Gosei as an Identity Marker

This post was written by Whitney Nekoba Aragaki.

When asked, “what are you?”, I no longer roll my eyes out of annoyance. Though I used to, I now reply simply with, “gosei.” This reply offers me freedom from others’ quizzical cartography of my facial features, yet reminds me of the responsibility that my cultural experience plays in daily interactions as a high school teacher, mother, and daughter.

When asked, “what are you?”, I no longer roll my eyes out of annoyance. Though I used to, I now reply simply with, “gosei.”

Whitney Nekoba Aragaki

I identify as a cis-female gosei in Hawaiʻi. By ethnic standards, I am of Japanese ancestry. I have contemplated to what extent I liken my culture to Japan or the United States. However, I choose to acknowledge my positionality through time and place because it is equally important to my ancestral geographic land. Gosei, translated from Japanese, means fifth-generation diasporic from Japan. My ancestors left Japan during heights of imperialism and sought refuge on Hawaiʻi Island. I am so grateful for their safe passage, and deeply appreciative of the struggle that continued as they paved a new path that my family and I now traverse today. While I do not denounce my Asian settler privileges, many generations have passed in as much that I have no connection to my ancestral lands in the Western Pacific. Further, my family surname was created on the boat from Honshu Island so as to ascertain a distinct identity and separation from our Japanese lineage. My family’s diaspora from Japan has been long since, yet I acknowledge our (both family and extended cultural community) settler colonialism in Hawaiʻi and am continuing to understand its effects on our community and land. Ideas, outcomes, and privileges that I continue to wrestle with include our pledge of patriotism to the United States and participation in the military during World War II and subsequent foreign wars.

Whitney Nekoba Aragaki near Kīlauea Volcano.

My intersectional identity as a female of Japanese descent also reminds me of the deep-seated settler intonations when I stand at the front of a classroom, knowing that over 25% of all teachers statewide are Japanese, while only 9% of students are. Data are inverted for the Native Hawaiian or Part Hawaiian representation at 10% of teachers and 25% of the total student population. The percent of Asian teachers nationwide pales at 2.1%, suggesting a microcosmic experience of overrepresentation in Hawaiʻi, but retaining an extremely minoritized status in the United States.

However, identity can only exist in dynamic form. Our societal interactions require us to interrogate our own experiences with the ability to reflect ourselves as we live in multiple dimensions of place and time. My articulation of a gosei identity can only thrive with my dual appreciation and problematization of the Japanese experience in Hawai‘i. Will another identity marker be better suited in the future? Hopefully. As we progress towards liberation, may we seek in ourselves identities that are holographic and honor our cartography across place and time, rather than merely a count of the creases of our eyelids or the degree of melanin that is reflected in the sun.

Whitney Nekoba Aragaki is an educator and parent, committed to sustaining ‘āina, community, and their inherent bond. For further exploration inspired by Whitney’s words, here are two podcast episodes she recorded focused around this topic she suggests: Maestro’s Vibe on a sense of place/settler colonialism and On Da Rock on the Japanese American experience.

Sources Referenced:

Spiegelman, M. (2020). Race and Ethnicity of Public School Teachers and Their Students. Data Point. NCES 2020-103. National Center for Education Statistics.

State of Hawaiʻi. (2018) 2017 State of Hawaiʻi Data Book. https://files.hawaii.gov/dbedt/economic/databook/db2017/section03.pdf

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