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When Half is Whole: Multiethnic Asian American Identities


“I listen and gather people’s stories. Then I write them down in a way that I hope will communicate something to others, so that seeing the stories will give readers something of value. I tell myself that this isn’t going to be done unless I do it, just because of who I am. It’s a way of making my mark, leaving something behind . . . not that I’m planning on going anywhere right now.”


So explains Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu in this touching, introspective, and insightful examination of mixed race Asian American experiences. The son of an Irish American father and Japanese mother, Murphy-Shigematsu uses his personal journey of identity exploration and discovery of his diverse roots to illuminate the journeys of others. Throughout the book, his reflections are interspersed among portraits of persons of biracial and mixed ethnicity and accounts of their efforts to answer a seemingly simple question: Who am I?


Here we meet Norma, raised in postwar Japan, the daughter of a Japanese woman and an American serviceman, who struggles to make sense of her ethnic heritage and national belonging. Wei Ming, born in Australia and raised in the San Francisco of the 1970s and 1980s, grapples as well with issues of identity, in her case both ethnic and sexual. We also encounter Rudy, a “Mexipino,” Marshall, a “Jewish adopted Korean,” Mitzi, a “Blackinawan,” and other extraordinary people who find how connecting to all parts of themselves also connects them to others.


With its attention on people who have been regarded as “half” this or “half” that throughout their lives, these stories make vivid the process of becoming whole.


“Part memoir, part oral history, and part ethnography, this volume transcends distinctions among literary and social science genres much as its subjects’ lives transcend racial, sexual, and national boundaries. This is a deeply moving and groundbreaking work.”

—Evelyn Nakano Glen, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Director, Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley


“A beautiful book, a near perfect bridge of genres, scholarly and its insights and the knowledge base from which it proceeds, but written stories and the voices of mixed race, complicatedly Asian individuals. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu tells their stories and pros that is like cool water running downhill. I read the book in one sitting. I will surely read it again when I need it wisdom, or when I just want to enjoy the company of Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu’s unique voice.”

—Paul Spickard, Distinguished Professor of History, 

University of California, Santa Barbara


“In this engaging and powerful book, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu skillfully uses his own experience as a biracial individual as a springboard to construct incisive and penetrating narratives that describe how biracial Asian Americans compose their lives and deal creatively with the pains and promises of living within and across borders and boundaries. This is a significant, timely, and needed book that will become an essential reference in the field of race and ethnic studies.”

—James A. Banks, Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies and Founding Director, Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington, Seattle

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