I am a mutt. Yes, this comment may be a bit vague, but it is what I am.
My father was born in Boston and raised in Brazil, the son of a Swiss-German who originally emigrated to Brazil. My father’s mother was the daughter of a very wealthy (and large) Brazilian family. Both of his parents worked for the state department as interpreters. My grandfather was also a physicist.
My mother is Japanese. She was the daughter of a once-wealthy businessman who was a direct descendant of a samurai clan. Her father graduated from the top university in Japan (only 5% of the country’s population ever graduate from this prestigious university) and instead of deciding to go into politics like many of his peers, went into international business instead. World War II became his bane. He lost all of his clients, having to retool his business to manufacture uniforms for the Japanese army at his cost (it was that or have the government take over his business). In the end, the cost of the war eventually took its toll on my grandfather — he saved his business, but ended up selling it due to health problems.
I was a military brat. I don’t remember living in one place for more than two years until I joined the service in 1976. My childhood consisted of making friends, only to wave goodbye to them, as their parents moved or we did. I did not know what it was like to cement lifelong friendships with others until I joined the military. Up to that point, I was lost as a person. I did not have any kind of personal identity. I was not white, black, brown, or any other color we have assigned to different races here in the United States. I looked asian, yet had a Swiss-German name. People mistook me for Tony Orlando as a teen. I spent my mid-teen years in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Those were very turbulent years for me. We landed on the moon, and I was going through my first crushes. At school, I was teased for the way I looked. Because I was a mutt, I did not fit into the asian-american culture, and because of a brown skin color, I was ostracized because I was not lily white. I was teased for the slant of my eyes by bullies, who I eventually put in their place, myself. I was alone, a literal “Stranger in a A Strange Land“. Even in the military, I was occasionally subjected to racist remarks about me. I took life seriously, and the comments about me hurt. That was for a while.
As I aged, so did our culture. We survived race riots in Harlem, Watts, so many different urban areas throughout the United States. I suddenly realized that others were going through worse than I ever did, and felt empathy for anyone who has ever been singled out for the color of their skin. We pride ourselves in the steps we have taken forward in appreciating each other, despite the color of our skin. There are times when we take steps backward as a culture. Businesses and schools stumble in our efforts to see each other for what we are, regardless of our skin color. We are getting better, I think. We still have a long way to go, but we are improving as a culture.
I found out one very important thing as an American. I am not alone. So many of us are mutts nowadays, as interracial marriages blur the lines of what was once a uni-racial institution. I think Bill Murray’s character, John Winger in “Stripes” was right, when he said, “Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw “Old Yeller?” Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end?”
Yes, we should revel in the fact that we are all different people. As our world becomes older, it is my hope that we will one day banish racism from our vocabulary. I look forward to the day when someone reading this blog will screw up their eyes, wrinkle their nose and think, we really acted like that? And somewhere, I will smile in the knowledge that we have come a long way in learning to respect one another.