By Linda Smith
My maternal grandparents were born in Mexico, and in some ways, they couldn’t look more different. My grandfather has a tan complexion, while my grandmother has fairer skin. Between their six children, they each passed on these different complexions and propensities to tan. Their youngest child, my mother, inherited the darker skin color. While it allows her to jokingly say, “People pay lots of money to be this shade of brown,” she has been the subject of discrimination over the years.
She once stepped into a gas station in Texas and was immediately asked by the clerk, without an attempt at an accent, “Necesitas algo?” which translates to “Do you need something?” She answered back in English and he became flustered, telling her she just looked like she might not know English.
To see things like this happen at a small level, I found myself slightly surprised when I recently heard of the backlash over the latest Miss Universe Japan winner. Ariana Miyamoto is half-Japanese and half-African-American, and is a Japanese citizen born and raised in Nagasaki. She is fluent in Japanese and can write and read Japanese calligraphy.
Miyamoto is the first biracial winner of the competition, but many in Japan do not believe that a “hafu,” or half-Japanese person, should have won the crown. Some dissenters took to Twitter, posting such criticisms as “Is it okay to select a hafu to represent Japan?” and “She has too much black blood in her to be Japanese.”
Miyamoto has faced discrimination her whole life; as a child, her full-Japanese classmates did not want to use the same pool as her, and when visiting stores in Tokyo, where she now lives, she is addressed in English even if she responds in Japanese. Miyamoto said these prejudices were one reason for entering the competition.
At the same time, there is progress that can be seen in this situation, because Miyamoto did enter, and she won. A Bloomberg Business article entitled “Beauty Queen Wants Japan to Open Minds and Borders” reported that a Miss Universe Japan spokeswoman said “criticism ‘is to be expected’ because perceptions of attractiveness are subjective. She said the winner should possess ‘a beauty that is fitting to represent Japan,’ but whether she should represent ‘traditional standards’ of Japanese beauty is up to the individual judges.”
The confidence of Miyamoto shone through the entire process, from her decision to enter to when she beat 43 competitors for the crown and the chance to represent her home country in the January 2016 Miss Universe competition. She also shared an inspirational thought on identity in the Bloomberg article: “‘If people say they are Japanese, that’s enough to make them Japanese in my opinion,’ she said. ‘It’s not a question of what they look like, it’s what’s in their hearts.’”
Because of her experiences before and after the competition, she seeks use her ambassadorial role to help others.
“‘I want to use my involvement in Miss Universe to travel to other countries and talk to people who have experienced the same things I have,’ she said. ‘I hope to be able to give them courage.’” Her sentiments are as beautiful as she is, as is her dedication and loyalty to the country and culture she fully belongs to.