August 15, 2012

Valerie White

Lived in Japan and the USA

I was 40 years old before I understood why I answered the “Where are you from?” question with “My dad was a fighter pilot in the Air Force so we moved a lot.  I went to three third grades, and the third one was in Japan.”  Sure, that was correct, but who introduces themselves by talking about what their dad does in the first few sentences?  A TCK might.  I do.

My dad was already in Japan by the time my mom packed up the house and moved us from New York as well.  That seemed normal to me in early 1961, but now I know that that was not what the majority of other American kids experienced.  We moved a few weeks before my ninth birthday and I remember my biggest worry was whether I’d know my new classmates well enough for them to come to my birthday party.  And back then, when you flew over the Golden Gate Bridge to points East, you really were stepping into a whole new world because family, friends, your country–the familiar–were left far behind. Welcome to powdered milk from the base commissary, earthquakes, and the extraordinary people of Misawa, northern Japan.  Home.

I loved Japan, and I’m proud it’s such a big part of who I am. Being dropped into such a different culture at an early age had lasting effects, in a good way.  Returning to the US (Southern California, another new world!) brought a few adjustment challenges, as our cousins had to show us how to act like US American teenagers, which involved learning the words to Motown and Beach Boys songs, dance moves, and other things at the center of pop culture and a teenager’s world then.  

It was tough to leave Japan, and there was so much I missed.  I still do.  And I strongly suspect it’s why I was so drawn to study cultural perspectives.  It also accounts for my strong itch to travel and try new things, because that’s what feels familiar.

My father’s family was from Barbados, my mother’s from generations of Massachusetts folk.  I was born in Massachusetts, too.  I’ve lived in the Northwest for a few decades, and raised my children here.

Where am I from?  That depends…