The realities of growing up with a mixed-race background

I am half Spanish half Japanese. Yes, I suppose it’s unusual.

During primary school, the sort of questions I would receive was, “What? Was half of your body born in Spain and the other half in Japan?” To clarify, I would tell them that my father is Spanish and my mother is Japanese, to which they tended to answer something along the lines of, “Oh cool!” or “that’s awesome dude.”

Perhaps humorous to some, growing up in traditional Spain, which unlike the US is not a very diverse country, the questions and comments made me feel like an anomaly, like an outlier not fitting in the community. Ultimately, I just wanted to go unnoticed. Wherever I was, whether it be at a friend’s birthday party or a school break, people would always look at me differently. But as I grew older, I started to appreciate the values which came with it.

It may be a bit foolish, but now I enjoy the simple satisfaction of being different. At face value, they are just two different nationalities, but intrinsically, I’ve realized that they are the two driving factors of my character. For me, being both European and Asian has always meant adaptability — two juxtaposed cultures together in one individual. On one hand, the quiet, respectful, and regimented Japanese culture, whereas on the other hand Spain is known for their extroverted, outgoing, “viva la fiesta” outlook. This combination has allowed me to relate with, and get along with individuals from all across the globe.

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Outside a sumo stable in Ryogoku, Japan

On my Japanese side, I think the culture is well illustrated by sumo wrestling. One may think that it’s a bizarre choice and features nothing more than large men grappling –which is the same belief I held not long ago. However, last spring, thanks to my dear Japanese grandfather, I had the pleasure of experiencing the sport in person. After watching the wrestlers train and having some conversations with them, I left with an entirely different mindset. They led highly disciplined lifestyles, having everything regulated from their meals to their manner of dress. I believe their values are an extension of how Japanese society now functions. Although merely a day together in conversation with my grandfather and some sumo wrestlers, it was a truly defining moment and encouraged me to see things from different perspectives, as well as inspiring some compelling principles in my life. From what I learned, the three most eye-opening messages were to always put family first, to never compromise your ideals for petty desires, and to always aspire for improvement, all embodied in the ideal they call Kaizen.

Ernest Hemingway in Ronda, Spain

In Spain, my father’s land, the culture could not be more different. I perceive the Spanish lifestyle as much more liberal. Spanish society has conferred its citizens both the blessing and the curse of the free spirit. The blessing to do whatever they wish –within reason –and the curse of having to make the crucial decision of which way of life they want to lead. Each person leads different lifestyles based on their philosophies and I believe that to be the allure of Spain. All in the same region, you can find groups of people dancing flamenco, elsewhere groups of people running away from bulls and celebrating it, or most likely, masses of people cheering for their local soccer team.

Although, I change my name each time I order at Starbucks, I am actually very proud of who I am. While both Japanese and Spanish cultures have their strengths as well as shortcomings, my most complete self comes from creating a synergy between the two. Having said that, it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I truly know who I am and that I’ve figured myself out — however, through this next phase in my life, I hope to know myself better, but more importantly, transmit my values, knowledge, and positivity to all those around me.

P.S. This was my essay for the Common App.

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Cornell University

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