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.
So I was invited in the AIR at Paradise Air in Matsudo, Chiba in Japan for the month of July. So I brought my project and collaborated with biracial/multiracial teenagers who were growing up in Japan. I met Sean and his mom as our first time at Hie Shrine in Tokyo. I’ve never been there before but I’ve been seen the pictures of this place. When I saw his pictures that his mom sent to me, I decided to take his pictures at this location, and somehow I had a Kimono jacket from NYC for the photoshoot (but I had no idea if I was going to use it or not) and wanted to use it for him. His story was a little bit different from other kids that I worked with previously. He said he was bullied because he looked “different”.
Please read his whole story below!
Sean, 15 years old. Japanese, Korean, Indigenous American, and Italian American.
Born in California and raised on the mountains of Lakeport for two and a half years. Later moved to Middletown, and at the age of three, he and his mother moved to Japan and resides in Itabashi, Tokyo ever since.
*Conversation w Sean
> Sean, you have been growing up in Japan since you were 3 years old, how do you identify yourself since you have a multiple ethnic background?
I’m not really sure about it yet, but there are moments when I think I’m both Japan and American, or none of them. I don’t have much self-awareness yet.
> You came to Japan when you were 3 years old. I heard from your mom that you haven’t seen your dad (after all the hardest things happened in the US), only if you don’t mind, could you tell me a little bit about your dad?
Right, I haven’t seen him since then. But when I was very young, I do remember my dad coming to see us suddenly in Japan once. At that time, we were living in my grandma’s house in Tokyo, and all I remember was that he suddenly came to her house in the middle of the night, and it was pitch black outside.
>So, what is your image of your dad?
Well, I do have an image that my mom told me, but I don’t have much reason to dislike him because I think he wasn’t harmful for me, but I’m not sure if I like him, either because I don’t know him. At this moment, I feel both that I can meet him in the future, or I don’t need to do that, either. But…. for me, I have an image that he was kind in my memories…
>Can you speak English? Have you ever been to the United States since you came to Japan? If not, you want to go?
I can’t speak English at all. I forgot. I’ve never been back to the U.S. since I came here. I don’t particularly want to go to California, but I do want to go to the United States itself. For example, New York. I have friends (my mom’s friend’s family is there) and I got inspired by them, and I want to walk the streets of New York City!!
>Do you have any relatives?
I’ve heard of relatives and cousins in the U.S., and I’m curious and would like to meet them, but I’ve never met them before. I heard that my dad’s brothers loved me, played with me and took care of me when I was little, so I would like to meet them one day.
In Japan, my relatives live in Fuji city by Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture and we spend time there every New Year’s Day. I have two cousins in Tokyo. One of my cousins, who is two years older than me, is like my sister and has been good friends since I was little, and we still meet occasionally and chat by text.
>Do you feel a connection to the United States or your roots in America?
I live in Japan, but I always think that I don’t fit into Japanese society. I think that the way I think is more American. Japan has a culture that we must follow everything with people, we all must fit in our society and if you do something different from other people, you would be scolded. The school system in Japan is like the military, I didn’t feel like I had any freedom of speech. Generally, I don’t do anything really bad, so I want people to listen to my voice, such as what I want to do and what I think is fun, and I want people to trust me to a certain extent and let me do it freely. I’m not good at being forced to do things in a commanding tone.
>Did you see biracial/multiracial kids in the schools you went to?
When I was in elementary and middle school, there were a few half-Filipino kids in my schools. But being biracial/multiracial kids didn’t mean that we were friends. It wasn’t until I became a high school student that I was able to get along with other biracial/multiracial kids, and I no longer got bullied for being called “Hafu” (half= biracial/multiracial) like I did when I was in elementary school and middle school.
> You were bullied?
When I was in elementary and middle school, I was really bullied because I was “Hafu”. People said “was “You are weird because your are Hafu” or “Go back to America” and I was also physically assaulted. I was often bullied for being different from other people. I even had long hair and covered my face also with a mask (pre-Covid). My relationships with teachers and other students were also pretty bad, and I was” Hikikomori” (acute social withdrawal) and I had depression for three months at the end of 9th grade.
> Can you tell us if there is anything that you think is good or bad at being a multiracial kid?
The good thing is that my appearance is a little bit different/unique from most average people in Japan. (Sean is 15 years old and his height is 6ft tall) I think that’s beautiful! Since I started High school (correspondence course), I started to get along with both Americans and Japanese. Now I really like my unique way of thinking and free spirits!
>What are your plans or dreams for the future?
I don’t have a specific plan yet, but when I started high school, I started auditioning for a modeling job. Just because recently there have been more people encouraging me to become a talent. That’s why I started to be interested in this type of job.
>Do you have any message for kids who has been bullied for being different?
I became very confident in myself after I started high school. The people around me said they appreciated my humanity, and that gave me confidence. Since entering high school, my mind has been reset. I feel more freedom because I left the compulsory education that I was bound in, such a harsh environment. And after I lost some weight, a lot of people started telling me that I looked cool! So, it also gave me more confidence!!(smile)
As for the message to someone who has a similar experience like me, I want them to believe in themselves, live freely and live with confidence. It’s good to be different from other people, and it’s not really necessary to always try to adjust yourself to the surroundings. Because I know that being “Unique” is always a beautiful thing, no matter what.
Thank you Sean!! You are amazing!! We love you ❤
** By the way, my fellowship/residency at Gallery Aferro ended. I moved out from the studio yesterday. Thank you so much for having me as a part of your community!