Mixed families: an ethnographic study of Japanese/British families in Edinburgh
Nakamura, Megumi Esperanza
Studies on mixed race and/or ethnicity families have tended to focus on the child’s struggle with identity. Although this topic is very important, in order to better understand how mixed families function as a whole, and how mixed children are socialised, my thesis explored the entire family, with a focus on the parents and kin. Specifically, I looked at the negotiations that take place between the Japanese mothers’ and British fathers’ differences, and the way in which culture, including customs, beliefs, and preferences, are then shared and transmitted to the mixed children. This qualitative, ethnographic study focused on twelve Japanese/British families in Edinburgh. Because socialisation and the transmission of culture tend to happen in the midst of doing mixed family, the following areas of the mixed families’ lives were explored: everyday lived culture, language choices, and food habits. When examining the foods eaten and the languages spoken by the mixed families, it seems that the mixed families are attempting to transmit both their linguistic and culinary heritages to their children, with their aspiration being to raise bilingual, bicultural children. In addition, this study explored the role that extended family and friends play in the lives of the mixed families as they attempt to form their new mixed family culture. The data collection was the result of 26 months of fieldwork consisting of participant observation at three local Japanese mother/toddler playgroups, interviews with both parents and extended family members, and home observations. Some major findings from the study were that, while mothers still tend to carry a heavier burden when it comes to everyday parenting, particularly in the domestic sphere, the fathers were also found to be involved in many aspects of everyday parenting. Additionally, both maternal and paternal kin were also found to offer the mixed families various types of support, with the most frequently mentioned types of support being practical and emotional. Further, mixed families were found to complicate this idea of ‘national culture’ because nationality is not tied to a culture. In this way, the transmission of culture becomes more fluid, allowing the British man to transmit “Japanese” customs and the Japanese woman to share her “British” interests with her children. Finally, while focusing on the intergenerational transmission of culture from parent to child, we find that children do indeed have agency in the transmission of culture, as they are the ones who ultimately decide whether their cultural heritage is a gift or a burden. The study thus offers a nuanced picture of mixed family lives in contemporary UK.