I’ve told the story before of the first time Becky and I ever heard/used the term “Jewpanese.” We were coming back from her parents, talking about the future, specifically future children, when Becky asked what I would tell our hypothetical daughter if she wanted to get a nose job. My answer was “she should get used to her Jewpanese looks.” Not the kindest answer, I grant, but the term, which came off the top of my head, had a ring to it. In my gut, I knew it was a term too good to have been first thought up just now. A quick Internet search when I got home proved that right. Although then it was mostly on the Internet as a term used by wedding-planning couples like us. Cranes and huppahs.
But the idea of Jewpanese poems stuck, beyond the wedding, beyond the coming of Maya and Sam. Like the aikido poems, these were difficult. Unlike the aikido poems, they were difficult because this was a new culture being built. They were as exciting as they were open-ended.
I’ve spent most of my life studying and integrating Japanese culture into my life, building upon the Japanese American base that my parents and grandparents taught me. For years, that was a major theme in my life and writing, culminating with the three years I spent living in Fukui-ken, Japan. But at the end of those three years, I realized that I had to “let my people go” so to speak.
The reality of the Japanese American experience was that there was no true “one” experience. There were many. We, and this expands out to basically all groups, have some shared experiences, but not all. I probably share more experiences that are unique to other Japanese Americans than I do with any other group. I share basic American experiences with all of them, but I don’t necessarily perceive those experiences the same way as they do. All those experiences and perceptions are a tangled mess of privilege and disadvantage, repression and oppression.
All this is to say I am a Japanese American, and I gave up finding that magical group of people that doesn’t exist–a whole group, just like me. It’s not that I believe in some fantasy like “I’m just an American.” Too much has gone on even in my relatively quiet life for me to believe that. But I didn’t need to find a people; I just needed to be with people.
But that realization is what is so exciting about the Jewpanese experience. It’s new and open. It’s what we make of it. We are the Jewpanese experience. I wasn’t and don’t give up anything from my Japanese American experience, but I add on, augment, enrich my experience while guiding my children to finding theirs’. It’s the kind of like in Star Trek: TNG where Picard talks to Data about being a “culture of one.” In Maya’s and Sam’s case, it is a “culture of two.” It’s exciting. It’s purely American.
It’s a feeling that I want to bring to my writing and I’ve started to do so with the Jewpanese poems, which are mostly about Maya and Sam, but also about the life that Becky and I share. The first of these poems are found in The Minstrel of Belmont. It’s on pre-sale now. Okay, it’s shameless plug time, but I’m finished now.