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culture, japanese

Reclaiming Culture, Part 1

I grew up in household devoid of a lot of Japanese traditions. Sure, we ate Japanese food and I had Japanese friends going up. However, I was not exposed to many Japanese traditions, the Japanese language, or Japanese history in the United States. I attribute the loss of our culture mainly to Japan’s involvement in World War II and the internment of Japanese US citizens. My Grandmother’s family was sent to Heart Mountain Wyoming while my Grandfather’s family was sent to Arizona. After the internment was lifted, being Japanese or perceived Japanese was looked down upon. The Japanese Americans were demonized in their own country. I cannot say whether or not my grandparents were intentional with the way they brought up their children, but it seems evident to me that they purposefully did not pass down many Japanese traditions. As a fourteen year old, I pushed my mother to let me take Japanese language classes. I remember having a lot of fun but I retained very little of what I learned because I started taking Spanish in high school – Japanese was not an option to substitute for the language requirement. Besides my Japanese friends and Japanese family, I did not have my culture.

My quest to reclaim my culture did not start until later in my life as a young adult. I have always been interested in the pursuit, but as I got older I found I did not have time or did not make time to immerse myself in tradition, language, and community. I met my amazing life partner in 2010 and she has supported me and my quest for my culture. As we grew together, we decided that culture, from both of us, has to be an integral part of our lives and our potential future family. Wow! What a huge revelation and a huge relief to me. I have always grappled with the question… What does it mean to raise multiracial children? Or more specifically… What does it mean to raise multiracial Japanese children (another post…) I guess I need to start with defining what aspects of my culture are important to me.

The big first push was finding and reading books and novels written by Japanese authors. One of the most frustrating experiences I have had at a book store is looking for books about Japan and only finding ones written by White authors. Slowly I began to find books fitting my criteria… a book here on Japanese history found at a used bookstore, originally from a Japanese museum… a novel there by a Japanese internment camp resident… As time went on, the popularity of Haruki Murakami grew until I could find any one of his books at every popular chain bookstore. Other Japanese authors started cracking through to US distribution. But I wonder what the impact of international authors had on domestic Asian American authors. After finding access points, I have made intentional efforts to read Asian and Asian American authors as well as authors of color more frequently. And review those books, novels, and short stories. Actually, I consider it my duty as a person committed to social justice. By reviewing and recommending literature written by the marginalized, I work within the realm of social justice as a consumer. The more consumers demand literature from diverse authors; the institution of publishing will have to change to meet the new demand.

I have done much since beginning to read more culturally appropriate books. In future posts about reclaiming culture, I will talk about language, traditions, travel, food, mentors, and more. Have you taken steps to reclaim your culture? Is there something you wish you would pursue? Where would you start? Join the conversation!

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