Stiff drink required for half-measure of multicultural insight


HYBRID IDENTITIES AND ADOLESCENT GIRLS: Being ‘Half’ in Japan, by Laurel D. Kamada. Mulilingual Matters, 2010, 268 pp., $49.95 (paper)

As the American mother of two Japanese-American “hybrids” (yet another moniker for hafu/double/Japanese-plus-another ethnicity), I had high expectations before reading this book: finally a work to reveal the ins and outs of navigating “otherness,” the conundrum that all children from bicultural/biracial families must unravel in modern Japan. That Laurel D. Kamada’s study focused on the lives of young bicultural girls intrigued me, as women’s roles and self-identity in Japan seem currently stymied, caught between traditional Japanese conventions and idealized views of Western femininity.

But although there are moments of fascination and familiarity when following the six girls of Kamada’s study as they mature from 12 to 16 years old, this is a text primarily for academics, not a carefully researched appraisal of popular culture and bicultural women’s roles.

The author herself deliberately chooses to focus on her academia readership. The first three chapters discuss the theoretical and methodological foundations underlying her research of the six bicultural girls, carefully noting the limitations of the study and at the same time supporting its research. Once Kamada finally takes you into the girls’ lives, there are colorful, engaging transcripts.

And this is where the real strength of the book lies for non-academics. Kamada’s copious explanation and theoretical analysis may interest the erudite, but I relished the chance to overhear the girls, whose voices resonate with the universal struggles of any teenager wrestling with identity and approaching adulthood.

Academics seeking to trace Kamada’s reasoning or to verify the extant multicultural and psychological research will be overjoyed with her meticulousness and clear connection with her study in the field. The rest of us will tackle most of the text with a strong brew and eyes wide shut to the methodology.

This book will satisfy two separate, small audiences. First, the intended one, the academic colleagues of professor Kamada in bilingualism or multiculturalism in Japan.

And like me, if you happen to be the parent of an isolated “hybrid” living in the countryside without much opportunity to compare stories with other bicultural families, the girls’ growth and honest gabbing will give you a sense of commiseration and common experience.

Beyond any textbooks, it is that sharing that often provides the first seed of understanding.