Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Identity & Environment pt.3

dorothy kim's picture

Who is Yumi Fuller? Who is she to the people around her and herself? Yumi’s experience in the subtly racist Idaho as the sole Asian student forces her to take a look into the environment that has helped shape who she is. While Yumi is not solely defined by her childhood and the people in it, their influence and reactions to the differences between Yumi and the other townsfolk help to direct Yumi in discovering who she is. The environment around her, both the physical world and the emotional relationships, aids Yumi in part as she attempts to find her place. By experiencing the various events occurring around her, some of which are fueled by ignorance and others a desire for the exotic, the reader is able to understand the various influences the town had on Yumi. While Yumi does not fully understand it herself, the experiences she has been through has led her to create decisions as she had been subtly influenced by her surroundings. Yumi is a complex individual with her stubborn attitude and selfish behavior and while aspects of her childhood have definitely aided towards her development, it is not to say that the environment around her has forced her to become like this. Rather, the argument to be made is that Yumi has been given many opportunities and her choices throughout these situations have been the ones that define her. As Yumi understands that she is different from everyone else, her choices that come after understanding that fact leads her towards developing what she thinks about herself. The charged atmosphere, or tension that remains with each of her interactions, around Yumi and the environment she has grown up in has helped to shape her personality: a seemingly selfish girl who is easily infatuated and attuned to being the center of attention.

Yumi’s subtle isolation from the other members of her community begins with appearance. In a land where most people appeared to be the same as potatoes her father grew, Yumi was like a weed that grew up different. While she feels as if she had been uprooted from the ground, she has instead adapted to her surroundings as she grew up. It is not so simple as to say that the environment shaped Yumi; rather, Yumi has been placed into various, complicated situations where her decisions have made major impacts on how she lives her life. The complications that accompany every choice she makes creates further branches that split off and further help Yumi to develop as a person. Since her childhood, her dark hair, brown eyes, and ‘ethnic’ food set her apart from the other children at her school. Throughout the school’s plays, “Yummy was always the Indian princess, even in first grade, when everybody else in their class was still playing gravy” (Ozeki 7). Due to her different appearance, Yumi had always been placed as the exotic princess while being set apart from her other classmates. Yumi is prevented from acting in the same way as her other peers, and while this isolation is due in part to subtle themes of racist behavior and the exotification of Asian bodies, Yumi has started to understand from this experience that she appreciates the attention this garners her. Her position as the princess year after year provides a situation in which Yumi had every opportunity to accept or deny the role that was made available to her. With little to no thought of ever passing on the role, Yumi makes a decision, whether or not it be conscious or unconscious, that she appreciates having this attention placed on her while her other friends are all the side characters to her story. The doting behavior of her father towards her along with the idolization from her peers fuel Yumi’s ego as she progresses with her life. This is not to say that Yumi as always been an egotistical person. Instead, the argument states that Yumi has made a decision that this behavior towards her is something that she appreciates so she acts in a manner that would create an environment in which she would thrive, much like how Momoko alters her environment (her flowering garden) in order to mimic her native Japan. Yumi’s behavior is not a direct consequence of the people around her, but it is made of her own decisions and reactions that in turn would subtly alter the world around her.

Elliot Rhodes also adds to the problematic environment in which Yumi grows in. His idolization and fetishization of Asian culture and bodies becomes a toxic environment in which Yumi is in. Yumi’s experience with Elliot becomes problematic for various reasons besides the pedophilic nature their relationship is based upon. Yumi is seen as a commodity that Elliot is able to use as he pleases, as seen when Yumi insists that “[she] knew that. That’s what [she] meant, too in order to keep him with her (Ozeki 20). His blatant disdain for a serious relationship with Yumi creates various issues as Yumi adores Elliot while he uses her as he sees fit. In such a toxic space, Yumi makes decisions to stay with him, agreeing to whatever he says whether or not she feels the same. A problematic environment that Elliot creates forces Yumi to become much like a bonsai tree, one that is twisted and altered to suit the hands of the one growing it. Her need to justify herself in order to fit in with Elliot’s ideal version of her only prevents her from fostering strong relationships with those around her. Much like how her stress comes from the shame she believes her father would feel, the decisions she decides upon are heavily based upon what she believes would make Elliot adore her. In this vulnerable state in which Elliot takes advantage of Yumi, she tends to lean heavily towards the things he says, believing that is what is best for her as well. This tends to complicate matters as while the environment is supposed to only influence Yumi, there are occasions where the environment or Elliot in this case, pushes her towards making decisions she may not have consented towards. This becomes particularly highlighted when Yumi is coerced into making her decision with the abortion. Repeatedly, she tells the nurse that she was willing to go through with the procedure, even though “it comes out sounding like a question” (Ozeki 199). This becomes a major grey area for Yumi’s decision making as the reader is unsure whether or not she makes this decision on her own. It is important to note that there are occasions where the environment may heavily influence what choices Yumi makes and other times where it may not do as much. Yumi, swayed by her desire to be with Elliot agrees with what he decides for her. It becomes unclear because while the situation called for her to make the final decision, the threat of Elliot breaking off their relationship makes it difficult for her to make that decision.

The relationship between environment and identity is a complex and intricate work that takes into account details and situations that make it difficult to provide a clear answer. While Yumi is heavily influenced by the environment while growing up, there are just as many opportunities where she makes decisions based on what she believes is right. It goes to say that while the people around her do have somewhat of an influence on Yumi’s decision, most of the time she is the one who makes the final call. Throughout a majority of the novel, the Yumi moves with her future based upon the situation that the environment has placed her in. As a child, the unique environment in which she lives in created scenarios where she would have to make a choice in how to act or what to do. In making these decisions there was subtle development into her character. What she liked and how she acted had to do majorly in part due to the choices she made. After receiving positive feedback, she further cemented her personality and became what many came to know her as. However, the relationship between the environment and Yumi’s identity is not so simple as to her always making her decisions. There came to be various moments in which Yumi was pressured or coerced by her surroundings to make certain decisions. While this does not define who she is, it does reveal other aspects of Yumi such as what it is that sways her to make decisions she does not like to make. The problematic relationship between Yumi and Elliot only depicts Yumi making decisions that she believes would be best to maintain whatever relationship there was between her and her teacher. This creates even more messy ways in which Yumi connects with her environment.