I was born in Kobe. My mother is Japanese and my father is British. Apart from my early childhood which I spent living between the wild mountains of Nunobiki and the bustling metropolis of Osaka, I grew up in England. I have a British passport, English is my first language, I went to school in England, I call Britain ‘home’ – I am British. I feel British. For the most part, ‘White Passing’ is an accurate description of my mixed race identity. My whiteness allows me to move in and out of white spaces without most people even batting an eyelid. And with that I have access to certain white privileges. But there’s still something that makes me feel uncomfortable in Britain. I’m not fully white and I can tell that many of the people around me don’t quite think so either. Maybe it’s the calculating eye contact that lasts just a little too long. Maybe it’s the incessant interrogation about ‘where I’m really from’. Or perhaps it’s the occasional sexualisation and fetishisation of being ‘exotic’. These gestures all point to the fact that some people just can’t work out what I am. And for them, it seems to be enough to justify the de-legitimisation of calling Britain my home.
I cling to the dream of one day being able to call here, there or anywhere my home. In many ways, this is what I expect each time I return to Osaka to visit my grandparents. I anticipate an erasure of all this uncertainty: a feeling of contentment – of belonging. Yet I still cannot help but question my selfhood through every breath I take. Eyes lingering, heads turning, ‘what is she?’. I find myself constantly assuming what the people around me make of me. I feel a self-crippling, self-consuming kind of self-consciousness. A surging desire to prove that I am Japanese. I don’t feel concrete. I don’t feel real. And in this attempt to feel visible, I have made myself invisible. My understanding of home ceases to exist.
In early 2018 I legally changed my name in Britain. I exchanged my father’s Irish surname for my mother’s Japanese maiden name and just like that, Finnamore became Watanabe. Although a family dispute had initially spurred me to make this decision, I can’t deny that part of me was determined that changing my name could convince myself (and those around me) of my own identity. By labelling my half-British, half-Japanese self with a half-British, half-Japanese name, I thought I might be understood. I thought I might understand. I thought I might, finally, exist.
After all of this, I am still the same. I continue – and will continue – to occupy this same liminal space between acceptance and rejection, known and unknown. Yet I find myself unconvinced of my own identity, my own home. I have internalised those glaring eyes and regurgitated them into self-doubt and anxiety.
I can only hope that one day I will be able to move freely between British and Japanese identities whilst accepting that at times I am ‘more’ White Passing, at other times I feel more Japanese, and sometimes I am just there, being. Nevertheless, existing. Home is not here, there or anywhere. Home is in me. Home is in my body. And coming home means coming back to my body. To breathing, to existing, to oscillating to and from.