Invisible Identities: When the Person Before You is Not Exactly What they Seem
I must admit, I paused when I got a resume from Braidan, a cheerful and well-mannered graduate student in our MA Journalism Program at Hofstra University. I’d never hired a white male research assistant before. None had ever applied.
But I could see that Braidan was different. He was an amiable, tattooed dude from my home state of California; a self-described member of the “surfer-slash-football” crowd at Santa Cruz High School. I knew something about the eclectic vibe of Santa Cruz, having received my Ph.D. from the University of California there. I could easily picture Braidan’s high school, which he said was so diverse that even the Norteños gang members were a mix of Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos, and Polynesians.
He nodded enthusiastically as I told him about the reporting I was doing on multiracial millennials, and what would be expected from him as a graduate researcher.
“That’s so interesting, he said, smiling.
Then he hit me with this.
“Because…I mean, I guess you could say I’m mixed-race too.”
I stared at him more closely.
“My father is half Japanese.”
Of course. The instant the words came out of his mouth I saw it.
As we chatted, he pushed back his shirt sleeve to reveal a tattoo across his biceps. He’d gotten it at 17, he said, just before leaving the West Coast for college in New York. He and his then 20-year-old brother and their father went together, the three of them permanently imprinting an Irish symbol of loyalty, family and integrity onto their bodies.
The image, a Claddagh, was from his mother’s side of the family, he said. But the men in Braidan’s family had switched it up, replacing the heart in the middle with a Japanese crest — a nod to his grandmother’s maiden name, Takahashi, and a circle with a flower, to represent his father, so that both sides were represented. Just as in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment on Long Island, Braidan had hung two flags: one Irish and one Japanese.
I learned that his father was born in Nagasaki on a military base, to a Japanese mother and German-Polish father. At ten, Braidan traveled to Japan for the first time, just as his older brother had done at that age, and as his younger sister would later do.