“My story begins with my grandparents’ journey from Colombia to Chicago in 1966. My grandfather had a well-paying job in Colombia, but decided to leave his comfortable life there to give his children more opportunities in the United States. My family stayed in the U.S. for a decade before returning to Colombia, where the climate was more forgiving and a broad network of family and friends awaited them.
My father and his brother, however, were able to walk away with birthright American citizenship— something that would come to change the course of my father’s entire life. He returned to America when he was 19, joining the U.S. Navy after barely passing the English aptitude test. He was eventually stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, where he met a local lady who would come to be my mother.
I was born in Yokosuka and lived in Japan until I was six. When my father finished his term in the Navy, the three of us moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, so that he could start a career with the degree he’d earned while in service.
We were alone in America, with no Japanese family and few Colombian relatives in the country.
The pressures for my family to assimilate were strong in our first years there. My Japanese self and its development felt thwarted in childhood, when I was ripped away from the culture that I had considered the core of my identity.
A great uneasiness haunted me at the thought of becoming an American, of becoming part of a culture that closed me off when I first entered it. I had accepted my place as an outsider in America, but realizing that I was an outsider in Japan was too much to bear. It was, for lack of a better word, heartbreaking.
I developed an intimacy with Japanese during my youth that I could not let go of. So after my most recent trip to Japan, I decided to give one last push against the forces of my fated Americanization by taking advanced Japanese classes at the University. But this, in turn, brought up another dilemma—of whether or not to continue learning Spanish, the language of my father’s family. I feared the risk of pushing one language out of my brain by learning another. It felt as though I was being forced to choose between the two sides of my family.
Languages became worlds in themselves, bridges to cultures, identities. Thus, I have come to realize that my identity, as my relationship with language, is fluid.”
Watch Natasha’s full story on Immigrant Stories.