Exploring the Japanese American Experience

I’m not sure what my kids will experience in their Jewpanese lives, but it probably will be pretty different from mine.  As they start to discover their own identities, I think back on my own.  I’m descended from the Japanese American in Hawai’i, which is its own unique experience and one that I was lucky enough to live in for over a decade.  On the other hand, I was born on the Mainland, and have lived most of my live on the Mainland, split almost evenly (as of this writing) between the two coasts.  I’ve also had the chance to live for a few years in Japan and meet other Nikkei from other parts of the world (mostly Brazil).  My children live in, and most likely will continue to live in, an environment where there are few Japanese and few Nikkei, so I’ve been collecting for a while bits and pieces of the Japanese American experience for them to look at as they grow older.

What I’m trying to do now is move beyond the Internment (which our family didn’t experience because we were in Hawai’i) and fighting as part of the famous 442nd (which they do have in their family tree), and George Takei (I’m a big fan) who has done a lot for the Japanese American community for years.    I’d like them to read No-No Boy when their older, because John Okada should be remembered and respected.  But I do want them to experience more of the lesser known parts too.  Some tidbits are the first player of color in the NBA; Jun Fujita, a photojournalist, poet, and actor who was the first to write tanka poems in English; Albert Saijo, a poet closely associated with the Beat Movement; and Japanese American Zoot Suiters.  Yes, I did use a couple of Wikipedia articles, but only for convenience.  I have books by both Jun Fujita and Albert Saijo on my reading list, and I think that Japanese American Zoot Suiters are kind of cool.

The thing about this research is to say that no ethnic group is monolithic.  We all have different experiences and opinions and that’s what gives us a rich internal culture.  I’ve been very fortunate to experience being a Japanese American in a lot of different circumstances, and I don’t take that for granted.  What it’s taught me is that I should explore the little nooks and crannies of my heritage, if only to make it easier for my kids to find.  After all, their father is both a stereotype (martial artist) and not (poet).

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