Not Sure What to Think About the MFA’s Kimono Days

Personally, I didn’t read any stories about it.  I saw the headline and moved on.  When they recast the event, I wasn’t surprised.  I suppose I was most surprised by how little reaction I had to the whole thing.  Maybe it’s because I’m busy.  Or tired. Or maybe I’ve seen this movie so many times before that I didn’t have the energy.  But then I read Mia Nakaji Monnier’s opinion piece in the Globe.  And it’s great.  I strongly encourage you to read it.

She says a few things that I not only agree with, but have been thinking about for a long time.  The most important of this is that Japanese and Japanese Americans are different.  This expands out, of course, to include many if not all ethnic minorities.  It speaks not only to the binary nature of the discussion of race (usually black and white) but also to the binary nature of how we think about other minorities.  Other minorities are treated as others, foreign others.  Like life, the true nature of race in America is that is much more heavily nuanced than most people think about.

This is something I thought a lot about when I lived in Japan in the late-90’s.  I was not only fulfilling a childhood dream of living in Japan, but I was at a cross-roads.  I wasn’t so comfortable with my Americanness and wanted to explore my Japaneseness.  In the end, I came to embrace my Americanness, but in a much different way than I was living it before.  I left Japan wanting and expecting more of America, that I, that we, should live more for the promise of America rather than the America we had before us.  If we want America to be great again, that is the attitude we should pursue.

My ancestors came to this country for that promise and in spite of racism and discrimination, they achieved some of that promise.  That is not true of all Americans, and certainly, there are Americans for whom that promise is all but denied to them.  We can do better.  That is something we can and should expect from ourselves and our country.  Whether you believe America to be the greatest country or not is irrelevant.  America is about the journey, about getting better, about being the great experiment, which means trying to get better never ends.

There is a difference between being Japanese and being Japanese American.  In some terms, the two are not that different.  The chances that my life would be markedly different if I were born in Japan instead of America is small.  But where it is different is that my family lived through different experiences, American experiences.  Some of them were good but some were bad.  We as Americans should never be afraid to say that.  We as Americans should worry when we want to hide the warts in American life.  This is not heaven, and we should work for a better world.

A Japanese American, and any so-called “ethnic” American for that matter, is invested in this country, whether we like it or not.  We should talk about the things that we see that can and should be changed for the betterment of all Americans.  And everyone else should have the courtesy to listen and consider that.  Whether or not the protests of the kimono days was fully warranted or not, whether the MFA erred, is still something I’m personally have not come to a decision about.  But responses like Mia Nakaji Monnier’s is well worth considering.  That is all.

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