Oriental Blossom: Dating as a Japanese Woman In The Whitest City In America
Yes, ethnically I’m Asian, but culturally I’m not. I’m Japanese - but I’m not. From growing up in such a culturally diverse place like Hawai’i (specifically O’ahu), where the minority race as the majority is the norm, I definitely took for granted the belonging I felt living amongst people of color. I am currently finishing up my last year of undergrad in Portland, Oregon. Aside from being renowned for its abundance of Thai cuisine food carts and fresh evergreen trees, Portland is also known as the whitest city in America. To say the least, moving to Portland three years ago was definitely a culture shock, but my experience here, both good and bad, have helped define my own perception of self-worth and love that I hold true today.
Already stripped of my mother tongue and unable to speak Japanese fluently (despite my father being an immigrant from Japan), I furthermore attempted to assimilate into the mainstream culture by limiting myself to strictly dating Caucasian men. I liked the attention and appreciated that white men thought I was “pretty for an Asian.” At the time when this and similar comments were half-heartedly exchanged, the acknowledgement made me feel chosen. In retrospect, this isn’t a compliment: you’re bringing down an entire group of people and making it seem like they are not attractive or worthy of said attention for that matter. It wasn’t until I failed to live up to the stereotype that the pressure to assimilate truly manifested itself.
From my freshman year of college to the beginning of my junior year, I constantly found myself rejecting any romantic interactions with men of my own race in an effort to make me “more white.” This outdated trope came to a releasing end when I reached my anagnorisis through my first heartbreak. In this particular relationship with a said white man, there came a moment of realization when I could pinpoint the exact instances of microaggressions and internalized racism. From commenting on how stinky my kimchi (fermented cabbage) was, to referring to my skin as “ivory” or “porcelain” on multiple occasions, I had enough. Being honest with your feelings and being open to engaging dialogue about race and cultural competency is vital in an interracial relationship, two traits which my first white boyfriend lacked greatly. All the white men I have had a sexual relationship with have never failed to ask me to explain some fact about my Asian heritage, making that fact a ‘novelty’ of some sort. I was obsessed with any white guy over 6 ft. 1, thinking the height difference would nicely accompany my petite frame. This twisted mindset translated into the virtual dating pool, where again I limited my options and thought of how cute our Instagram pictures would be and babies five years down the road. My Asian friends with white fetishes constantly fantasized about dating white guys and when successfully coaxing them into relationships, it was treated as some kind of envied crown. In stark contrast, I had other Asian girlfriends who were happily paired with Asian partners. With them, the question of “what it’s like dating a white guy” always came up in conversation.
Most of these men that found interest in me eventually owned up to having yellow fever (an Asian fetish). My own confusion about my identity and worthiness for love left me feeling more confused, isolated and rejected than ever before. My obsession to conform to Western beauty ideals dug burrowed deeper into my distortion of a love that wasn’t reciprocated by my white male counterpart.
As I reflect on how I defined love three years ago to my healthy view today, I am still coming to terms with these two conflicting cultures. I consciously search for these cultural crossroads between American and Japanese culture, which recognize that these experiences shape the unique parts of who we are. Admittedly, like any relationship you cannot help whom you are attracted to and who you fall in love with. If you have the same interests, enjoy quality time together, and are able to see a potential future with this person, you will love them despite being from a different race. The moral of the story is: Love who you love and NEVER limit yourself to one race.