to mom and dad – dreamed of me taking them away to America.
I rode trains to unfamiliar cities, spent days and nights wandering with headphones in my ears, one among the crowd, feeling I fit in. I still wonder today what to do with the irony that my most precious and relieving moments of belonging in Japan, the moments I was most a part of the crowd, were also my most anonymous, my most isolated. Invisible. I walked through cities with eyes open, but my ears plugged and my mouth closed.
It makes you.
I fell asleep in public bathrooms, woke up on sidewalks in the shadow of tall buildings, desecrated stairways, sat in the darkest corners, did drugs, never asked her name. Went crazy, came back.
I’m tired of all this versioning. I’ve tried so many times to tell this story. What story? What am I trying to do? What am I trying to know? I have to laugh.
Lately I’ve been hallucinating more than usual, mishearing often. Just the other day I mistakenly heard someone call me Weeping Meat. I said yes.
There’s a dream I had when I was small. In my dream, my father comes home from work, doesn’t know me. I try to make him remember, but he hasn’t forgotten; he doesn’t suffer from amnesia. Rather, he has a past that doesn’t include me, obliterates my existence. In my dreams, I am my own hallucination. I’m not even present. It makes you crazy.
In grade school I watched Night of The Living Dead at a friend’s house, in black and white of course. That night I dreamed my mother had risen from the dead. I crushed her skull with a two by four. Had to. Or else.
My middle name is Takeshi, a Japanese name that in its writing refers to Bushido, the way of the samurai. Courage, respect, loyalty. Sacrifice, suicide rather than dishonor, the etiquette of self-immolation. A life lived in preparation for death. Death its own reward.
My middle name is Takeshi. Named for my mother’s father, Takeshi. It makes me. He changed his name to Jerry. Sold his home. It makes me crazy.
Daniel Striped Tiger has no parents, lives in a grandfather clock with no hands. The Land of Make Believe. You have to laugh.
I’m disappearing. It’s easier. I’ve tired of telling. Tired of trying to know. Erasing me’s easier. I’ve tried. It makes me crazy, and I have to laugh. Remembering is not a good idea.
Most lately, I’ve started hearing voices. This is not a euphemism. I’ve started hearing voices. Or, voice. There’s only one. Not mine. She only spoke once. Yes, she’s a she. She’s only spoken once so far. I don’t know who she is. Daniel. Daniel, I can see you.
I’m not trying anymore. I’m erasing now. It makes you. What was I trying to know anyway? I know enough. I laugh. Enough. Crazy. Enough. I am.
I am. I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I am I?