“I listen and gather people’s stories. Then I write them down in a way that I hope will communicate something to others, so that seeing these stories will give readers something of value. I tell myself that this isn’t going to be done unless I do it, just because of who I am. It’s a way of making my mark, leaving something behind … not that I’m planning on going anywhere right now.”
So explains Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu in “When Half Is Whole,” a touching, introspective, and insightful examination of mixed-race Asian American experiences. The son of an Irish American father and Japanese mother, he uses his personal journey of identity exploration and discovery of his diverse roots to illuminate the journeys of others.
Throughout the book, his reflections are interspersed among portraits of persons of biracial and mixed ethnicity and accounts of their efforts to answer a seemingly simple question: Who am I?
Here we meet Norma, raised in postwar Japan, the daughter of a Japanese woman and an American serviceman, who struggled to make sense of her ethnic heritage and national belonging.
We also encounter Rudy, a “Mexipino”; Marshall, a “Jewish, adopted Korean”; Mitzi, a “Blackinawan”; and other extraordinary people who find how connecting to all parts of themselves also connects them to others.
With its attention on people who have been regarded as “half” this or “half” that throughout their lives, these stories make vivid the process of becoming whole.
Born in occupied Japan, Murphy-Shigematsu (www.murphyshigematsu.com) was raised in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard University before returning to Japan as a Fulbright scholar in Okinawa and becoming professor at the University of Tokyo. He now teaches at Stanford University and Fielding Graduate University.
“My life continues to be between Japan and the United States, using the gifts of my heritage, life experience, and education to enhance understanding of identities and human relations in the borderlands of race, sex, and nation,” he said. “My own life crossing borders and balancing East and West serves as the central resource in my work of research, writing, teaching, and counseling.”
Murphy-Shigematsu will discuss his book on Saturday, June 28, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. (at First Street) in Little Tokyo. The book is available at the Museum Store. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.