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Mixing Family Traditions

By Mia Speier ’18

Growing up in a Jewish-Christian Japanese-American home is something that very few people get to experience. My mom was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, and my dad was born in North Carolina and raised in Texas. They first crossed path at the University of North Texas, where both of my parents were teacher aids and taught Spanish to college students. They eventually got married in 1996 in Dallas, Texas, where both families came and the ceremony included both Jewish and Japanese tradition such as the men wearing Yamakas, my mother’s side of the family dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos, and a rabbi and priest. When my parents moved to Los Angeles and had my brother and me, they decided that they would raise us with both of their cultures and both of their religions, because they wanted to form a compromise between the two of their identities, and thought it would be both unique and educational to learn about our mixed heritage– they were right.

As a kid, I would call myself Jew-panese because I believed that it perfectly described the household that I grew up in. Coming from a bicultural household has given my brother and I many valuable experiences and opportunities that I don’t believe many people get. So to call myself this and to teach my brother about the unique situation we were in, is something I cherish.

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My brother and I on the subway in Japan when we were younger.

Every night my family and I would sit together at the dinner table and enjoy my mom’s cooking. No matter what we were having for dinner, there was always some way that my mother’s Japanese heritage would be cooperated into it. I got to enjoy Japanese cuisine such as rice, fish, ramen, soba noodles, and even sushi on occasion. I would often take leftovers to school with me and wow my classmates with my mom’s cooking. From a young age, I took a like to cooking for people, and eventually learned all of my mother’s recipes and styles of cooking Japanese food, and still continue to make them even today.

But Japanese food wasn’t the only thing I had the pleasure of cooking, but from my father’s mother, or my grandma, I got to learn how to cook meals for Passover and Hanukkah. My grandma would take me shopping to buy matzo to hide for the afikoman on Passover and try to find all the ingredients and components needed for the Seder plate, almost like it was a scavenger hunt. My grandma taught me to not only cook traditional Jewish foods, but also has taught me about Jewish culture and the different types of holidays, and what they mean to her and her family.

Growing up in not only a bicultural, but also a mixed religion family has given me a lot of insight into everyday life, and the world as a whole. I believe that I can easily associate myself with lots of different people because I have learned so much about diversity and religious tolerance as I have grown up. When I was younger, it was all about the fact that I got double the presents during Holiday season, and how cool that sounded to all of the other kids in class, but as I mature, it means something more. It’s fascinating that I get to associate myself with both Christianity and Judaism because I can more easily relate myself to other people and have developed a strong understanding of both faiths, as I have attended a Catholic school.

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To celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah, we light the menorah and decorate the Christmas tree with the Star of David on top.

For 6 years now, I have gone to Japanese school every Saturday, learning how to read, write, talk, and hear the language. I am now 14 years old, and can almost speak fluently, listen to others, write essays, but also read them in Japanese, something I take great pride in. From first glance, no one would expect me to be Japanese, let alone speak it, but when I do so in front of people, they are blown away and amazed. It’s always nice to surprise people.

Being half Japanese has given me the chance to travel to Japan many times and visit many historical Japanese sites, go out and practice what I have actively been learning in school, become immersed in the culture, but most importantly, communicate with my loving grandparents.

I’ve loved the way I’ve grown up. My linguistic experiences have made me unique amongst kids my age, my cultural experience has made me who I am, and my family has made me whom I aspire to be.

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