I guess you could say that this is based on a memory from my life while I lived in Japan. I guess if I were to write an autobiography, this would be in it.
Gaijin - The Word that Shaped My Life
Whoever told you that what happens in the past stays in the past was either lying or has no memories of their past. The person who spoke of childhood bullying being forgotten by the victim either got used to the feeling of emptiness or never experienced such horrors. Either way, someone does not know of what they speak of.
In English, it is translated into "foreigner." This term is very simple and normal for Japanese to say to others who do not look like them. However, to me, this word held a different weight and still holds a different meaning to me to this very day.
This hellish word brands you an outsider. The word can be used as an insult, and for a little child, this word can hold the same pain of burning fire.
I only lived in Japan for a few years of my early life. During this time, I was also constantly shipped back and forth between that land and California due to my father's Navy stationing.
As a small child of three, I was ignorant of cruelty. I was innocent of the reality that shaped other societies that were different from American culture.
To my family, I was a beautiful bundle of energy. I spoke a jumble of Japanese and English that made its own language. The blend of words were able to satisfy both my Japanese family and my American family at the time before I had to attend school.
I received the straight brown hair, familiar both to Asians and my father's side of the family. I held chocolate-brown eyes filled of early innocence and wisdom, common to the Japanese and given to me from my parents. Such eyes are the common feature of almond-shaped that are indigenous to those of the Orient.
Like many children, I did not gaze at my own reflection long enough to note my distinctive features. I was too naïve to know if I was different from others. Unfortunately, brown hair and brown eyes were not enough to mark me a normal seed within the boundaries of Japan.
The day that shaped my life for years to come hit me like the crack of a whip. The chilling morning and the rise of the orange sun marked the day that would snap me from my world of safety prematurely.
Looking forward to making friends in the outskirts of the urbanized neighborhood, I foolishly left the small condo of my family while they were not paying attention to me. Opening the door of my home and closing it behind me, I toddled my way down the stairs that led to the dirt-covered pathways that wound between the small houses around our condo. Our living quarters stuck out much like copper in a gold mine so it was no surprise that I was not able to get too out of place.
Reflecting back on this day, I had no clue of what would overcome me next. I held my untapped emotions on the sleeve of my arm like any child should. Running down this winding path, I stopped when I found an alleyway that curved down a sloping hill.
Shadows ran rampant as small children played with their toys and acted out make-believe games. There were tall, stacked apartments on either side of these group of kids. Walking forward, I only figured out that I was shy until after I was noticed by them.
I tried to speak and introduce myself in my broken Japanese, but could not find the voice to do it. I could not even ask to join them. I could only walk forward in a numb fashion, looking at them and growing more nervous with every step I took.
"Hey! It's some strange girl!" I heard one boy announce, his dark-brown eyes focused on me. He stopped pushing himself around in his red, metal child's truck and got off of it.
Still, I could not speak. Something within me, even then, held me back.
A girl next to him skipping rope stopped what she was doing to raise her eyebrow at me. "Is she new? She looks weird." Her hair was held together by pink hair-bands and she wore a matching pink dress.
Two other girls and another boy also stopped to stare at me as if I were on display in a museum. I was the art exhibit put under the white lights that was meant to be gawked at.
I felt fear grip me, but I swallowed hard in order to finally open my mouth. "C-can I play?" I murmured in a quiet voice, nearly scared to look them directly in the eyes.
They all looked older than me by a year or so. Their way of speaking was more developed than my own. Despite that, I still could understand them.
"She wants to play with us!" the same boy that was on the truck spoke. The tone was mocking. He sounded as if he were in disbelief.
The rest of the children laughed and closed in from all sides to examine me like buzzards would inspect a dead carcass. They circled me, only serving to raise my paranoia.
"She's a gaijin!" came the unanimous conclusion. They could not believe their eyes. It was if a mythological creature they thought never existed were standing before them.
Then came the final judgment passed down from the leader that stepped forward. His cold black eyes pierce my subconscious even to this day. Even if my sleep, I can see his disgusted expression. He spoke as if he were spitting on the ground. "No, you can't play with us, gaijin!"
"Why not?" I finally asked, finding my voice once more. Within the confines of my petrified mind, I felt the rise of confusion and anger. " 'Gaijin'?" I then echoed, passing the tainted word across my lips.
"You don't belong here!" the girl in pink explained, glaring at me with hatred she most likely did not understand herself. "You're a gaijin!"
The other boy who held a ball suddenly dropped the toy, allowing it to roll in my direction. I made to pick it up in order to hand it back, but felt myself being pushed away from the circle of children. The sudden shove shot pain through my small body, but I found myself unable to cry. I did not want to cry yet.
"Don't touch my ball!" he told me, walking over to pick up the plaything.
What was it about me touching his things that he did not like? Did he ignorantly believe that I would taint it because I looked different than them?
"Gaijin!" became a mantra as they swarmed me again.
"You're weird looking!" another child called out.
It began to dawn on me. I was different than them? How? As far as I was concerned, I had their eyes and their hair styles. My skin was lightly tanned and I even dressed the same. What was it about me that they did not like? Was there something wrong with me?
"Gaijin! Gaijin! Gaijin!" they shouted over and over like the word was a religious chant. "Go away!" Rounds of insults like "stupid" and "strange girl" were thrown into the fray as they gave me no way to move away from their group.
I finally felt them. The stinging liquid salt built up around my eyes as the scene seared itself into my mind. Was I so alien to them?
Suddenly, I did not feel normal. I felt like an invader. I felt as if I had no right to approach them. With these underdeveloped thoughts warping around in scrambled and broken-up symbols within my head, I could no longer decipher their Japanese words.
It was too much to handle. The tears finally spilt over my cheeks as anger built within my burning throat. "S-shut up!" I yelled in English, not even knowing or caring if they understood it. I did not even know it was a different language than their own at the time.
"We can't understand you, gaijin! You have an accent!" they retorted.
"SHUT UP!" I yelled, closing my eyes tightly, wishing it were only a nightmare. Though they never closed in on me, I felt like I was suffocating. "Idiots! Stupid people!" Just like they could insult me with one word I could not understand completely, I could only retort with two phrases, being limited to only words I knew. "Shut up!"
I knew my hands were balled up into fists, but I never made any movements with them. I could only stand there and absorb the mangled words as they daggered into my body.
Keeping my eyes closed, less and less words were eventually spoken until an eerie silence overtook the group. After a few moments, I peeked my damp eyes open only to find that the children had run off to the parents that called them to their respected homes.
I stood there numb and cold, feeling the wind brush past my hair, ruffling my checker-patterned dress, and shaking me. I immediately turned around and took to running, still scared for my life. I wanted nothing more to do than to go home.
Upon arriving back to where I lived, I saw my mother standing in the front of the building, seeming to look for me. Once her brown eyes spotted me, she gave me a comforting smile; an expression of understanding. She bent down and opened her arms as I ran into her, crying.
Knowing that I was now safe for the moment, I kept sobbing, never ceasing.
This one word was the one remnant that kept this memory locked within my head. It had scorched me like hot flames and had continued to do so for many years afterwards.
My mother only knew to comfort me and carried me into our condo. Her arms were my rapture and my safety and so I never wanted to leave her embrace. Her wavy black hair acted as a shield from the outside world at that time. I think that even without me saying a word, she knew what had happened to me. She knew how hard my life would become because I looked different than the other kids.
My eyes just were not slanted enough. My hair did not have the bounce the Japanese had. My skin was too light to be considered fully Asian. I only knew of this realization later when I was old enough to understand the full extent of this moment in my life.
After a while when I had managed to calm down, my mom wiped my face off. Being the curious child I was, I managed to let the word bother me enough to make me speak.
"Mama…" I began, looking up at her with eyes full of innocence. "Gaijin," I repeated softly, replaying the word in my mind.
She froze. Suddenly, without warning, she wrapped her arms around me tightly. "What did they do to you?" she murmured, her voice wavering.
I knew the word was bad, but did not fully realize the full extent of the meaning at the time. "Mama?" I questioned, now wondering why she was hugging me so tightly.
She understand the word I uttered perfectly. She realized and confirmed, at that moment, how hard my life would be, continuing to stay within a country where people were drastically exclusive to themselves.
For the sake of my social life, we permanently moved out of Japan by the time I was five. By this time, my father had left the Navy in order to salvage the crumbling marriage. Unfortunately, it was too little too late and my mother moved us to Ohio, the place of his birth, to start a new life while being single.
Even while in American schools, I suffered similar, but less serious, forms of bullying. However, I had grown accustomed to being the outcast and tried my best to not let their statements get the best of me.
Still, even through growing up, I eventually fell into a dark pit of self-loathing. All sparked by one incident; one word.
I felt as if I belonged in no place.
By the time I realized where my supposed "place in the world" was, I hated what I was born as. I wondered if I were born a sin. Why did so many people dislike me because of my appearance? As I grown older, I started to understand the truth of their ignorance and the stupidity of things they were taught by their friends and families.
I eventually grew to like myself after realizing how sad others were for being ignorantly superficial. As I pitied their judgments upon me and gained self-confidence, I began to make more and more friends.
By high school, I had made more than enough close friends who accepted me as I was. I learned to look at my American and Japanese heritage as two separate things. I began to view myself as two separate people forced into one being.
I learned to like both sides of myself and accepted both sides, causing me to love my entire being.
Still, I occasionally replay those events over in my mind, fully understanding the children's words and why I was placed in such a situation. I learned to forgive those who sparked the misery of my childhood. I even began to view this moment in a different light.
Gaijin was a word whose weight was as heavy as gold, but whose true meaning is as meaningless as an imaginary being. That day may have changed my life, but eventually it made me grow up and face reality. Wearing that day as a battle scar, I worked around the other struggles and pushed myself harder than ever before.
Gaijin is a word that shaped my life for the worst, but eventually for the better.
A word can be twisted into a grotesque monster only if one allows it to manifest itself that way. The way a word is said can harm a person for years, meaning more than it is really worth.
For me, gaijin became a hurdle I had to overcome. Once I managed to accomplish that goal, I became a stronger person and was no longer held back by a childhood memory. Though, for as long as I live, I will never forget that day.
Gaijin is a part of a memory that changed my life.
A/N: It may sound unbelievable to you, but the vast majority of this is an event I remember from when I was a toddler. Yes, I made the writing sound intelligent and my mind of then sounds more sophisticated than it really was. However, it was only because I was blending together how I interpret the scene now and my past childlike way of thinking.
I hope that this story teaches someone a lesson about how words can hurt someone even if you do not realize the hidden implications on how the words are said.
I am not in ANY way "bashing" Japan or anyone holding that heritage true to their hearts. There are a few people in that country, however, who are ignorant or threatened of foreigners because of how much pride that country has for itself.
Please review to leave words of criticism if there needs to be any improvements made.