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Monday, March 30, 2015


There are a lot of expat/migrant memoirs out there written in the first person singular.  But the "I" they use incessantly (and that itself says something about the culture they came from) is misleading because every individual living outside his home country is, in fact, entangled in a new network of friends, family, and colleagues in the host country.  

So the question I always have when I read them is:  What would a memoir written by the native spouse or the children of this bi-cultural/bi-national union have to say?  Especially the children.

One powerful and illuminating read from this perspective is Franz-Olivier Giesbert's The American. In this memoir, FOG talks about growing up in France with a French mother and an American father- a US military veteran who landed on Omaha beach in Normandy, France on June 6th 1944. It is a brutal read.  Mixed in with the stories of his difficult relationship with his immigrant patriarch are his experiences as a child of two cultures in the Hexagon and his impressions of the other country in his life, the United States:  this place where he was born that loomed large in his imagination, but where he did not spend his formative years.

I was talking to a friend this morning and she mentioned a film that came out just a few years ago about bi-cultural, mixed-race children in Japan.  Now Giesbert's father was a European-American and so the mix was not obvious to the eye.  The children of European and other ancestries in Japan are called Hafu and are mixed-race in addition to  being bi-cultural and/or bi-lingual.  This means that difference is visible.  

Hafu is a documentary about these visible products of migration and is told from their perspective.  I'm going to try to see the film and give you my impressions.  In the meantime, here are a few videos I found on the Net that I thought were interesting and worth watching.  Enjoy and if you have a moment, please share your comments about them.


Inaka Nezumi said...

Always tried to teach my kid not to take any crap from anyone, and to be proud of who they are. I don't think there has ever been much in the way of actual bullying, but a child's sense of difference and belonging can be even stronger more finely-tuned than an adult's, and there have been phases where the kid did not want to be seen with me in public, for fear of being treated like a foreigner. And if I must be there, under no circumstances should I speak English.

I think such issues have become less acute as the kid has grown and developed more sense of self. Still a work in progress, though. (As are we all.)

PS -- interesting example of body-language code-switching in the third video at the 1:24 mark, when she asserts "_I'm_ Japanese," and briefly points first at her chest, American-style, before quickly changing to point at her nose, Japanese-style.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Nezumi-san, I have been talking to a womnas whose Canadian/Japanese daughter is now in Canada exploring "the other country." She reports that her daughter is experiencing a huge sense of difference in Canada because of how she looks. That surprised me.

I had the same experience as you with the language. Mom has an accent - how embarassing.

I didn't notice the switching in the video. I will watch it again. I recently looked up some of E.T. Hall's books but do you have some good books or articles about code-switching that you would recommend?

Inaka Nezumi said...

Actually, to be honest, I am not even sure I used the term correctly. I have a vague idea that it refers to those times when one switches language in the middle of a sentence. Which is to say I have no useful reference to recommend.