Gina Mei
March 24, 2015 12:02 pm

Last week, 20-year-old Ariana Miyamoto became the first biracial woman to win Miss Universe Japan, and will represent the country in the Miss Universe pageant next January. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy about that news.

Miyamoto’s win has been met with an onslaught of criticism due to her mixed race background. Many have claimed that she is not Japanese enough to be Miss Japan — or worse, that she cannot be considered Japanese at all because she’s mixed. Miyamoto is “hafu,” the Japanese word for “half,” often used to describe those of mixed-race heritage: her father is Black and her mother is Japanese. She was born and grew up in Japan (in Sasebo, Nagasaki), speaks Japanese, and holds a 5th degree mastery in Japanese calligraphy (which, FYI, is ridiculously impressive). She is of both Japanese nationality and ethnicity — but most importantly, Miyamoto identifies as Japanese. As she reportedly recently said in the Japanese press, “while she doesn’t ‘look Japanese’ on the outside, on the inside, there are many Japanese things about her.” But most importantly, why should she have to defend who she is?

As a biracial woman myself, the question of “being enough” is a constant in my life — from family, from friends, from strangers, from myself. I am never enough to be “legitimately” one race or the other. I am not allowed to define myself, regardless of what I feel closest to ethnically or culturally. My racial ambiguity seems to be the only thing worth noting when people meet me for the first time, and it’s exhausting. The controversy surrounding Miyamoto feels disappointing but familiar, and it’s important we address why her win is so significant.

In light of last year’s Miss America pageant, where the first ever Asian-American woman won the crown, it’s been a heartening time for diverse women in pageants. We shouldn’t forget that Miyamoto’s win is a big one, and that she was given the crown because she was deemed most deserving — regardless of her ethnic background and the backwards idea that she is somehow “diluted.”

A couple of years ago, I went to an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles called “Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History” (“hapa” is the Hawaiin term for “half,” often used to refer to mixed race people). It was there that I learned that “by the 2020 U.S. Census, a majority of Japanese Americans will identify as multiracial.” This is a pretty significant statistic, and while Miyamoto is not American by birth, she represents a growing identity within the Japanese ethnicity that should be embraced rather than rejected.

In coping with the backlash, Miyamoto has found inspiration from Mariah Carey, who is also biracial.

“She went through a lot of difficulties before becoming a popular singing sensation,” Miyamoto said, according to Rocket News 24, “She faced some racial hurdles, similar to myself, but she overcame them and became a top star, so she’s been a big influence on me.”

The controversy surrounding Miyamoto’s win is another reminder of how important diverse representation is amongst all types of celebrities, beauty pageant winners included. We should all be able to own our identities, and to not feel isolated for something out of our control. Race is a social construct, but how we identify should be our decision alone. Hopefully, Miyamoto’s win shifts our attitudes towards mixed-race identities for the better, and she can be someone else’s “Mariah Carey” one day, too.

(Image via.)