A story for a Moth evening (that I didn't perform...)

The unintentional disguise I don is the mask of racial ambiguity.

Particularly if you don't hear my name, pronounced with the proper Japanese inflection (Noriko Nakada desu. Hajimemashite) then the chances of correctly identifying my half-Japanese ancestry diminish drastically.

See me walk down the street here in LA and you might assume I'm Latina; speak to me in Espanol. Or maybe you'll read my name, assume my identity, then meet me in person and struggle to reconcile the name and the face.

But it isn't only strangers who ask, "What are you?" Growing up multiracial I struggled with my own identity issues. Born and raised in small-town, Oregon, the only half-Japanese family in town, we were accepted as one of their own, just another rural, middle-class white family. The closer we were to the Kah Nee Tah reservation the more likely people were to assume we were Native American but for the most part people ignored our foreign look, name and culture.

I couldn't shed my subtle Asian features even though I shortened my name to Nori, spelled like seaweed (Nodi) but pronounced Nori, like Lori but with an N. I pretended I was like everyone else even though my "exotic" look set me apart.

In the summer we'd drive to Los Angeles to visit family. We'd go to Disneyland or eat sushi with Dad's side and around my full Japanese cousins with their shiny, black, straight hair woven into thick braids I hated my fine brown hair and honey-colored eyes. With Mom's side of the family we'd drive from the valley to Zuma Beach and in that world of sand and sea, blonde hair and blue eyes I couldn't believe I was related to them at all.

A few years after moving away from that small town I traveled to Hawaii for the first time. You know how every year there is one Halloween costume everyone wears, the year everyone is a pirate, or a princess, a vampire or a witch. In Hawaii, my disguise was just like everyone else's. Instead of my identity setting me apart, being Hapa meant I belonged.

"Howzit?" a local asked as I browsed through ukeles and plastic leis. "You playing one tourist today?"

I looked at the woman behind the display of puka shell necklaces and paused. If I kept quiet I could stay in costume, just a local girl stopping by the gift shop. Open my mouth, release my mainland accent without a hint of pidgin and my real identity would be revealed.

"Oh, I just visiting," I said trying to mimic the rhythm of the locals.

"Ha! I thought you one local," the woman said with a smile. "Shua look like one."

After years spent wishing I could shed my disguise, in Hawaii I saw another possibility. If I'd lived in the islands since small kid time I could fit in here, fo' shua, no act, local style, brah. I suddenly saw how banana I was, yellow on the outside, but white inside the peel.

It's taken years, a few more trips to Hawaii, countless questions, explanations, and looks I've learned to ignore in order for me to figure it out: I'm not Latina or Native American or Alaskan Eskimo. I'm not white, not Japanese, and not Hapa from Hawaii.

I don't fit neatly into one of those boxes used to make sense of a complicated world.

The disguise isn't about me. It's about how you perceive me because this is no disguise. This is me and I have no choice but to keep the world guessing.


Being There: September 18, 2006

My husband, David, and I fell in love watching the Dodgers. Soon after we met, we found we shared a history in Fernando's no-hitter and Kirk Gibson's post-season homerun. But the problem with being a Dodger fan is that they'll break your heart. They blow 11-game leads to lose pennant races. They move to LA from New York leaving devastated Brooklyn fans behind. They trade away your favorite players. So on this warm September night, with the Dodger's tied for the National League West Lead, David and I drive through the streets of Chavez Ravine hoping for a win, but we know our team can and will break your heart.

We take our seats high in the reserve level, finish up our hot dogs and garlic fries as the sun sets behind us sending streaks of red and purple across the darkening sky and shake our heads as the Padres score four runs in the top of the first.

Our disappointment is familiar. The Dodgers have been struggling at the plate and it seems unlikely that our boys in blue will be able to make up the deficit.

But as we crack into our bag of peanuts, the Dodgers chip away at the Padre lead and by the end of the fourth the scoreboard shines from the dark sky: Padres 4, Dodgers 4.

The pitchers for both teams settle for several innings but in the top of the eighth, the Padres score two. It's nearly 9:00 and I'm tired. I've had a long day at work and wonder if just this once David would be willing to leave early. But the Dodgers need this win to stay at the top of the division so I don't even ask. The Dodgers get one run back in the bottom but in the ninth the Padres score another three.

"Bye, bye Dodger fans," David says as fair-weather-fans stream out of Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers come up in the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-5, and even when Jeff Kent sends a homer out to center, I cheer, but don't get too excited. We're still down three.

JD Drew comes up next and when he homers, David and I stand and cheer. After all, back-to-back homeruns are rare, but it's still a two-run game.

Russell Martin steps to the plate and the instant we hear the crack of the bat, our cheers explode into the night. Back-to-back-to-back homeruns? No way.

But the Dodgers are still losing. It would be crazy to hope for another homerun, but Marlon Anderson grants the wish none of us could imagine tying the score.

David and I sit back down, in awe, but the Dodgers make consecutive outs to end the inning and we're going into extras.

It would be a shame to lose a game like this, but the Padres aren't done. They score a go-ahead run in the tenth forcing the Dodgers to perform again.

I look up at the line-up on the scoreboard. Lofton and then Garciaparra. Garciaparra. If Lofton could just get on, Garciaparra might be able to do it just like he has so many times this season. A little hope sneaks in and I pray the Dodgers won't let me down.

Lofton does his job with a walk and Garciaparra walks toward home plate. David and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder and hope. For all the games we'd seen this season, last season and the season before that, we hope.

"Come on, Nomar," I whisper beneath my breath as Nomar fidgets with his batting gloves, and taps his toes in the batter's box. He leans back, there’s the pitch and the swing.

I leap with that ball as it flies off his bat and into the night and we jump up and down just like Nomar does out of the box.

The Dodgers win. The crowd, or what's left, of it goes wild and the Dodger players welcome Nomar at home plate.

Tonight, being there was everything. And tonight, even though it was just for one Dodger night, believing didn't break my heart.