Sky and Sophia Discuss
Cultural Dissonance and Belonging

(July 2020-January 2021)

By Sophia

A Conversation with


Where are you/what time is it? 
す:Japan, 7:36 PM
Your pronouns? And what’s one thing you wish you knew how to do (really well)?  
す:She/her. Sing really well.
ソ:She/her. Play the piano. 

How do we know each other? 
We met one summer in the mountains. That’s all we’ll reveal. 


What even is belonging? What does it mean? Is it a feeling?
す:Belonging is a feeling. Period. That’s my new software update answer. 

ソ:Yeah, I agree. It’s when you feel as though... hm.. when you’re not being made to feel as though you’re the odd one out, when you’re not being isolated, self or otherwise, among/by the people around you. 

す:So belonging is... the absence of non-belonging.

ソ:[Laughs] What’s a synonym for non-beloging? What’s a verb or noun for being made to feel like you DO stick out? 

す:疎外感 (そがいかん)。


す:[Weblio search] The feeling of being estranged, alienated. 

ソ:Ah, yes yes. So the absence of... that. 

When in your life have you really felt like you belonged?
す: I would say Japanese School, from elementary to middle school.  Once a week on Saturdays, 9~12pm, ages 6~14. That’s it. That’s when I belonged. 

ソ:[Laughs] Before we move on, why? 

す:Why? Hm, well, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong.

ソ:I’m realizing now that not coming up with a solid definition of belonging is a flaw in this conversation. 

す:[Laughs] There’s no flawed conversations.


す:I think there was a total comfort. Culturally. I think belonging in terms of culture was the most prominent thing on my mind as a child. [When I was growing up] something that took up a lot of my brain space was thinking about differences in culture. And where I fit. 

ソ:And it’s also likely to be because, we didn’t mention this previously, but you grew up consuming almost entirely Japanese media, right?

す:Yeah, I was consuming a lot of Japanese media growing up in America. But who knows why [I felt like I belonged most at Japanese School]? 

ソ:Well, I think this actually does tie back to our current in-progress definition of belonging. Because then it would totally make sense that [being at Japanese school] would have felt like the absence of feeling alienated. Every other day of the week you might’ve felt like, “Well I’m going to my predominantly white school, or my school of people who are SO culturally American.” So going to Japanesee school would’ve felt like a relief. 

す:Right, right. How would you answer?

Let’s try again: what are the elements that make up your understanding of belonging? Or what it feels like “to belong”?

ソ:I don’t know... nothing’s immediately coming to mind. It’s not that I haven’t felt like I had groups of people that made me feel welcome, but I think I’ve always associated belonging with like, an internet community or a tight-knit club or a fanbase for an artist. That feeling of “I’ve found my community of people who share this interest!”

す:Like always centerered around something

ソ:Ugh it sounds like I’m trying to say “Wow, I’m such a lone wolf.” [laughs] But I mean that I’ve just kind of independently floated from this to that and never really felt a true sense of community. Honestly, the internship we did together was a belonging moment. Meeting [all of the interns] there, and being in that space where I was like, “Oh, fuck. These people fully share my experience.” At least in terms of identity. Wow, I really walked the path to get this answer. 

す:But I agree. That was a sick community, small, but a great community situation. There was a very cool web of people who were involved there. All of us, as pieces in that space, fit really well together. I think it’s interesting that one-on-one relationships don’t really feel like belonging to you. It adds an interesting concrete definition, or rather element of the definition of belonging. Belonging as something that necessitates more than one line of connection. 

ソ:Love that word, necessitate. But exactly, I think [belonging] does require community. Belonging is, in some way,  to feel a part of some thing. And that thing is deeply rooted in other people. And there’s an unspoken understanding that those people look at you and think, “you belong here.”

す:I think it’s also feeling safe. Feeling safe to... I don’t want to say ~to be yourself~ because that’s such a enigmatic term. But essentially my brain is wanting to say something along the lines of: it’s feeling comfortable  being yourself. 

ソ:I understand. [With that community,] whenever we’re talking about a topic or a very specific experience we don’t have to get into that much detail. We  kind of all just get it. Even though there are differences in where we all grew up and the ways we were raised. It’s such a relief to be like, “I don’t have to explain myself to feel understood.”

す:I’m wonder if that’s another necessity of [the definition of belonging]. Like, can you have belonging with out shared experience? Or shared vocabulary? or shared set of assumptions?

That’s a good question. In a way it maybe it does? That’s why before I think hesitated to describe friend groups as “places of belonging.” It’s not like I felt aliented in my friendships and, of course, I’ve formed very legitimate and important bonds in my life that I’m grateful for, but that moment of having to explain yourself [culturally] creates distance. For me. And it’s weird to think that maybe the other person isn’t even aware that distance exists, for me, but I know it’s there. 

す:There’s an element of effortlessness [to belonging].              


What’s something that’s made you laugh recently?

ソ:I’ll second that. 
What’s something old/still making you happy in your life? 
す:Writing letters.  

ソ:Listening to lots of music. Recently revisited Snoh Aalegra’s album Ugh, Those Feels Again (2019).

What’s something new in your life? 
す:I got a job! Also I bought a 365 page Muji notebook at the beginning of 2021, and I have filled each page thus far (it’s been thirteen days!)

ソ:I’mdoing one of of the 30-day challenges from Yoga with Adriene. I’m on day seven. I cannot reccomend her enough, I love Adriene. Also, look at us. We’re just doing things... with numbers - don’t know how else to describe this. Thoughts?

す:[Sky doesn’t respond]

What’s Cultural Dissonance?

(As answered by Wikipedia):
“Cultural dissonance is an uncomfortable sense of discord, disharmony, confusion, or conflict experienced by people in the midst of change in their cultural environment. The changes are often unexpected, unexplained or not understandable due to various types of cultural dynamics.” 


The Face:A Time Cod by Ruth Ozeki

“The right eye and left eye are very different. The left eye looks more Asiatic. The right … [looks] more Caucasian. But here’s someting I never noticed before, or at least never admitted: I have a preference. It’s subtle, but I’ve always preferred my right eye to my left. I’ve preferred my Caucasian eye to my Asian eye. Strange.”

“I felt the precarious instability that comes with the mixing of blood. I understand that identity is fluid, that it exists on a spectrum, and that to some extent, I had a choice about where I fell. So when the kids contorted their faces, although I felt uneasy at being identified with the wonky half-n-half face, I suspect I also felt relieved and even grateful that as a diluted yellow person, the peril I represented was only half what it might be. And so, in order to align myself further with the hegemony and keep the real bad words at bay, I raised my voice and joined the chorus, pulling my eyes out of shape and singing Chinese, Japanese… The trick, I learned, was to appropriate the punch line.”

Minor Feelings:An Asian American Reckoning
by Cathy Park Hong

“... the Asian woman is reminded every day that her attractiveness is a perversion.

“I distrusted my desirousness. My sexuality was a pathology. If anyone non-Asian liked me, there was something wrong with him.”

How/when was the term ‘Asian-American’ coined?

Some pull quotes from the article:

“ 1968, University of California Berkeley graduate students Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka needed a name for their student organization, which was aimed at increasing the visibility of activists of Asian descent.”

“Gee and Ichioka were not only strategic in their naming, but in their organizing methods as well. To recruit members, the two searched for students with Asian last names on the directories of various campus political groups.”


す: On record. I LOVE Miyachi. I hope he reads this. 

Cargo Collective COMMU 2021 (USA, JAPAN)