IDENTITIES is a photography (Portraits + Interview) project started with my family, a blend of Japanese and Haitian, and portraying other biracial/multiracial “teen” subjects. I seek to envision deep roots and explore issues of mixed-race identities as they manifest in neighborhoods in New York and, other cities, that contain diverse racial intersections.
I went to my home country, Japan in March/April for family emergency. I had few days at the end of visiting so I decided to shoot/interview one family in Tokyo. Usually I work with teenagers but somehow I was curious about this family who I met through Instagram (Mom found me and sent me a message) so I asked if we could work together while I was in Tokyo. Since kids are still very young, I also asked couple questions to their mom.
Serigne & Khady: Serigne 12 years old, & Khady 9 years old, Mom: Japanese, and Dad: Senegalese. Born and growing up in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
(Picture: Serigne & Khady from IDENTITTIES, 2022, Digital C-Print)
Serigne & Khady Interview:
Me (Hidemi): How do you identify yourself since both of your parents came from different ethnic backgrounds while you guys are growing up in Tokyo?
Serigne & Khady: Japanese.
Serigne: Actually I also called myself “Hafu” (half), I’ve never thought I am Senegalese because I haven’t been to Senegal yet, so I don’t feel like I’m Senegalese. When people ask me which nationality I mix with, then I answer “Senegal”.
Me: So you guys have never visited Senegal, do you wanna go there?
Serigne: I want to go there. Because it looks fun.
Khady: Yes, definitely!
Me: Can you speak Wolof (Senegalese) language?
Serigne & Khady: I can’t speak. But I want to learn! I know some greetings in Wolof!
Me: Do you have relatives in Japan? If so, do you see them often?
Serigne & Khady: We have an uncle, a grandma and cousin (mom’s side). We go visit Grama’s house and she comes to visit us often. Dad’s younger brother used to live in Japan, but he returned to Senegal last year. Dad’s uncle used to work at the Senegalese embassy in Japan, but he returned to Senegal, too. We make video calls with our grandma in Senegal almost every day.
Me: Do you have Blasian friends in Tokyo/Japan?
Khady: Yes! I met them through Instagram!
Serigne: We do have African – Japanese mixed friends in our neighborhood. We have many Blasian friends but not in school. There is one black mixed kid in a different grade at our school. We also have good friends with other “Hafu” (Half) white and Asian friends. Even though the skin color is different, it is a half connection and they are great friends! We also play with our dad’s friends’ kids who are Senegalese.
Mom: When they see other mixed kids on the street, they react immediately. It’s definitely nice to see other kids like my kids. Even though we’ve never met before, it’s easy to get along quickly.
Me: Have you ever thought that you were different from other Japanese kids?
Serigne: Yes. But in a good way.
Me: When do you feel like you are so lucky being a mixed child?
Khady: I have curly hair!!
Serigne: I can make a lot of Hafu-friends. My friends are very interested in Senegal & Senegalese culture now.
Questions to Mom 🙂
Me: How did you meet your husband? (I was curious…)
Mom: I met him at an African restaurant in Tokyo. He said “Hello!” to me, I looked at him and recognized that he was Senegalese. Because I went to Senegal twice before I met him. I love African culture; music, dance and miscellaneous goods from there. Anyway, I talked back to him saying “Nanga def!” (How are you? in Wolof). He was shocked and said “Wait! What?” It was our beginning. lol
Me: How do your husband and family communicate, in Japanese? How did he learn Japanese?
Mom: He works at a restaurant, so he learned Japanese by serving customers.
Me: Have you ever had any difficulties about different cultures and religions with him?
Mom: He is Islamic, so pork, alcohol and tobacco are prohibited. I happened not to eat pork, not to drink alcohol, and not to smoke, so it wasn’t a big deal at all 🙂
Me: Have you ever had a moment, having mixed kids was not easy?
Mom: When my kids were much younger, I sometimes felt unpleasant when their friends told them that their skin color was different from them, but I explained to those kids and asked their teacher to read a picture book called “People from all over the world”. Once they understood it, they gradually stopped talking about it. The most hurtful moment was that when Khady was in the first grade, a boy in the second grade told her not to play with a white car because it belongs to people who had pale skin, she had to use a black car because her skin was darker. It was a very sad experience, but I spoke to their parents, they understood and explained to their son then he stopped saying those kinds of things. I think that there are things that can be solved if we try to understand each other.
Me: Tell me your beautiful experience having mixed kids in Tokyo?
Mom: In Shibuya, Tokyo, where we are living, it is very diverse. There are many foreigners from all over the world, so it is easy to live for people like us. Even in school, girls can wear pants and we have a system that allows us to choose our schools. And also for those days, we are able to share information through social media such as “Instagram”. There are many Blasian people in their 20’s who grew up in Japan, and now are active in various (sports, arts, fashion, etc) field sharing their information as Blasians in Japan, e.g. “How to take care of curly hair”, and giving advice on sports, encouraging them to have various options and goals in their future. They seemed to have harder experiences as being Blasian in Japan than my kids’ generation, but now those young people are lively and shining, and they are really enthusiastic about encouraging my kids. That’s why my kids are confident of being Blasian now. This mixed race connection is going really strong.