by Miya Kuramoto //
A solo-performance written and performed by Miya herself. Winner of the Solo Performance category of the 2020 Heermans-McCalmon Competition.
My name is Miya. That is spelled M-I-Y-A. Sometimes when I go to the doctors office I see in my charts that they write down [Mee-ya], M-E-E-Y-A. You know that they have messed it up enough times when they actually write it into your charts how to pronounce it. But you’d also think that after 15 years of going to the same doctor’s office they would remember who I am.
Well, that rant is for another time.
So, my name is the Japanese spelling of Miya. My mom got to name my brother, Andrew, so when I came along it was my dad’s turn. Andrew was too normal, too boring, so he though, “Hmm, why not throw the world a curve ball and toss a random little ‘y”’ in there and we’ll call her Miya!” That’s me! Miya the “normal way” but with a (places hands on face as if questioning) “why” thrown in there. Names are a funny thing and so are nicknames. So much of our identity lies in our birth names, but the nicknames that are strung along throughout our life are sometimes even more telling. When I was little my parents called me (pronounced like too-key) Tookie, or Took for short. It stands for “too cute,” adorable I know. They still refer to me as Took which is a little embarrassing, but who is really going to decipher the meaning behind Took? That’s one of my more endearing nicknames, but I have many others.
If you aren’t familiar with the stereotypical coach who gives all of their athletes weird nicknames, know that the stereotype is true and that I had several of these quirky coaches. But the best nickname wasn’t even their brainchild. Let me set the scene. It was a Saturday afternoon, on a balmy winter day in beautiful Upstate New York. That day, I was competing in a pole vault competition. I was checking in with one of the officials when I heard, not my name, but only something racist enough for me to recognize that the woman calling my name was probably referring to me. I heard, “Is there a Maya Yamamoto?” Now, as much as I despise being called “Maya,” it has unfortunately become second nature for me to respond to it, or nearly anything sounding remotely close to my name. The last name on the other hand was completely different. My last name is “Kuramoto,” but looking at the population of white pole vaulters around me, I could only assume that she was talking to me. I swear I should be invited to star on the show “Botched” because the butchering of my name did not stop there. When I looked at how they spelled my name it was written: “M-U-J-A”.
I spoke to my coach shortly after telling him how they wrote my name and he exclaimed: (Pronounced like moo-ha) “MUJA!” To my coach and all of my teammates I will forever be known as Muja Yamamoto.
When you think about it it’s pretty racist; people walk around calling me Muja Yamamoto. But it’s ok because it’s all in good humor and for the comedic irony, right?
You see, I like to identify as a “halfie”; half Japanese, a quarter Irish, and a quarter German to be exact. Which is basically my way of explaining that I’m half Asian and half white. Saying halfie is so much easier than going into all the details about my ethnicity, but also isn’t as boujee as the word “multi-racial.” In fact I hate those questionnaires you have to fill out anytime you go to the doctor or literally any time anyone wants any personal information about you for a survey. If they ever make me pick one race I angrily check “other” or “multi-racial.” Like how dare you try to sum me up in one little box, nonetheless one that hardly encapsulates my complex identity like “other.” This stuff has pissed me off for ages… has, well still does. Like, I’m not caucasian or whatever you want to call the fancy word for “white.” But I’m also not completely Asian, and it would piss my mom off if I neglected to recognize the half of me that came from her. Therefore, by the property of subtraction, that just makes me “cauc.”
I really vibe with this one song from Futuristic called “Somewhere in the Middle”. He has a line that goes: “I’m somewhere in the middle, yeah; You a little bit off, you a little bit much; you a little bit strange, you a little messed up; You’re a whole lotta “What the fuck?” Maybe next time I have to fill out a survey I’ll list “a whole lotta what the fuck” on the little line next to “other”.
But seriously, the United States is supposed to be a melting pot right? These days you see all sorts of commercials with mixed families. How 2019 of them. If this is just starting to happen now, well then back in 1990 when my parents got married, they were ahead of their time, out here living in 2090. Not only were they a multiracial couple, but it is much more rare for a white woman to marry an Asian man than an Asian woman to marry a white man. Naturally, I did the research and the ratio of a married couple with a white man and Asian woman versus a married couple with an Asian man and white woman in marriage is 5:2. And if you look at the percentage of married couples composed of a white and Asian spouse, they make up 1.2% of marriage combinations in the US. So not to brag or anything but my parents are a minority amongst minorities. They are like super-minorities, trendy, marriage hipsters if you may. And if that wasn’t enough, my dad was the stay at home parent throughout my entire childhood. Do you know the percentage of dads that are stay at home parents? Well I’m going to tell you; it’s 15%. As I said earlier, my parents have been out here living in 2090. That’s some crazy progressive, futuristic stuff.
Where do I go next? Ah, yes my childhood. So continuing on the note of my father, I was raised by him. He and all of his little Asian ticks. While my older brother was at Kindergarten, I had two full years of him to myself. Those years were full of stuffed animals, tea parties, hello kitty, arts and crafts… so many arts and crafts and lots of tender bonding moments. I look back on those times fondly and I am still very close to my dad; his little girl. But I wouldn’t say that I’m not close to my mom. I’ll spend nights up with her until 1 AM talking to her about life, and laughing my head off about the stupid stuff we say. It’s just different. My dad is introverted, which might come as a surprise to those who know him as the outgoing “Steve of Lansing.” I think it has something to do with the fact that he’s been contaminated by my mom and her blonde, bubbly self. She on the other hand is extremely outgoing and will talk your ear off and envelop you in her loving hugs. I inherited this “gift of the gab” so to speak and I didn’t even spend the first five years of my life at home everyday with her. Imagine if I wasn’t raised by a reserved Asian man. I mean I’m crazy as it is. Not that there’s anything wrong with being outgoing and crazy. But I would be an extra-extravert.
Anyways, back to my dad… he is quite “Japanese,” but also the most American man you’ll ever meet. For one his name is Steve… he basically created the selfie, is always prepared to whip out a dad joke, and he enjoys drinking beer and eating a hot dog fresh off the grill just as much as the next guy, and yet he is very “Japanese.” I personally wouldn’t refer to him as super (air quotes) “Japanese.” I mean he can barely count to five in the language. But, it’s how my mom describes what just seems like normal dad to me. I mean, he and my mom had very different upbringings. There are cultural differences. My dad’s parents spent several of their teen years in internment camps during World War II. It makes more sense now doesn’t it? Why my grandparents would name their Japanese-American son Steve, not to mention their other two children Todd and Linda. Why wouldn’t they want to Americanize, rather than passing along the very part of their ancestry that got them interned in the first place? While much of the culture was stripped away, the stoicism and control of emotions remains with my dad. It took me years to understand that when my mom refers to my dad as “Japanese” she is referring to these characteristics. My mom on the other hand grew up with a large extended family out on Long Island. Her family was boisterous, but her mother was like my father’s family, stoic and good at keeping her emotions at bay. But somehow my mother’s personality diverged and she grew up to be the emotional, heart on sleeve, loving woman she is today.
So where do I fit into all of this? Well, I’ve told you about my ethnic background, my parents, their upbringing, and the relationships I have with them. I told you earlier and I’ll quote Futuristic again. When it comes to where I lie on the spectrum of identity, I exist at “a whole lotta what the fuck?” As trendy and cool as it is being a halfie in this day and age, it can feel as though I’m in a constant game of tug of war. Even though I am a “cauc,” I’m constantly being pulled from one side to the other. To clarify, in this game of tug of war, all 5’5” of me is the rope and on one side is a team composed of my short Japanese relatives and on the other side, all 36 of my mom’s loud Long Island accented speaking, German-Irish cousins. The Asians calm, cool, and collected as they pull, while the cousins are shouting in a chaotic chorus. I also feel the pull from parents. My dad will tell me to toughen up, compose myself if I dare to show emotion, or cry in public when I am upset. But if I withhold my feelings and suppress them, my mom accuses me of being too “Japanese” and closed off. Which one is it? I find my ethnic identity to be relatively fluid. Some days I can feel the power of composure from my Japanese side and feel as though I identify more with them. Some days it’s completely different and I am so passionate about something that I become emotional and might even cry, exposing my vulnerability for everyone to see. There are so many dependent factors that play into my identity. It could be someone mentioning my darker complexion during the summer months, mildly racist comments from friends, or being approached by individuals who are Asian, testing to see “what I am” and if I am Asian enough. I mean what is the criteria for being enough of one thing or the other?
From a young age when I played pretend with my friends. One of our favorite things was recreating High School Musical. Before we could start of course, we had to figure out who got to play each character. Obviously Gabriela was the desired role of everyone, because she got Troy. I mean what 8 year old wouldn’t want to be swept off their feet by Troy freaking Bolton. But, I rarely got to play her. My friends would explain that I didn’t look like her, my skin was too dark, so I got to play Taylor instead. I had nothing against Taylor, but looking back it’s so funny how they thought that I didn’t look enough like a white person and therefore I resembled a black person. Like what kind of logic is that? Well it’s the simple mind of 8 year olds thinking “one of these things is not like the other.” I mean what 8 year olds are self-aware enough to understand what is racially inappropriate or not?
But it has been clear since my childhood that I belong in the gray area. There has always been something about me that is not enough or too much, or just not right at all. I mean my goodness, if we just unpack the issue that is my name, we can see how much of a struggle it is to even identify me by the name I was given at birth. Rather than me explaining the importance of a name, I’ll leave it to my man Shakespeare; to quote Romeo: “What’s in a name, that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” If you don’t remember breaking this quote down in high school English classes, Shakespeare is trying to say that when it comes down to it, a name is just the label, it does not define the object or person it has been given to. By that logic you can call me whatever the heck you want. I’m kidding obviously, I have a preference. But Shakespeare might have been onto something. In this modern age there are so many discrepancies about how individuals can identify themselves. I think that I will probably spend the rest of my life exploring my identity, but I know one thing for certain, I am “M-I-Y-A, Miya.” And I’m just somewhere in the middle.