Originally appeared on The Race Project
Growing up, my favourite fictional character was Harry Potter. The series’ messages of friendship, the magical and expansive world, and the enchanting story all captured my imagination and taught me a lot of life lessons growing up. I remember every summer from when I was 11 until I was 17 I read the entire series — taking note each time I arrived at the book where Harry was the same age as me. As I got older, I realized one of the reasons that I identified so strongly with the series was because Harry Potter was a Half-Blood.
With an Asian mother from Japan and a Caucasian father from Ontario, I was raised with a mixed heritage. When I was very young, it didn’t mean much to me. I wasn’t conscious of my appearance or how I looked different from both sides of my family. The two worlds were the same before other people filled them in with different colours.
People started pointing out how strange it was to see a boy who didn’t look Asian with Japanese grandparents. They would always think I was adopted when I spent time out in public with my white father. I remember being embarrassed when I started eating Japanese food on the hockey bus and everyone would start teasing me.
Everywhere I would go, people would question my identity — either putting their own labels on me or not believing me when I told them I was part Japanese. There were times when I wished I was whiter and then there were also times where I wished I was more Asian. I began to find difficulty in trying to fit in with both sides of my family. I felt like an outsider everywhere I went.
As a little kid who loved fictional heroes, I remember I wanted to look more like Superman when I watched the Christopher Reeves movies, but then I also wanted to look more like the Ultraman characters when I would watch the classic Japanese action series. When I first read Harry Potter when I was 11, though, it was the first time I encountered a fictional character that I really identified with. Harry had a mother who was a Muggle and a father who was a Pure-Blood. He was a Half-Blood — like me! As a little kid growing up, discovering Harry Potter was one of the best things ever — not just because it was a great series but also because it gave me someone with a mixed background to look up too.
I started to understand that living in these two different worlds wasn’t something to wish away or to hide or pretend didn’t exist. It was something to embrace. I could laugh off people’s comments or simply explain my background. It was actually a very wonderful thing to spend my childhood watching Japanese cartoons and animated films like Spirited Away on Saturday mornings with my grandparents while tuning in to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights with my dad. I was proud to grow up in a household filled with the aroma of Japanese food on a regular basis and I was proud to be able to have deep bonds with my cousins on my dad’s side and my cousins on my mom’s side.
Although they looked different, had different foods, spoke different languages, and did some things differently — I started to realize that the two worlds really weren’t that different from each other. I realized that the love that my dad’s family shared was the same love that my mom’s family shared. Love was the bridge between all of them. Even though the worlds may have seemed so different at first, the connections I had with both were the same. And I could fit easily into both.
In later readings of Harry Potter, the idea of Harry’s greatest power being love and the emphasis on love throughout the series rung so much more strongly with me. Love was the link between both the Muggle world and the Wizarding world and between Harry and his friends. And I think that love shared between friends and family, regardless of culture or background, is the link between all of us.
Recently I was in Paris, France and went to the gardens at UNESCO. I was with a friend and he gestured to a massive bench made from the trunk of a tree in the garden. He said the tree was a gift from the Canadians. In front of the bench was a beautiful garden filled with Japanese plants and art. The garden was a gift from the Japanese. As I sat on the Canadian bench looking at the Japanese garden, I remember welling up with emotion. I was prouder than ever to be a part of the two worlds and families that had shaped me. And I was even more proud to be from a place where I had the freedom to celebrate both sides of my identity. I felt like I belonged.