Marina Watanabe on Connections to Cultural Heritage

Posted by Karen Ng & filed under Identity.

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Full-time sass machine” Marina Watanabe makes videos on YouTube about feminism and social justice, and she describes her ethnicity as “[h]alf Japanese and the other half is like if Europe sneezed.” Her video “‘I’m Not Normally Into Asian Girls, But…’” explores racial identity and connection to her cultural heritage.

Marina’s mother was born in the United States and is a mix of Scottish, French, English, and “whatever,” says Marina. Her father, on the other hand, is Japanese. He is also an immigrant from Brazil. She explains that Brazil has the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, “but it does make my own cultural understanding a little bit blurred.” Marina doesn’t have a strong sense of her Japanese heritage because culturally, her father is Brazilian; her only real connection to Japan is through food, as her father owns a Japanese restaurant).

Because of the difficulty she felt in identifying as white or Japanese, Marina spent a lot of her childhood trying to pass, or not to play up her Japanese side, “not watch anything or wear anything that was too stereotypically Japanese.” And then during her early teenage years she began to value herself on her appearance and whether boys thought she was concern. Both she and I have to tell you that this is not what anybody should do.

Marina’s cultural understanding is more blurred than mine—I consider myself fairly straightforward: Chinese, but not culturally Chinese enough. I was not born in Canada but I’m more Canadian than Chinese or anything else. My language is caught in between at times; there will be rare occasions where I struggle to find the right English word, and most of the time—especially during moments of heated discussion or arguments—I will resort to English to get my message across.

What about just appearance? One of Marina’s concerns as she was growing up was the way in which boys were attracted to her. “Is he into Asian girls? White girl is kind of the default,” and that left her in the “other” category. It’s something I remember vaguely feeling as well; worrying that not being the white default would put me at some sort of disadvantage, or that I was undesirable. But I also remember eventually pushing those worries away, thinking that anyone who judged based solely on appearance or race wasn’t worth my time.

Although I am not mixed race, I agree with Marina that growing up with different cultural backgrounds can be confusing. It can be an awkward, liminal space of wondering where to belong and how to identify.

Watch Marina’s videos here on her channel marinashutup.

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