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{See footnote for identity terms used}

The month of May held a lot of things, so it wasn't until its very end, that I was able to carve out some time and space to treat myself to a little solo retreat to celebrate AANHPI Heritage Month. I started to set up in the studio, but found myself drawn back to our bedroom, where a warm and friendly light was streaming in from the window to land on the comforter (what a perfect word for such a thing). Large, paper-thin green leaves fluttered from the boughs outside, and it felt so peaceful and inspiring.

I gathered up the beginnings of a collage I'd started last month during our Bits & Pieces retreat, a box of embroidery thread and needles, and a pair of scissors. I laid everything out on the bed as Nadia (my calico tabby cat more commonly known as Mimo) hopped up to join me, curling up for an afternoon nap and completing the cozy scene.

There are things I’m still learning to recognize and articulate about my identity. I sometimes wonder where my Japanese side ends and my whiteness begins or question where I fit, but I'm exploring the blend that is me- the both/and, not either/or. 😊

I’m nurturing my Japanese identity and culture, learning more of my heritage and family history, and noticing how my diverse socializations weave into my personhood, how I understand myself, and engage with the world.

With this collage, I'm exploring my mixed-race, Nikkei hapa identity.

My mom is Japanese American and my dad's white American with English and Scottish roots. I identify as hapa, half-Japanese American, and Nikkei American. I'm also comfortable with 'mixed-race' and 'multi-racial' terms. 'Hapa' is a Hawai'ian word that means 'half', but over time has come to mean 'part', and refers to anyone of partial AAPI descent. 'Nikkei' is a term with multiple definitions, one of which is a person of mixed-race, Japanese descent, and refers to the diaspora living all over the world.

Being hapa brings with it both things that I love and are meaningful as well as challenging experiences that can be isolating or confusing. But in celebrating AAPI Heritage Month, I'm focusing my attention on some of the aspects that bring me joy and celebrate a sense of delight in my Japanese culture, heritage, and community.

Being hapa means that I'm both/and, not either/or, and the stitches represent a constant awareness that I come from two diverse socializations. Meeting in the middle and crossing over each other, they’re intertwined. And though each is distinct in appearance, culture, and history, they blend together in a way that can't be picked apart into tidy fractions or percentages. Being hapa is to be a blend.

The translucent window reminds me that things aren't always fully transparent or clearly defined when it comes to my identity, but it means seeing things through multiple lenses and from different angles, and I think there's something beautiful in that.

Growing up with two diverse socializations, I was introduced to multiple ways of thinking and doing by observing the different behaviors, perspectives, communication styles, thought processes, traditions, and unspoken rules represented in each side of my family.

This taught me that things can be interpreted and expressed in different ways depending on where we are standing and what experiences or history we carry. Though it can be challenging to navigate how to move with multiple signals and ingrained routes, I'll always appreciate learning early on that there's always more than one way.

Resonating with different aspects of each culture and knowing it's not possible to fully take on everything from either, I know that it's through the decisions I make and actions I take that I choose who and how I want to be. And for me, that is a mix- a blend of both, just like me.

The creases are inspired by the folds of origami and how each fold brings new dimension and is a unique part of making up the whole.

Being Japanese American brings so many endearing joys to my everydays- in the flavors that feel like home, Japanese words and phrases intermingling with English, nuanced experiences my hapa siblings and cousins understand without explanation, family memories and stories, Yamamoto game nights and watching Star Wars in the theatre all together, and the joy of Grandma Misako’s yakisoba and Japanese potato salad at holidays.

And something else I’ve come to recognize is the many ways my Nikkei roots inspire and inform my art. I’m always searching for the delicate, yet balanced detail of shape, texture, color, and space that’s reflected in my work. There’s my love of paper and pattern, and of nature and gently growing things. I look for the poetry in the smallest of moments, and there’s care taken in working small with intention and precision. These things are the heart of all that I illustrate, design, paint, make, and write. Happy happy AAPI Heritage Month! Celebrating our beautifully diverse cultures, traditions, and histories today and everyday! 💛

♡ Kimberly Kuniko

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t e r m s

AAPI Asian American and Pacific Islander

biracial, multiracial, mixed-race, multiethnic, polyethnic Terms for people of more than one race or ethnicity. Preferred terms differ from person to person, so good practice is to always ask how that person identifies.

hapa A Hawai'ian word that means 'half'. Over time, the word has come to mean 'part' and refers to anyone of partial AAPI descent.

Nikkei A term that has multiple and diverse definitions depending on racial identity and community. One of these definitions is being a person of mixed-race, Japanese descent and can refer to the diaspora of people of Japanese descent living all over the world.


Words, Art + Photography by

© Kimberly 國子Taylor-Pestell


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Welcome to the personal blog of of Kimberly Kuniko, a Nikkei American illustrator, collage artist, poet, and host of cozy, virtual guided creative retreats with a new theme each month.

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