Ariana Miyamoto will be representing Japan in the Miss Universe pageant. Tall and strikingly beautiful in that way that women who win national beauty pageant tend to be, Ariana nonetheless has a story of Otherness. The child of a Japanese mother and an African-American father, Ariana was bullied by other children in Nagasaki where she grew up. They even threw garbage at her. And her story is like that of biracial children all over the world.
Children of mixed descent have historically struggled to find acceptance in the racially-divided worlds in which most grow up. Some physically resemble one racial group more than the other, while others are visibly of mixed descent. Finding a racial and cultural place to call “home” presents as a real challenge for many.
Ariana grew up in Japan, a nation in which 98.5% of the population are Japanese, with small pockets of people from other Asian countries and an additional .06% specifically identified as “other” by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Standing head and shoulders above the rest and with the darker skin of her father’s heritage, Ariana was visibly different from the people around her. This was the basis of their mistreatment of her. She knew all along that she was Other.
Importantly, she didn’t let that stop her. She’s still not stopping, even as people criticize the notion of a woman who is not fully Japanese representing the nation in the Miss Universe pageant. She’s said that this inspires her to push even harder. My favorite part is that she is using her Otherness as its own source of inspiration. She has a gift in that she is different, and she’s giving herself permission to use that gift.
Her story is a poignant one because it’s tells a of journey of the kid who felt the pain that so many biracial children and adults can claim for their own. More broadly, hers is the story of all of us. She was the kid who was different. She was Other, and she still is. No doubt on those days when someone called her a name and threw garbage at her, she cried, asked herself “Why?”, and struggled to hold her head up the next day. Today though, she’s not letting her Otherness hold her back. She’s carrying herself forward. She’s never stopped.
I hope she does extremely well in Miss Universe and beyond, in whatever she wishes to pursue in her life. Go, Ariana!