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 was invited in the artist in residence at Paradise AIR in Matsudo, Chiba (Just across the Edo river from Tokyo) in Japan for the month of July. So I brought my project and collaborated with biracial/multiracial teenagers who are growing up in Japan. For this one, I went to the subject’s home city, Yokohama. We planned this photoshoot and started discussing about what to wear, where to take photographs before I left NYC, but it was the first time to meet him and his family on the day and I’ve never been to this area before but luckily I could find a great spot while I was walking with him.
IDENTITIES: Damani; Japanese and Jamaican 2022 Digital C-Print, 17 years old.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica. His family moved to Japan when he was 4 years old, since then he has been living in Yokohama ever since.
H(Hidemi): How do you identify yourself since both of your parents came from different ethnic backgrounds?
D(Damani): I identify as a mixed person of Japanese and Jamaican, and I take it in a good way. I’m proud to be Jamaican and Japanese.
H: Do you know why your mom was in Jamaica at the time? If so, please tell me a little bit about how your mom and dad met.
D: After my mom graduated from High school, she was interested in African and Black culture, so she went to some countries and cities (not only Jamaica but also South Africa, the United States: LA and SF.) When my mom went to Jamaica, my dad saw my mom and said she was cute (laugh), that was the beginning, eventually they got married in Jamaica.
H: Do you know how both of your grandparents’ reactions were when they said they wanted to get married?
D: My dad’s Jamaican family accepted the marriage and were very happy. My grandfather on the Japan side seemed to have been worried about the distance, the fact that they lived in Jamaica, but he was happy about their marriage. My grandmother was very excited about the marriage from the beginning. There seemed to have been no problem with marriage between people of different races.
H: Do you speak English? How much can you speak Jamaican Patois?
D: I understand and speak English relatively, and when my dad is around, we speak Patois.
H: Have you ever visited Jamaica since you came to Japan?
D: I haven’t been to Jamaica since I came to Japan. Only my dad goes back to Jamaica occasionally. My dad sometimes says he prefers to live in Jamaica than Japan, but for now, he just needs to go visit Jamaica sometime, and he isn’t thinking about going back and living in Jamaica at all.
H: Do you have any relatives in Jamaica?
D: Not anymore. My grandmother and my cousin have moved to Queens, New York, where they live now. That’s why I want to go to New York, and I also want people to come and visit Yokohama, Japan. But my dad would have a video chat almost every week with Grandma, I say Hello! and talk to her so I don’t feel like I’m far away from her.
H: You lived in Jamaica when you were a child, but do you feel a strong connection to Jamaica? What are your memories of Jamaica?
D: We have a lot of Jamaican stuff (Jamaican wooden sculptures, flags, and pictures) at home, and I watch videos that my mom recorded when she was in Jamaica at least once a year, so I don’t feel like I’m too far away from Jamaica. My memory of Jamaica is playing in the river. I forgot the name of the river, but I remember going to the river a lot, and at that time, I was friends with families of Jamaican & Japanese who came to Jamaica and married Jamaican partners, and we all went to the river and the beach together.
H: Oh wow! So, were there some families in Jamaica with the same combination of Japanese and Jamaicans?
D: There were three pairs in all, and then those three groups moved to Japan after that. Everyone lives in my local, Kanazawa Area of Yokohama. At first, my family came back to Japan, and then the other family members followed one after another. After my family started living in Yokohama, my mom told all 3 families, who were good friends in Jamaica, that the vibe and environment in her town were pretty good, then they decided to go back to Japan and live in our neighborhood. When my mom left Jamaica, she wanted to make a Jamaican community in her hometown. So somewhat her dream came true! So, we are still friends, still see and play with those families. We get together at Christmas and have parties occasionally!
H: Do you guys (kids) speak Japanese at those gatherings?
D: My generation speaks mainly Japanese, and my older sister & brother’s generation speak English and Patois.
H: What kind of music do you like?
D: Most of the music that my family plays at home is Jamaican music. I really like Bob Marley. Because his lyrics and music are all good. My favorite music is generally Hip hop to Pop music. I listen but don’t have a special taste for reggae yet. I’ve only recently started listening to Japanese music. The reason why is that I have more opportunities to go to karaoke and sing Japanese songs with my friends!
H: Did you see any biracial/multiracial kids in the school you went to?
D: In elementary and junior high school, there were pretty much only local “Japanese” kids. In high school, the school I go to is a school that puts a lot of effort into English, so there are many children who are “hafu” (half). I’m interested in knowing kids who are mixed race; the same kind of (or similar) combination as me, sometimes I ask them where they grew up and become friends. Many of my best friends right now are Japanese. I am into a soccer club, and everyone except me is Japanese, and we get along well. We all go on trips and play in various places together.
H: Your parents have different ethnic backgrounds, so is there anything that makes you feel different from other kids?
D: It’s not about being Jamaican, but just because my dad speaks Patois/English, so we all watch movies in English at home.
H: Are there any moments when you think you’re Jamaican or Japanese?
D: I feel like I’m Jamaican when I am eating Jamaican food at home. I feel like I’m Japanese when I try to adjust to the surroundings and the flow.
H: Can you tell us if there is anything that you think is good or bad at being a biracial kid?
D: One of the good things is that I don’t have to study too much for the English exam. I’m able to concentrate on other subjects during the study time for the final exam. (laugh) Maybe because of that, my grades are always good, and when I was a freshman, I took the first place. Also, it is easy to become a popular person at school because I kind of stand out anyway. (laugh) I did things like being a leader of the cheering squad on the field day. Everyone at school knows me.
H: I guess you are a popular type.
D: Yes, I’m a popular guy! (laugh)
H: So I guess you don’t have anything not so good.
D: Hmmmm, I don’t find anything wrong with it. But everyone knows me, and they talk to me like they know me well, (sometimes I don’t remember them) I feel awkward not knowing their names. (laugh)
H: What do you think about the ongoing discrimination against black people in the U.S. and the post-Covid Asian hate?
D: I have dreams of going to the United States in the future (I have a family in New York, so I want to live and work there), but since I am both Black and Asian, I sometimes feel anxious because I wonder if I will be affected twice as much. Certainly, since I live in Japan, I don’t feel this kind of tension, and I don’t have the situation of watching it directly, everything I see is on the TV news. However, the image that the police in the United States made me scared enough, is burned into my head, and sometimes I think that going to the United States is a little intimidating.
H: What are your dreams for the future?
D: Right now, I want to go to university and study economics and management. I want to get into a multinational corporation, so I want to study management and get a job in it. I am thinking about using my skills of being able to speak English and going abroad to work in the future. Also, when I go to university, I’m interested in the modeling job that my brother is also doing.
Extra Bonus! Questions to his Mom:
H: How was your life in Jamaica and did you feel any difficulties while living there? And did you have any trouble coming back to Japan?
Reiko (Damani’s mom): I enjoyed life in Jamaica so much that I didn’t have any problems, but when the hurricane hit and the roof of our house blew up, it was very difficult. Also… the bar next door used insecticide without notice, so the horde of cockroaches came to our house! I almost fainted. These kinds of things were happening sometimes. But those memories are all funny and I only have good memories.
Since I came back to Japan, the way we spend time in Jamaica and Japan time flow are quite different, so in Japan, every day seems to be rushed for time, and I miss the time and days that flow slowly in Jamaica.
You’re giving a voice to bi-racial humans. Great work.