Diary of an Anime Lived: Kamina Is My Bro
Sorry, probably not the Kamina who comes to mind for most of you. :p
(This post is part of the Diary of an Anime Lived series.)
RahXephon is a series with the right content that I viewed at the right time in my life. I was still a relative newbie to anime back in 2004 and was still discovering how mature and complex some series could be; Cowboy Bebop – and, to a lesser extent, Trigun – had blown my mind, but RahXephon has stuck with me for six years after my first watch despite it being a notoriously difficult series to crack. And although I love many aspects of the series, it is series protagonist Ayato Kamina who struck the deepest chord within me, and for reasons I haven’t seen elaborated upon much in anything I have read about the series. (Although if someone can point me in the direction of some similar posts after reading this one, I’d definitely appreciate it!)
(Minor spoilers for RahXephon within this post, although there is nothing huge, storywise.)
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on here at some point, but I am multiracial — half-Mexican and half crazy Euromix, which makes me sound like I’m some DJ’s playlist of choice at a shitty rave, but whatever — although I didn’t acknowledge that fact for a good while. It’s not because I hate being multiracial, however. It is more because I was a stunningly naive kid. You know how Stephen Colbert jokes about being colorblind and not seeing black and white? That was me as a kid. My dad is Mexican, and my mom is white, and I didn’t bother to notice this until one of my friends pointed it out to me at school one day.
I don’t remember my exact reaction, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Huh . . . I guess they do look different.” It never occurred to me that the way my parents looked made them any different from other people; I don’t really believe that now, either, but I’m more conscious of the complex subtleties of how my identity, appearance and lifestyle differentiates me from other people, even those who “look” the same as me.
Now, I have been incredibly lucky to have never experienced direct racism targeted at myself in my life, not even once. My hometown is overwhelmingly Mexican, but I’ve also known El Salvadorians, Cubans, Dominicans, etc. There is a sizable Asian population, too: Lots of Filipinos (many of the coolest people I know are Filipinos, actually), Vietnamese, some Koreans, some Chinese . . . ironically enough, I never met anyone of Japanese descent until I got into college. I knew, like, five blacks growing up, and about the same number of white kids. Just about every white person I knew was an adult, actually, haha. Pretty old adults, at that.
There have been a couple of things that have colored (pun not intended) my view of race and racism. The first isn’t too relevant to what I’ll expand upon, but it’s worth sharing, anyway: I said that I haven’t experienced racism directed against myself, but I have seen it in action. A couple of the white kids I knew were bullied throughout middle school and into high school. I can’t claim the bullies were entirely motivated by racism, but at the same time, I saw and heard some fairly cruel things. It opened my eyes: Anyone can be a victim. Hatred doesn’t form in one place, and it is not exclusive to one group of people.
I have no tolerance for the injustices incurred by various peoples in America’s past. But what I also cannot stand is when racial hatred is seized up for, frankly, immoral reasons that insult the people who suffered before us all. I think of the “race card” being irresponsibly pulled left and right, of absurd phrases like “reverse racism” (as if there must exist some special term that differentiates attacks from minorities against whites from run-of-the-mill racism), of people justifying vicious attacks against innocents due to the actions of people long since dead. I’ll never excuse the actions of racists, and I cannot do anything but condemn the horrible conditions in which certain people (such as Native Americans) still suffer. But the hatred that made those conditions possible won’t disappear unless we make it disappear. Our country was once one way; it is up to us to continue making it different. Hauling hatred from generation to generation rather than practically solving problems does nothing for anyone.
To get off that (hopefully not too controversial!) tangent — and to the actual point of this post — the second thing that has colored my view of race is how I view my actual identity. I’ve never experienced racism, but I’d be lying if I wrote that I’d never experienced alienation . . . and what has always struck me about this alienation is that it has never been a result of deliberate actions on the part of people in general, but more a natural result of the way we (the royal we :p) view race, culture and identity.
I’m a multiracial man, but I look like any other dark-skinned Mexican guy you’d see walking down the street. Most people would see me, think of me as a Mexican and that would be that. (Not that this annoys me, or anything, mind; I’m not militant in forcing people to recognize my identity, haha.) So I’ve always been categorized as “Mexican”, even though my upbringing wasn’t really anything like my friends, who were raised more “traditionally”. I don’t know much Spanish (much to my chagrin; I always thought it sounded like a cool language), I’ve been to church maybe twice in my life (this is probably my biggest disconnect with my friends — the Catholic Church is ridiculously strong in Mexican culture, although not all my Hispanic friends were Catholics; one of ‘em was a Mormon, actually) and although I fucking love Mexican cuisine, I mostly ate the same American bullshit everyone else eats. I didn’t know what a Quinceañera was until I took Spanish in high school. I’ve never stepped foot into Mexico in my life (and sure as hell wouldn’t want to go there now).
Basically, I was an outsider to the culture. And to the credit of many of my friends, none of them really gave a shit. We were kids; what the fuck did we care about speaking Spanish to each other, or going to church together or any of that crap? We had basketball, video games and movies. That was enough for us. We all got along fine. But still . . . I couldn’t help but feel as if I didn’t belong when friends would converse in Spanish, or discuss things that went completely over my head or whatever. It didn’t help that while people, in my experience, are mostly nice, there was still this expectation that because I look a certain way, and have a certain lineage, that I must also act a certain way. It was a serious problem for me, because I didn’t believe I had a real identity to call my own — was I Mexican? Was I American? Was I something else entirely? It was easy and convenient enough to mark myself as “Mexican” on state-sponsored standardized tests, but actually labeling myself didn’t feel easy or convenient in any way.
This is where Ayato Kamina and RahXephon came into my life. (“Finally!” I can hear you all sighing!) Back in 2004 — my freshman year in college — I was still pretty damn confused about just who the hell I was. I’d become more accepting of myself as someone of multiracial/multiethnic identity, but I had no clue about how to reconcile all these differences into a cohesive whole (or if it was even possible). This was about the same time I started getting more into anime: I loved Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, as I mentioned before, along with FLCL. This was also the first year I attended Anime Expo (held in Anaheim way back when). A friend of mine whose opinion on anime I basically take as the Word of God recommended RahXephon to me, so I snatched the series up at AX, and fell in love when I watched it.
For those who don’t know the basics: Ayato Kamina is your typical mecha hero — that is, a regular kid. One day a woman, Haruka Shitow, takes Ayato from his home and shows him, to his horror, that the world he has always accepted as real is actually a strange sort of alternate reality (dubbed Tokyo Jupiter) cut off from the outside world by the Mulians, an alien race. Ayato is taken in by TERRA, the military organization that fights the Mulians, because he has a special connection with the godlike mecha, RahXephon, which the Mulians had been storing.
But although Ayato feels betrayed by the world he had accepted as his own, he is not entirely happy in the “real” Earth, either. He is made to feel welcome by some people; however, others do not extend to him the same pleasantries, viewing him simply as a tool in the war, or with genuine hatred. One question constantly hangs over Ayato’s head — could he be a Mulian, or is he really just a human who was raised under the bubble of the Mulian culture? Some people are frightened: They wonder if Ayato will betray them and rejoin the Mulians because he is “one of them”. Others view him with contempt; good, human soldiers died to bring in this boy who may be one of the enemy. Still others are merely distrustful of him — they cannot comprehend how someone raised in the midst of the enemy could be so similar to themselves. A blood test performed on Ayato shows him to be human, but developments later in the series bring the veracity of these blood tests into question.
So, what is Ayato? Is he a human, or is he a Mulian? Does it matter? Does he have a choice? Does his origin dictate his thoughts, his feelings and his actions? Is it OK for him to bear the hatred of others simply because he may be of another, dangerous race?
I had yet to discover multiracial literature, so RahXephon was the first story I had known — and Ayato Kamina the first character — to speak to me so directly, truthfully and painfully. Yes, it was under the guise of Fantastic Racism, and Ayato isn’t really a classic sort of multiracial character (for reasons that would be spoilers), but the basic ideas, themes and emotions of his story struck me at the core. Here was someone who was as confused as I was. He did not know the right thing to do, because there was no easy path for him to take, no simple category into which he could fall. In a world where the two cultural choices were “human” or “Mulian”, Ayato Kamina did not seem to be either, and yet he was both at the same time, and few people seemed to be much interested in allowing him to reconcile this.
Where Ayato’s journey really crests for me is in the middle of the series when he realizes he cannot come to terms with himself as a person without coming to terms with his origin. He was whisked away from his home, and cut off from everyone he knew, and he left a large part of himself back in Tokyo Jupiter. Like it or not, it is something he must acknowledge, so he takes RahXephon and re-enters Tokyo Jupiter, ready to confront the part of himself he had denied, and wanting finally to answer the question of himself and his identity. Is he human? Is he a Mulian? Is it possible to bridge the gap?
The episodes that follow are incredibly emotional, but I won’t describe them . . . suffice to say, the decision — the choice — Ayato finally reaches is incredibly simple — perhaps even obvious — but it is nonetheless a powerful message that has stuck with me since then: When we consider ourselves, it is not where we are born, or others’ ideas of our identity that matters, but who we choose to be that ultimately creates our identity.
This message didn’t solve all my problems or make everything disappear and wrap up in a nice, tidy bow, but it gave me something powerful to consider and an ideal for which to strive. For the first time in my life, I realized that I didn’t have to be boxed in by anyone’s ideas of who I should be, or by anyone’s ideas of what culture I am supposed to fit into. Just because I appear Mexican does not mean I have to conform to anyone’s idea of what a Mexican is supposed to be.
But what has been ultimately much more important and precious to me is the level of understanding that has grown within me since coming to terms with myself; by knowing and appreciating my own identity issues, I see more clearly just how many people outside of myself struggle with these problems. It is not just a multiracial issue by any means — many people within many groups struggle to burst out of molds and be who they are instead of who everyone thinks they are supposed to be.
Look at black men — there are so many clear stereotypes of how they are supposed to think and act that are reinforced from within the culture and outside of it, and so many people are pressured to grow into that stereotype and perpetuate its existence. What happens if a black man tries to educate himself? He gets accused of acting “white”, of being an “Oreo”. A traitor. This is the problem Ayato faced: He couldn’t choose one or the other, because he would be branded a traitor by those he “abandoned”. Black women have it even worse, because the stereotypes surrounding them are even more vicious and hateful, and women have more barriers to breaking free of these stereotypes. But people categorize them nonetheless.
In a serious way, the whole process reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Apu is to be deported. He desperately tries to prove himself as an American by completely changing his identity — wearing the Mets jersey, the oversized cowboy hat and speaking in a ridiculous accent. But it’s just so stupid that he can’t keep up the charade; he can only be himself, and not this absurd version of the regular American Joe. So he decides to be himself and hope for the best with his citizenship exam, and he passes. Apu is an American not because he forces himself to fit into some idea of what a “true” American is, but because wants to be an American and he takes that identity as a part of himself instead of a dominant whole. Apu’s a good man, he works hard and he makes positive contributions to his community. Shouldn’t that be all that is required to be a “real” American?
Getting back to RahXephon, I think, just as Ayato had the strength to turn back and confront the culture he left behind, I eventually realized that even though I still felt a disconnect from that Mexican part of myself, I could not out and out abandon that part of myself entirely. But now it was a part of myself not because it was expected to be, but because I wanted it to be — and what a weight off my shoulders it was to feel that way!
Many of us are proud of our cultures; we take pride in our history, our ancestors and our traditions. And these are undoubtedly important, because we should never shun what has come before us. But I believe what we should take the most pride in is how we take our cultures and add our own life and history to them. Culture should be one aspect of the self, never the definition. The wonderful thing about human creation is that everything conceived throughout our history — culture, language, machinery, etc. — was created to change, evolve and adapt. We were not meant to fit ourselves into a preconceived notion of who we should be; rather, we were meant to take culture and continually help it to change so that it fits who we are as individuals, and as a group, whatever form that group takes. We should never be slaves to culture and stereotypical roles.
What defines us as humans is our ability to exercise our free will and make our own choices. We may feel social pressure to act a certain way, but ultimately, only we can choose who we are. If some Mexican guy moves to France and successfully integrates himself into the culture, who are we to say he is not a Frenchman? If some Japanese guy moves to England and integrates himself there, who are we to say he is not truly a British man? And the people from all over — Mexico, Asia, Europe, Africa and so on — who immigrate to the United States and make themselves a positively contributing part of the country are as god damned American as I am, as far as I’m concerned.
So thank you, Ayato Kamina. You helped this silly, confused little loser find a part of himself and open his heart to everyone who is the same, even if they don’t look that way. I’ll always appreciate that.