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Growing up Japanese-American in a time of Islamophobia

Sophia Stephens.
Courtesy of Sophia Stephens via Youth Radio
Sophia Stephens.

Recently, my mother sent a picture of our traditional Hinamatsuridolls.

In the past, my sister and I helped her unpack each doll – about 16 in total – and arrange them on a precarious platform in our living room.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Emperor and empress Hinamatsuri dolls in Sophia Stephens' childhood home. ", "fid": "133995", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201702/20170209-SophiaStephens_DollsPhoto.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy Sophia Stephens via Youth Radio"}]]This time, it was just the emperor and empress sitting on top of the family piano.

The picture was gorgeous, but something felt wrong. I quickly realized that it embodied how it felt growing up Japanese American: beautiful but abbreviated.

We are allowed to be here, but the way I’m treated sometimes keeps me in a state of doubt. The slights are big and small – from the smirk of disgust from the cashier at Safeway as I buy daikon, miso paste and other Japanese foods, to men leering at me as they guess “what” I am because of my “exotic” appearance. Sometimes racism feels like death by a million paper cuts, other times like being hacked by a machete.

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