Discovering Purpose in Mixed Heritage

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu discusses how multiracial individuals often grapple with their identity. Nevertheless, it is crucial for them to reconnect with their roots and explore their backgrounds.

Learning more about a part of one’s identity to become whole

Nick: As a father of a son who's half Australian and Japanese. And he's almost 20 now. He was also born in Japan and spent his first three years there. And a part of me hopes he returns to explore the culture more deeply, and maybe connect back to, and have some memories that might come to the surface when he goes back. So I hope he explores that.

Stephen: You know, there was something that I studied formally and academically, and as a research topic. I found that for some people, it's not that important, it becomes something that is somehow not a priority in their life, and other things assume more importance.

But for others, it becomes a very important part of finding some kind of sense of wholeness and meaning in their life. For me, I think, I wasn't extreme in the sense of feeling that it was almost like a calling for me to return to Japan.

I saw it almost in the sense of ikigai, or a purpose for my life. It really was transformative for me in that sense. I found that I looked for other people to talk, to interview about it. And there I gathered many stories by other people who, for them, it was also a part of their journey of becoming more whole.

By embracing or learning more about that part of themselves that was difficult to learn about in the environment in which they had been raised.

Nick: Thankfully, the world's a different place, I guess, and Australia's very multicultural. So I don't think my son's had any issues with his mixed-race or whatever we could call it. But yeah, I do hope he returns and explores and finds a part of himself that sort of doesn't exist here. And I hope that he does reconnect with Japanese culture. So I might not be going to push him, but I certainly encourage it.

Stephen: I guess I have two thoughts about that: one is that I never told my parents about things that were happening that were difficult because I thought, especially I never told my mother because I thought it would be a burden to her too. Because it was all about her.

The reason was because my mother was Japanese. And so I never told my parents. So I think that's always a possibility. But the other is that it has changed, the world has changed so much in the sense that Japan is viewed by so many people now as a very favorable.

When my kids came to the US, they had Pokemon cards and the other kids in the neighborhood gathered and my kids give them away. And now I work more at the higher level of college with college students, and many of them, you know, already have been exposed to Japanese anime and manga, and they feel like they they see a lot of very positive things in Japanese culture and want to go to Japan.

It seems these days, everybody would love to go to Japan, or have been to Japan and love it there and were able to see more of the beauty of the culture.