Am I ASIAN Enough? Am I AMERICAN Enough? (Hint: Yes! & Yes!)

One month ago, I posted the 3 gold slides that are throughout this post on my Instagram & Twitter account after the Atlanta shooting/murder of 8 people, 6 being Asian women, leaving one survivor in critical condition. Since that post, an Asian woman in NYC was attacked while bystanders didn’t intervene, an Asian market was vandalized here in Charlotte NC*-both events occurring within the same week(March 29 & 30th), shooting in Indianapolis, and 2 tea shops in Charlotte were vandalized (last week). So, I thought I would repost my words here.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that as much as I speak about how much my mother’s story/voice mattered back then (directly after atomic bombing) and matters now; it’s not as easy for me to feel that my story also matters. Although, I have opened up about my health issues with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), I have a harder time discussing my Asian American experience. Perhaps because I’m a mixed Asian. As you all know, my mom was from Hiroshima Japan, and my dad was a Caucasian American.  However, in light of recent events stated above (and of the numerous ones last year) I’m determined to use my voice even when it feels scary to be so vulnerable.  

I have mentioned before that my mother said she ‘Americanized’ our home. So no, we didn’t have many Japanese decorations. I couldn’t speak Japanese (unless you count a few phrases and the numbers 1-20) 😊 but I had a few records (45 rpm no less- if born after 1996-you may need to look that up-I’m really dating myself here) of Japanese children’s songs that I loved to sing with my best friend, Maureen, even though we had no idea what we were singing about. 😊  

My Japanese Children’s Song records

I loved the packages the woman I knew as my Grandmother, Miyako, sent us filled with senbei (rice crackers), green tea, pretty magazines (that I couldn’t read but my mom cherished),ramen noodles, Hello Kitty Sanrio items, dresses for me, and beautiful Licca-chan dolls.

Sara with my Licca-chan village

I looked forward to hearing my mom speak Japanese once a month when she called my grandmother and her close friend in Japan. I loved the sound of how she spoke and laughed with them. I remember hearing my name mentioned and wondering what my mother was saying about me. My mom didn’t make Japanese food very often (except for rice), but when she did make some Japanese dishes it was delicious. I remember how she would put a bowl of rice and cold water daily in front of her favorite picture of her Papa. I remember feeling special because my mom was from Japan and so happy to also be Japanese.

Me with some Sanrio gifts & outfit from my grandmother

Of course, it wasn’t until I went to school that I quickly realized that being Japanese may not be something to brag about after kids started using racial slurs when referring to my mom or myself.  I quickly realized that blending in or the wish to blend in might be better for me. Something shifted by middle school and I didn’t focus on my Japanese side very much.

When I was a teenager, high schools and colleges didn’t have Japanese language courses (as my daughter took in college). And there were no Asian clubs or Asian American magazines, Facebook groups, or podcasts(so many wonderful ones exist now and that I’ve been guest in/on) 🙂 **. If there had been, I don’t really know if I would have sought them out or if that would have encouraged me to embrace my Japanese side sooner. I’m leaning towards the latter.

I do know that I didn’t check off Asian on my college application or FAFSA because my mother vehemently forbade it after what happened to Vincent Chin a few years earlier. So, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t fully embrace my Japanese heritage until after I had my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I was always proud to be Japanese, but just didn’t know at the time that I could embrace it without looking like I wasn’t proud of being an American.  So, during this past tumultuous year, the thought of maybe I don’t have a reason or a right to speak about the recent Anti-Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) racism had crossed my mind. Although, I would have been Japanese enough for the internment camps in the US during WWII-a pretty darn good reason to be considered Asian enough now.

I know that when I wrote The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB), I struggled with what lens I would use to tell the story because people (including my Dad) kept asking ‘Whose side of the story are you telling?’ My father worried that there might still be prejudice against the Japanese and didn’t want me to get hurt. More than once he had told me, ‘Perhaps it would be better not to write the book.’. But I thought of the strength my mom had to not only persevere after the most horrific day of her life, but to also share those memories with me. The one and only clear answer came through-to proudly push forward and tell the story through the lens of a 12-year- old girl-the only lens that mattered.

Interestingly, as I began to query possible agents and editors, they didn’t realize I had a connection to the story because my name wasn’t Japanese (even though in the intro paragraph I wrote that it was based on my mother’s family in Hiroshima and all she lost in the atomic bombing.) Although, I do realize my name couldn’t be any less Japanese-but it was a barrier I hadn’t thought about. It again made me question if I was Japanese enough to tell the story.

Like mother, like daughter…

As a mother and a MG/YA author, I can’t help but think of the children that are too young to understand why or to know the long history of anti – AAPI racism (probably because it wasn’t taught in school), yet they are old enough to sense the fear, sadness, or anger of their parents or other loved ones.  And tragically, some are dealing with the loss of their loved ones to senseless violence solely for the fact that they were born Asian.

I feel for the middle and high school age kids not understanding why the same people who called the pandemic “kung flu” under the guise of being a joke, were surprised when AAPI’s said attacks against them had risen, and then refusing to see any correlation between the two (I know as an adult I don’t understand it).  They see the current endless social media feed on the hate incidents against Asian Americans, as well as the difficulty in labeling or prosecuting them as hate crimes. My heart breaks for them. I want them to have a safe space to discuss their emotions that are cycling through them. I want them to know that their emotions, their voices, their (our) stories matter.

I hope to tell my readers/students that even if we think others are not listening or haven’t listened to us in the past-we still have the right to tell our story, and for others to understand our hurt is valid. Fear and ignorance can be deafening, so we have to work even harder to have our stories, our messages heard. I’m holding on to my hope that through prayer and in solidarity we can cut through that noise(of racism) to find a song of peace.

Whichever way we choose to express our story(spoken or written word, art..) or stand against hate crimes, it doesn’t have to go viral, doesn’t have to change the world in a day for you to be considered as making a difference-it ALL matters. I’ve listed some resources at the end of my post.

I’m grateful to be a member of Asian Authors Alliance . They had set up an amazing network of AAPI authors and bookstagrammers to bring awareness, to have fundraising events through their Kidlit Against Anti-Asian Racism(back in March) and #StandUpforAAPI(late March on Instagram). They are also setting up author panels for AAPI month in May and I will be participating in one with some amazing authors on May 28th.

I’m incredibly grateful for all of my families’ and friends’ love and support from my childhood to the present. I’m grateful for my husband, (who gave me the second half of my non-Asian name😊), for always being here for me. I’m grateful for my daughter who fully embraces her Japanese heritage and encouraged my journey of writing TLCB because she felt the students would have empathy for the victims once they understood that they were people (like us) under those mushroom clouds (she was right).

Sara &host family at summer festival

It is my hope that by telling our stories of our AAPI heritage and teaching the history of Asian Americans, people will no longer see a ‘foreigner’, but the eyes of a mother, a child, or a grandmother, or father; they will see the common bond that we all have as human beings living in America.

Me with my Mom at 1 yr old & Mom,Sara, &I

*Many people came to the aid of the Korean family that owns the store after this latest incident (sadly not the first time this has happened to them). Seeing this outpouring of compassion and generosity makes me feel very hopeful.

I’d like to send out my deepest condolences to the families of the Atlanta shooting victims: Soon C. Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Xiajoe Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Paul Andre Michels. My prayers to the family of Elcias Hernandes-Ortiz who is currently in the ICU as result of his injuries from this shooting. As well as to ALL the recent victims of senseless violence this past month.

Resources:

A few weeks ago, I attended an Asian American Federation virtual event “ A Year of Asian Hate: Where do We Go from Here?” which is also on their Facebook Page. This poignant program featured an Asian American that was attacked in NYC, as well as highlight various groups/people that are (and have been) working together in NYC.

Ways to support Asian American Pacific Islander Community: These are just a few, this article on NBC.com by Kate Ĺy Johnston has more.

**Asian American Magazines/Newspapers (Not a full list)

HAPA Magazine(soon to be Mixed Asian Media)

Mochi Magazine

Asian in the Arts

The Cre8sian Project

Plan A Magazine

Rafu Shimpo

Pacific Citizen

AsAm News

Borderless Journal

**Podcasts (Happy to say that there are many in the US, so I can’t list them all. Some I’ve been on and others I’d like to be 🙂 So please check out Potluck Podcast Collective or Asian American Podcasters for a more complete list)

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

Secret City and Its Song

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

I had been wanting to write about my visit in May with the amazing students, school librarians, and teachers in the Oak Ridge, TN schools for a couple months now. But my father passed away and my pain flare ups prevented me from writing this until now. Because I didn’t want to have one really long post, I’ve divided it into three parts, with the 2nd posting tomorrow, and the last posting on Thursday ( I know, 3 in a row-you will probably never see me do that again 🙂 ). While writing about my Oak Ridge school visits, I read an article about a Japanese exchange student in the state of Washington, that I wanted to use as my introduction…

Back in May, a Japanese exchange student, Nonoka Koga, made headlines in US and Japanese newspapers. Ms. Koga spent the school year at Richland High School in Richland, Washington. She made news’ headlines because she spoke out about the school’s logo (the capital letter R over a mushroom cloud) and popular chant (“Proud of the Cloud”). Richland is near the town of Hanford – one of the locations for the Manhattan project and where they enriched the plutonium used in the atomic bomb, Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Nonoka Koga is from Fukuoka, Japan. But her grandparents lived about 30 miles from the town of Kokura which was the intended target for the atomic bomb that day. However, since it was a cloudy day in Kokura, her grandparents were spared and Nagasaki with clearer skies became the target city and over 80,000 people killed.

At the end of the school year, Ms. Koga wanted to give her thoughts on the logo and cheer. With the help of the photography teacher she made her comments on the short 3 ½ minute school morning announcements on Richland High’s YouTube channel Atomic TV.

Ms. Koga explained that she didn’t want them to change their logo/mascot, but to help them with another perspective about what that cloud represents. “…after the explosion the cloud is basically made up of things that the bomb destroyed…I’m here today because it was a cloudy day.”

As the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor knowing how much my mother suffered and lost under one of those famous mushroom clouds, I do wish that they would change their logo and chant. I understand the pride the school has for the Hanford workers who were doing their patriotic duty. I have no issue with that. What I take issue with is celebrating something that killed members of my family, innocent women, children, and the elderly. Perpetuating an insensitive chant dehumanizes the many innocents who suffered in the bombing. This is why the stories of the survivors need to be told so that the students/teachers can understand why people like myself find the logo and the chant offensive. I don’t feel that they are using this logo/chant to be cruel, they just may not understand what the mushroom cloud represents. (I want to make it clear that I do not find the students, teachers, or citizens offensive.)

If I can explain the damage, the loss, the death under that cloud, then students can understand what could happen to their loved ones, if events were reversed, and ultimately come to an understanding that no family should ever have to live through that again. Ignoring the effects of the bombing on the innocent confounds and angers me. We can/should be proud of the work Hanford citizens did for their country but not proud of the death and destruction a nuclear bomb caused. Both stories can co-exist with respect and peace. I know that because I experienced that first-hand just a few months ago when I visited another Manhattan Project site- The Secret City of Oak Ridge TN.

When I found out that the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) nominated The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) for the Volunteer State Book Award, I did my chair happy dance 🙂  Scot Smith, Media Specialist at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, TN invited me to speak about TLCB and my mother surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to four middle schools in Oak Ridge and surrounding towns. I looked forward to my first chance connecting with students, in person, at Tennessee schools (I’ve Skyped with TN schools). I had no idea just how connected my mother’s story would be to that city. But, more on that tomorrow…