I imagine Hana is shoe-less in her New York flat, wearing a floor-length white dress and pan-frying tempeh for lunch. Although I can’t see her to confirm, I can’t imagine it any other way.
Hana and I are on a phone call, catching up. We’re in similar life stages. Both 23, moving, and constantly cooking tempeh.
Hana has just started design school at Parsons in New York City. She is part American, part Japanese, full vegan, and completely radiant. Her power comes from her presence; her edges make her human. Although she doesn’t consider herself an artist, I can think of no better word to describe how she goes about her life. To think that anyone could see this human as anything less than pure beauty is unimaginable.
All quotation marks indicate that this is Hana’s voice, unless specified.
“I remember being told, ‘You’re really beautiful for an Asian chick.’
“Okay, so am I something less than what you are [a white male] because I am part Asian? And now I have a dialogue [in my head] that I am less beautiful because I am different.”
Instead of negating her differences, however, Hana made the choice to embrace them. She has spent the past four years traveling around the world. And she’s been to Japan several times, as her mother was born there and she has a lot of family there.
“Japan functions on a collective level. It is all about, ‘How can I fit into the norm?’ That is how people are raised, ‘How do I fit into my family as a group?’
“And my immediate thought was, ‘This is wrong. We are individuals, that is what is beautiful. I make my own decisions and I am responsible for myself.’ But individualism takes away from working on a group level. Magic comes out of working on a group level. In Japanese culture, you feed into the group level so that everyone can work together.
“For example, me as an individual, I did not come up with language. Every single part of my vocabulary comes from other people. By extension, none of these thoughts are my own thoughts. I have adopted and evolved into it all. There is no adoption without exposure.”
“In Japanese collectivism and group culture, there is a lack of individualism. What that means for somebody like my mom, who was more explorative, is that she didn’t feel like she fit in. She didn’t want to fit the exact Japanese beauty standards or success norms. In Japan, from my understanding, there was little to no room for that exploration. There are outside thinkers and artists, of course, but compared to the US, there are none.
“So, when my mom came to the US, she had a platform to explore herself.
“But it also bred into a lot of loneliness.“
A Platform–At A Cost
“You see people doing everything in the US. We have an awesome platform to expand and grow and do whatever we want. We explore our ways of thinking and word use and how we dress ourselves. And we explore lifestyles: from vans to tiny houses to mansions to living on the streets. There’s an incredible contrast in how people live in the US.
“In Japan, their town house is the idea of the American white picket fence. Our generation [in the US] talks about this being horrifying. In Japan, it’s the right thing to do. It’s something that is beautiful because now you have more room to connect on a higher level and a bigger scale. [They say], ‘Wow, I am apart of something that is so much bigger. I am doing a small thing that feeds into the collective, so I know I matter.’
“In the US, if I don’t succeed on my own. Then I don’t succeed at all.
“Yet, in America, it is beautiful that we can be so expressive.
“Japanese collectivism culture gives you security in your place in life. You are being a part of something outside of yourself. This is something we all strive for [as humans].
“Because of this, I see why mental health issues are so high in the US. [We lack that connection].”
There is a pause in our conversation, a slight regroup as we both absorb what was just said. After an audibly deep breath, she continues.
“We are such a melting pot in the US that it is difficult to find roots within the day-to-day. There are not a lot of quick connection points. Instead, we feel this need to differentiate, rather than blend together. I think this is why people hold onto their heritage and cultural backgrounds so strongly. It is the only culture that they connect with because we are not given one as an American. There is ‘southern culture’, which can be called ‘true American culture’. But I don’t know many people that identify with that. Therefore, we just hold onto our parent’s or grandparent’s backgrounds.”
“Or, you can create your own. Maybe, this is why something as simple as what you wear makes us feel like we are understood.”
On the topic of being understood, Hana and I are currently living in New York and San Francisco, two hot beds of the gender identification/pronoun movement.
“It’s interesting because we are trying to be so progressive. But it’s like walking on egg shells because there is no space to be wrong. Anything that I say is ‘incorrect’, instead of being guided towards a more positive and empathetic direction. There are a hard set of rules that people need to follow or else they are ostracized. It’s the opposite of empowering. It is social prison.
“And it feeds into the individualist stand point. Yelling at or suing people instead of talking and helping each other. People are trying to protect themselves, not help each other grow and improve.
“And it got me thinking, ‘What is gender identification, and how do we all take a stand and respect people’s freedoms and how they want to identify?’
“Because some people get mad, truly mad, if you use the wrong pronoun. It brings up a red flag [to me]. How we are going about this? How can we still respect people’s wishes, yet not be so accommodating to sensitivities that we are no longer growing [because we are too afraid to be wrong and make someone angry]? How can we do something that is progressive, or solve a true issue, if we are so suffocated by being sensitive [or politically correct]?
Sensitivity As Beautiful
“Don’t get me wrong, I think sensitivity is beautiful. It is what brings in empathy, connection, and understanding. And THAT is ultimately what all of us want; that feeling of connection.
“Yet this sensitivity of being so particular about what people say and do, it is creating chaos rather than doing good.”
She adds a disclaimer, ” I am not saying of this as a fact. It is a brain storm, of course.
“It does feel different with the younger generation—I am 23 and I am at school with people who were born in the year 2000s. It isn’t a big age gap, but just within those 4 years, there is a huge difference between how we treat social interactions.
“When you and I were in middle school, we were calling each other gay on the playground and running away laughing. And by high school, we started to evolve and become more considerate. We grew socially, and we weren’t ostracized or attacked for being wrong. We were slowly taught a better way.
“And I get why it is so serious. We do not use certain words because they are tightly affiliated with tragedies and sufferings. To not use certain words, it makes sense. We are trying to move on and create a new future. I understand the correction because we are changing [and shaping] the future—which is an amazing thing. The sensitivity that comes along with it—
“I am just trying to understand the balance. Maybe it is the right thing to do—to be so intense with the correction—but I am just putting attention to the idea that it also might not be.
I chime in, “We shouldn’t just act without any questioning.”
Hana: “Definitely stand up for what you believe in. But make sure we are giving each other enough room to voice our opinions for what we believe to be right.
The Culture Of Wrong
“The dominating culture of only speaking up when people are wrong…. It all just feels very imbalanced. There was the hippie culture of loving everything. But now we have a domineering culture of shaming people.”
Hana, “My question is: are we going to put people in social prison for their whole life? Or are we going to look at people for their ability to take ownership for what they have done wrong and how they have grown? I think ownership should count. We should put more attention onto it as a collective group of thinkers—of lifting each other up.
“This is in the whole counter culture of self-help. I mean, who knows what is legit and what is not [with self-help]. But at the center of mainstream culture, it feels like we do not truly want to explore self-growth.
“We get settled in our ways of being and we think, ‘This is enough.’ Then, we put it on other people and say that they are doing something wrong, instead of saying, ‘Hey, there is room for me to grow, too.’
“But if we as individuals take a step back, we would realize that we are a collective.”
The Collective v. The Individual
“All these social obligations- of looking and acting in a certain way, branding ourselves in a certain way. It’s not truly real. It is man-made, and it actually takes away from self-expression [to embrace all these labels]. It is more of a reflection of what we’ve been taught and exposed to. And even if you or I are not doing this, if people around us are doing it, then we all lose.
“I typically operate on an individual level– It is not something I am particularly proud of, but I can’t deny that I do it. But I am trying to implement this into my life:
“If you win, I win.
“It sets us up for a more empathetic and giving mentality. Individual accomplishment is nice, but collective accomplishment allows for far greater connection. You can share it with other people. And lot of our most valuable memories are with other people.
“My most valuable memories are when I really, deeply connected with someone. I found deeper connections that I thought possible.”
“I have a question for those of us that are so scrutinizing to the people we deem to be incorrect:
“Is that enabling greater connection? Or is it stopping it?
“Do you feel like you are being fully expressive and beautiful in that moment that you are correcting someone?
“Or do you feel like it is your own obligation to correct them?”
At the end our conversation, I feel elated. Hana feels it too.
“Sydney, do you feel beautiful right now?”
Hell ya, Hana
And we both agree:
Connection is beautiful
And connection is a choice