Multicultural Stereotypes and Politically Incorrect Adolescents

Growing up in a multicultural environment, amidst people with unique backgrounds and varying cultural norms, means that one gets to experience relationships with a myriad of individuals. Most of us grow up among people who look like them and act like they do, and more or less live lives homogenous with those on their same city block. For others, myself included, how we look and act are not necessarily tied with that same bond of cultural peer pressure. The main lesson you learn from a multicultural experience is that people are much more complicated than they look.

I spent my high school years at CAJ, an international school filled with caucasian Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, South-East Asians, Indians, Aussies, Norwegians, and kids from various African countries. Despite our differences, such as whether we had parents who spoke English or not, we had a few things in common - for one, we lived in Japan and spoke English. Most of us spoke more than one language, and conversation that seamlessly integrated multiple languages was commonplace.

Most of us had also spent significant time in another country. Depending on the years spent in which country, the development of a classmate might gravitate towards a culture different from the Japanese culture in which we were all currently immersed. In other words, you couldn’t tell how a classmate was going to talk or act based on how they looked. You had to, at least briefly, interact with them to see what they were about.

For example, a minority on the campus were the American kids who only spoke English. They (probably) had American parents, spoke English fluently, and went out of their way to stay that way. This meant not taking Japanese language courses, eating only American food, paying for American cable television, etc. As a minority they no doubt felt a little self-conscious, as they were often excluded from the bilingual chatter that dominated the international school scene.

These kids were the rare exception where outward appearance meshed with their general behavior - how they talked, acted, dressed, etc. More common were the kids who had mixed identities, or who acted like they belonged in a culture even if they didn’t look the part. People are, of course, much more complicated than one-word labels, but adolescents, given the chance to create labels for each other, will inevitably do so. The following chart attempts to document the labels that I heard during my years as an international school student in Japan.

What You Were on the Outside vs. What You Were on the Inside

Some of these labels are humorous, others possibly offensive, and others might be just plain dumb. Why they are based on food, I don’t know. Most of them are blatant stereotypes but, as the old adage goes, stereotypes are created to mimic reality. And indeed, even in my small social circle, there were individuals who fit these descriptions to a T.

There were the Asian kids who listened to hip-hop and dressed in Phat Farm or FUBU, or the white kids, the Eggs, who spoke mainly in Japanese and followed anime and manga. CAJ, a school founded for missionary kids, was the cheapest international high school in Tokyo, thus spawning the division of Japanese kids, the business kids, whose parents might have cared less about the religious element of the school but still wanted them to have an English education.

My presentation of a neat chart like the one above obviously begs the question, “So, which one are you?” Like most people, I don’t think I fit neatly into one category. I think I’m somewhere in between American and Egg. Being an Egg was something I grew out of as I aged, and the longer I am away from Japan, the less egg-y I get. It’s not a permanent condition, though. Put me with a few other Eggs or a couple of Twinkies and I’ll be right back into it.


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