I thought reading Murphy-Shigematsu’s “When Half is Whole” was a great way to kind of “wrap up” the materials we have covered over the course of this semester. The book touched on a lot of the topics we have studied and discussed previously in class, and it really helped me to put things into perspective.
Something that spoke to me in the book was the notion of naming and labeling, and how that ties into one’s in(ability) to express one’s mixed-race identity, particularly in consideration of other factors like access to education and environmental influences. As we have discussed in class, naming/labeling has come to shape how mixed race individuals claim their identities, particularly when addressing issues of authenticity. What I’m reminded of is the term “hapa”, and how it has has been incorporated into much of today’s discourse surrounding mixed-race identity. It was interesting to read Wei Ming Dariotis’ take on using “hapa”, and to consider why she decided not to use the term anymore in her academic writing; I guess it’s because I never really learned much about the term “hapa” in the context of its origins and how it has come to signify something completely different, or is misappropriated, in the “mainland”.
This leads me to my next point. Much of the discourse surrounding mixed race identities focus on establishing fixed boundaries to categorize mixed race individuals, or rather, figuring out how mixed race individuals fit in the schema of reality of mainstream culture and society. As such, I think it’s important that Murphy-Shigematsu brought up the idea of being able to identify yourself according to what suits your needs, instead of how other people want to identify you as. It’s interesting to consider that even within an immediate family, all members of the family can identify differently. In the case of Norah, she spoke about how being American is her legal identity, Japanese her cultural identity, and Korean her ethnic identity. I think this idea of defining yourself differently in terms of culture and ethnicity just goes to show how fluid definitions of identity are, as there are no boundaries that determine the extent to which one can identify oneself. Consequently, reading this made me think about different ways that I too, could choose to identify, and I think this is important because I never really found a way of identification that I was comfortable with and thought fully encapsulated who I am.
I think this also connects to the idea of healing, because being able to acknowledge and accept your place as possibly being “without at home” can become a mode of empowerment for some individuals, and could potentially help to connect them to others who struggle to claim their own identities. I thought it was interesting that Murphy-Shigematsu also discussed the importance of overcoming the past as a way of healing, and how if you can’t acknowledge or accept what has happened in the past, you won’t succeed in finding out who you are. In this case, Murphy-Shigematsu seems to argue that it is only through acceptance of one’s identity as possibly being displaced that one can truly claim an identity that goes against what the larger structure of society imposes upon an individual.
All the individual narratives included in the book portray how history has come to affect present day perceptions of the mixed-race experience, but the book also presents these narratives as vehicles for driving further discourse on mixed race identities and breaking down the “us” vs. “them” paradigm. To this end, I like how the book portrayed the power of words in redefining, or rather, recreating a narrative for the mixed race experience, and I think it’s great that we have the opportunity to read about such issues to discuss and explore them in our class. As Murphy-Shigematsu suggested, it is through building and establishing community that we can begin to understand the mixed-race experience, and I think that’s exactly what are currently doing, if not striving to do, every week in our class.