As my mother drove me to my first day of high school, I mentally rehearsed the questions and comments I knew I would hear. They would no doubt echo the words I heard on my first day of elementary school, and later when I introduced myself at the school I transferred to at age 9, and then again when I took my place in line to receive my classroom assignment in junior high.
Assuming I could not understand them, kids would shout to their friends that they were in the same class as the gaijin (Japanese slang for foreigner), ask me in their halting English if I could speak Japanese or use chopsticks, and sometimes even touch my skin or hair. My response was always the same: I was born and raised in Japan — just like them — but to American parents.
My appearance and nationality came with a unique set of expectations. It was a given that I would outperform all others in traditionally Western sports, ace every English exam and possess expert knowledge on all U.S. trivia. It often came as a surprise when I performed well on Japanese language, history or culture-related exams, or knew how to write a word that my classmates could not.