If you are hoping to read a juicy, mouth-watering assault on the blockbuster movie "Crazy, Rich Asians" . . . you have come to the wrong place.
Rather . . . in my 'Half-Asian' Journalist-humble-half-breed-Americanized opinion . . . the Film is not even worthy of any deep-spirited words I may choose to write.
Instead, I shall offer anyone who cares to read it-- a thoughtful and Deep essay about "what it really feels like to be Asian" growing up in America- who can admit only to being:
1) "Half-Crazy". . . "
2) Not even "Half-Rich"- as my Jewish boyfriend is the one with the money
3) And not "Asian" enough by anyone's standards, especially by other Asians
Now, you can read the following at your own risk.
By the way Mom, don't be mad at me. You're the pure Japanese woman who married my White Father,
. . . . . . hmmmmm . . .
As a 'Japanese-American' girl growing up in Los Angeles, California, I naturally presumed that ‘queer sideways-looks’ from other kids and racial taunts were just normal childhood experience, even desirable— in an emotionally sick, unbeknownst victim-mentality kind of way.
The Brady Bunch was my favorite show, and I identified as an All-American girl next door, complete with shiny Mary Jane shoes bought from our local Sears and pig tails that swung back and forth during endless games of hop scotch and dodge ball played after school, making my skin quickly tan, while other kids revealed shades of red.
My constant push was for peaceful and unabashed assimilation, no matter how many times I was told “I did not belong” or that I was some sort of ethnic scientific accident or experiment, poised to mark X in the box “Other” for eternity.
At about nine-years old, on weirdly hot September afternoon- a boy I will refer to as “Billy” told me that I did not exist.
“There is no such thing as a Japanese American,” he yelled— as he hung upside down from an ancient set of monkey bars.
“Well I am,” I yelled back. “Just ask my parents.”
It turned out that he didn’t ask my parents, and neither did I.
Maybe I was afraid to hear what the answer might me.
Maybe what I feared most what that I really was “as different” as I had felt.
Or maybe, I was just a coward- worried that I may embody Jack Nicolson’s character in ‘A Few Good Men’ when he yelled, “You Can’t Handle The Truth.”
Realistically, and to forgive myself a little for so much self-hatred- something that most Bi-Racial people understand— race and identity were like four-letter words “back in the day”, and especially at home, behind our hidden fortress of assumed safety.
But as all stories hushed up about in families, the scariest and most ‘hidden ones’ are eventually heard the loudest and with the most vitriol, and our story-
— Was about a fear of being captured, interned, locked up, forgotten, as we were once considered to “less than” simply because we were Japanese.
As a well-known social construct, the very culture and essence of being Japanese is to be proud, or at least to ‘act proud’ and fake humility and a humble manner at all times while doing so.
To a large degree, I believe this is why my family has never talked openly about what happened to them after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
It may have been humid, or maybe it wasn’t, on a day that seemed to begin like so many other days. My ancestors made their way to Hawaii from Japan a generation before, forging their new homeland across the fertile farmlands by planting and picking coffee beans, as they also set up small store-fronts as they unknowingly becoming pioneers of a new frontier.
My mother was much younger than her two older brothers and brother-in -aw. They were already hard-working young boys, and by today’s standards, would not even be considered old enough to be called “men.”
Tirelessly working in the fields from pre-Dawn through Dusk, fishing for community meals, and building homes, hand-carved ‘panel by wood panel’- these 17 and 18 year-old men “only knew” how to be brave and fearless; only knew how to work hard, and did anything they could to see their families fed, housed and even festive on occasion.
And the women too— they worked each day as if it seemed to be both their first and last. Farming alongside the men and boys, cooking all meals, opening up shops, and raising children often without fathers— a “good day” was a long, hard-working one.
But after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, everything that was once quiet and happily understated for my family suddenly turned horribly chaotic, frightening and worst of all— a future of ‘an unknown kind.’
What could males in Hawaii do ? What choice did they have? Sit back and watch their kin from the states locked up while they continued to farm, awaiting a possible internment for their family themselves?
Historically, the 442nd Battalion is the most highly decorated unit in American History. And yet what they did know- that anyone of Japanese ancestry on the mainland were herded like cattle and forced into camps and locked hot houses, children and crippled grandfathers included, invited fear to infect the once laid-back and mellow communities of Hawaii.
My Uncles joined The 442nd Battalion. This was an Army Unit comprised 100 percent of Japanese-Americans.
My 98 year-old Uncle, a decorated solider of the 442nd, today says, “There is nothing to talk about.”
Takeshi is his name, and he still resides in the same house he bought after the War, a large white colonial style charmer framed by flanks of Hawaiian Birds of Paradise, as well as cabbage roses of every hue and hard-to-imagine color.
At the top of a staircase sits a quiet Buddhist alter to his late wife, who just passed away this November. She was my mother’s older sister who owned and operated more than five successful business during and after the war.
“We did what we had to do,” he says in a spitted fashion, under his breath.
“We were as American as any other boys. The least we could do is go and fight for our country.”
After he and my uncles made it back home, all in one piece, with a few stories here and there about carrying tall Italian and German wounded soldiers on their backs to safety- over wild streams and amidst the halo of gunfire- they somehow settled back unabashedly into Hawaiian life. . . . the one they knew and loved so well.
But "the fear of becoming locked up", caged like an animal, and ‘possibly’ separated from their own families ‘“simply due” to their ethnic breed— never leaves a family, never departs from the morrow, the breath or the lining of the soul.
And it never forgets to nudge you awake in the middle of the night. . . never.
Always in a hushed kind of whisper spoken in broken English and Japanese, as a young child I could still understand the raw emotions of my aunts and uncles as , although I did not understand the words.
That’s the thing about the language of fear.
You only need look into someone’s eyes, witness the heavy or shallow breathing that is more than a little nervous, feel the raw well of reasoned paranoia in their hesitant walk or stance, and always, a kind of violent unspoken conversation about racism and the ugly current that shivers below the surface like a traveling fever . . . continually.
My family is no different.
While we seem entirely ‘normal’ by stereotypical modern Japanese-American standards: conservatively dressed, mostly gainfully employed, soft spoken in public at least, educated of course, and always thankful to be invited to the party . . . we all share the same story of fear.
When I was a young girl, too young to understand anything at all- I overheard a lot of things I knew I was not supposed to, “let alone ever repeat out loud.”
Sometimes the whispering heard as a child can be the scariest of all sounds, for it often speaks of things that are ‘perhaps’ too horrible to ever say out loud in a normal chime or decibel, even alluding to every child’s worst fear—
That the sentences hushed over and told in secret circles might just be about them, and worse . . . something embarrassing and shameful that must kept a secret.
It turns out that as children, we can feel the pain of our parents, our grandparents, and even of ancestors that we know nothing about.
Just as the color of one’s skin, eyes, function of the heart and kidneys- one’s random mannerisms can be hereditary- as well as emotional trauma, and the familial anguish of stories too often both saved and savored for ’moments of whispering.’
As a an Asian-American, some questions and comments I often hear include:
“Where did you come from, anyway?”
“There is no such thing as a Japanese-American person.”
“Why do your eyes look like that?”
“Is your Boat coming back for you soon?”
And my very favorite question heard even today . . .
“Will you give me a Happy Ending?”
As of right now, I will have to answer a profound and assertive “No.”
As long as a Trump-tonian wrath continues to belittle and ravage whole segments of people because they are not cut from the cloth of “The Acceptable Creed and Political language” deemed fit for citizenship —
I, for one, cannot promise you a Happy Ending, at least not for now.
While most of my Japanese family members who suffered through fears of internment have long passed . . . down deep and back into the dust they both settled and fought for, I am here to remember.
A familial brand of P.T.S.D. hardens my heart a little as I ache for better memories they might have experienced as young Americans, and yet this is somehow a welcome sort of trauma . . .
A terse reminder “to never allow myself” to forget what my family risked their lives to keep- the freedom of autonomy, patriotism and cultural courage in the face of sheer evil.
As in the words of Takeshi, my nearly 100-year-old Uncle who survived discrimination and still fights the good fight today . . “I would do it all over again if I was asked.”
And to him I answered with sure footing . . .
“And I would as well.”
*This is an essay written with pure heart and determination for my family of the past, and well as for my children and future grandchildren, who will look to us all today and ask “What we did during this horrible and frightening time of our Nation’s History.”
As a woman who is also of Jewish descent on my Father’s side, with great grandparents who faced systematic racism and hatred, I proclaim . . .
“Never Again”, with a profound call for emotional, psychological and political movement.