Professor discusses cultural engagement event


Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

Gannon University’s Office of Global Support and Student Engagement will host a cultural event at 7 p.m. Tuesday titled “Cultural Conversations: Japan – Bi-Cultural, Mixed-Race and Returnee Experiences in Japan and the U.S.”

Staff of The Gannon Knight fostered a conversation with Derek DiMatteo, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the English department, about the upcoming event and its roots in Japanese culture.

TGK: What sparked the topic for this conversation?

DD: I was invited to propose a session for the cultural conversations series by Sarah Spier, who has since left the university. She knew I had lived in Japan for a while. In fact, I lived there from October 2003 to April 2012. During that time, I met many people who were mixed race, bicultural or returnees. In Japan, the dominant image of society is one that is homogenous – the Japanese themselves cultivate this self-image – but it is not really accurate.

It has taken a long time for them to recognize their own indigenous minorities as indigenous minorities (see, for example, the Ainu being recognized in 2019). Japan also does not recognize dual citizenship, so children born in Japan to parents who hold different citizenships must choose either Japanese or non-Japanese citizenship by the age of 20. This affects several of my friends and colleagues’ children. People who grow up half-Japanese or who lived abroad for much of their childhood before returning to Japan often experience a sense of identity confusion and alienation within Japanese society. I am hoping that people attending the discussion will learn something new about both Japan and the U.S. by hearing about the panelists’ experiences.

TGK: Is there a large population of bicultural and mixed-race students at Gannon?

DD: I don’t know how large the bicultural and mixed-race student population is at Gannon. I can say that I have had a handful of students who identified as such both last semester and this semester, but I don’t know how many of my other students did not volunteer that information.

TGK: What makes it so challenging for Japanese students to find that space of belonging at “home” again?

DD: When thinking about returnees, it is important to remember that they spent a significant portion of time abroad, often during a formative time in their lives, such as K-12 or college. Those are periods of intense socialization and development. In Japan, there are a lot of social norms and cultural values that are transmitted through schooling.

When Japanese who spent several years abroad return to Japan and try to reintegrate into society, they often find it difficult because they are marked as outsiders due to not having gone through the same socialization process as their classmates. In addition, they are different linguistically. If they are unlucky, they can become the target of bullies. That is perhaps not as common as the media makes it seem, although it is a serious problem.

TGK: Who are some of the panelists?

DD: Some of the panelists include Yuki Takano, a student here at Gannon; Sanae and Julia Lombard, family of Emmett Lombard, a librarian at Nash Library; Roger Grabowski, an American professor who is a permanent resident in Japan raising three children who are half-Japanese and half-American; and Nozomi Tanaka, who is Japanese and was raised in the Philippines before returning to Japan for high school and college and is now a professor at Indiana University, Bloomington.

TGK: What are some of the specific topics that will be discussed?

DD: What actually gets discussed will depend in large part on the panelists themselves. I plan to give a brief talk to orient attendees to some of the issues, but that will take maybe 10 minutes. After that, the panelists will discuss whatever they want – I am really hoping that it will be a conversation full of spontaneity and interesting connections, since the panelists won’t be preparing anything ahead of time. I have some questions to use to facilitate, and some quotes, but I don’t want to spoil it by sharing them in advance.


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