WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Becoming a "Real" American

By Yuri Yamamoto

Reversal Polarization: An overly critical orientation toward one’s own cultural values and practices and an uncritical view toward other cultural values and practices.
—Intercultural Development Inventory, version 3

A kneeling Geisha and a white male in western clothing bow to each other in a tea ceremony, as westerners drink tea in the background.

When I took the Intercultural Development Inventory* assessment in 2014, my trainer told me that I had some issues with my own cultural values and practices. It’s called Reversal Orientation, she said.

I responded, “Why do you think I came to this country? I hated it there!” Then I went on: I was very unhappy in Japan. When I graduated from college as the only female student majoring animal science in 1983, no professional job for women was available. All professors were male, while one older woman researcher with a doctoral degree was paying the university so she could continue her research.

When I came to this country, I explained, I felt liberated from suffocating Japanese cultural norms. My professors encouraged me to succeed, and I worked very hard to become a real American. I avoided Japanese people because they reminded me of the norms I did not like. I didn't go back home for twenty years, except when my mother died. As our U.S.-born children grew up, I was excited about their school that seemed much more relaxed than the Japanese counterpart.

Obviously this country was better.

The trainer listened to me patiently and said that perhaps this assessment might not work well for immigrants. “At any rate,” she continued, I should find ways to accept my own culture. This recommendation confused me: I knew exactly how I should behave in Japan — but there was no way I would accept it.

For almost thirty years after coming to the United States, I didn't fully understand the cultural cues around me. Initially, this gave me a false sense of liberation in the land of freedom. I often interpreted uncomfortable situations to be my fault, as an ignorant immigrant. Trying hard to assimilate, I unconsciously suppressed what came naturally to me.

I now understand that I had an “uncritical view toward other cultural values and practices.” Because I wanted to believe that emigrating to the United States was the right decision, everything about my new country had to be better.

Today I am much more critical toward the norms of white middle class America. Friends who are not part of the dominant culture helped me grow. I have traveled back home more often. I used to consider Japanese bows humiliating, but now I can see the respect and appreciation for others in them. Both of these cultures have things to teach me; all of us could learn from each other.

May we recognize beauties in each other’s cultural values and practices and deepen our relationships across differences.

*The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is a developmental assessment of intercultural competence, designed to measure an individual's awareness of and sensitivity to cultural differences (intercultural sensitivity).

About the Author

Yuri Yamamoto

Yuri Yamamoto (they/she) lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and is a board-certified chaplain serving at a close custody state prison, musician, expressive art practitioner, and activist against intersecting systemic oppression....


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