Asian American Pacific Islander Month
I’ve never thought too much about being of Japanese descent. Growing up in Hawaii, it was common to be one in a sea of many Asians; it gave me comfort, and I often took it for granted. As I traveled more in my adult life and went to school in NYC, I noticed that being of Asian descent was viewed differently. In New York, I was Asian, but I was also American. It was hard for me to find a "friend group"; I don't speak Japanese, so I couldn't hang with the "Japanese group", and while I made friends with the "Korean group", I was mostly seen as American.
I wasn’t accepted as an Asian, and I didn’t totally feel like an American either. I would walk down the street, and men would yell Chinese slurs at me, people would assume that I didn't speak English, etc. etc. I didn't feel unsafe, but maybe I was just naive? As a 20-something Hawaii girl in New York City, I chose to see the similarities of those around me instead of what made us different.
Being Japanese was never the part of me I focused on or wanted to highlight. Not because I was ashamed, but because there were so many other things about me that made me unique; maybe those were the parts I wanted others to see in me. As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, it gives me great pause to put my heritage and where I was born and raised at the forefront of who I am and my business.
I intuitively chose to use my first name and my given Japanese middle name, IZU, as my brand name. The name was given to me by my maternal grandfather. He was an artist and a graphic designer by trade. When there were no computers or illustration software, everything, including typefaces, was done by hand. I remember that he could replicate any brand logo easily. I was always impressed and in awe at what he was able to do with his hands and how he honed his craft to be his life’s work.
He gave me the name Izu because he said the Izu peninsula in Japan was similar in beauty to Hawaii. A simple reason for a not-so-simple name. Before he passed, he knew that I named my brand "Allison Izu." He would sometimes sketch clothing for me—simple Japanese kanji or drawings, or shirts with cranes and pine on them. Maybe he was foreshadowing my future, because if you search for the meaning of "Izu", one definition is ‘garment: Something to wear.'
It makes this part of me and my heritage so unique and special, like a full-circle moment that started before I was born. Perhaps when I was younger, my Japanese heritage was not the thing I focused on, and maybe it's not what I focus on now either. But it is the part of me that keeps me tied to my ancestors, my lineage, and it gives me great pride to carry this name as well as the culture within it. Even if I am not always seen as Japanese or American, I like that I can be a mix of both and make it my own.- Allison