Growing up in small town Yakima, Washington surrounded by either white people or Mexicans, the ethnic diversity wasn’t just lacking it was invisible. I was the only person I knew that checked the box on standardized tests saying I was “Asian/Pacific Islander”. My options for foreign language at Granger High School were Spanish or…Spanish.
Rural educational systems don’t lend themselves well to teaching Mandarin or Japanese. And frankly, I don’t know that I would have taken them if I’d had the option. I spent many summers with my naturally brown cousins in the Hawaiian islands, always being teased as the only “Haole” kid. In Yakima I didn’t fit because I wasn’t white or Mexican. In Hawaii I didn’t fit because I was white. This girl just could not win. I tried so hard to mimic my cousins’ perfect pidgeon, the local dialect that the local Hawaiian people speak. Still, 32 years later, I can barely say rubbish without sounding like a kid from Yakima.
I learned a lot growing up exposed to two very different places. I know more about winemaking, hop growing, and the apple industry than most and I have this amazing tropical place where I can visit any island knowing I have relatives to stay with and play tour guide. My cousins in the islands will be the first to punch your lights out if you call me a “Haole” and my friends in Yakima are some of my biggest fans no matter where my journey takes me.
My Cousins and I in Hilo, Hawaii.
I was born to the two people in the photo. My dad was born in Okinawa, Japan and is 50% Japanese. My mom was born in Victoria, BC, Canada and, though she looks like your average pasty Caucasian, her father is Hawaiian and she grew up in islands. I believe this makes me a mutt. Not your average, run of the mill mutt, but the Asian variety. This means that, despite looking like your average white girl from Yakima, Washington, I had all the educational and high performing expectations that come with being from an Asian family. College isn’t an option it’s a requirement. Straight A’s aren’t an accomplishment, they are just what you do. If you get a 98% on a test, your teacher father wants to know what 2% you missed.
So, what do you do when you feel like you don’t belong to the very family that you are biologically related to? In my case, I have used it as entrepreneurial fuel. Fuel to trail blaze. Fuel to do it differently. Fuel to do it my way and embrace my inner “mutt.” I sought out my village and my people. The crazy people who think differently, who had that inner fire to break all the rules and change the world. I may have born and raised from two very different worlds, but I found that my entrepreneurial village was the place where I finally belonged.