Being mixed Japanese in Central Asia (Part 1)

What is like being mixed Japanese (Amerasian / Haafu) in Kazakhstan

Being mixed Japanese in Central Asia (Part 1)
The author, Kevin Miller Matsunaga, is with his Kazakh host sisters in Karatau, Kazakhstan (1999).

This post is a continuation of my last On Being Mixed article posted three weeks ago.

The majority of links in this article refer to my Central Asian website, Learn more about my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer at this website. The below article will focus more on my experience as a mixed Japanese in Kazakhstan.

My two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan (1997-1999) was the first time in my life that I lived in a multiracial and diverse environment where the people "looked like me." Being mixed started to have a different meaning for me. In Kazakhstan, most people were mixed in one way or another.

I lived with a Kazakh host family in the southern Kazakh town called Karatau (Qaratau). I consider it one of the most memorable experiences in my life. I still keep in contact with my host family.

Being mixed Japanese in Kazakhstan

I will start with the experience I had in Karatau. I visited the local marketplace to say goodbye to the vendor where I always bought my Coca-Cola and cookies the last two years.

I preferred this Kazakh vendor since meeting her about a year before. I arrived one day and realized that I had forgotten my money at home. The vendor told me not to worry since she would credit the amount for me. I never forgot this moment. I thought it was strange that she would advance this credit system to an American when she knew I had the money.

So before I departed from Karatau, I wanted to say goodbye to this vendor. I told her I was returning to the US the upcoming week. I remember her asking me why I was going to the US. I told her I was  American.

She realized, then, for the first time, that I was an American, not Kazakh.

This experience was quite normal for me during my two years in Kazakhstan. People I met in Kazakhstan assumed I was either Kazakh or Turkic. Of course, it helps that I am mixed Japanese living with a Kazakh host family. I also spoke Kazakh that further "disguised" my American nationality.

In my next blog entry, I will post an article about learning Kazakh and how it helped me fit into a multicultural country.

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