Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Perspectives on Asian-American culture through the lens of identity, history, and experience
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My brother Glenn and I moved my mom from her house in Lafayette, Colorado, last month to live in a memory care facility nearby. She’s had dementia for a long time, and it’s gotten noticeably worse for the past couple of years. I’m still sorting through how it felt to take her out of her house, and how it feels now.
My friends (and anyone who follows my social media “food porn” photos) know that I’m a snob about Japanese food. I have strong opinions on the best tonkatsu fried pork cutlets, real vs. fake sushi and Japanese restaurants staffed by non-Japanese who can’t pronounce menu items correctly. And, because I love ramen, I hate bad ramen – and in Denver bad ramen is much more common than the good stuff.
Yesterday I was heartened to see the news that the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team is going to stop using its blatantly racist caricature of an American Indian, "Chief Wahoo," on its uniforms starting the 2019 season. The leering cartoon character is so obnoxious that my wife Erin has included it for years in a workshop she gives on racist icons in American culture from Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito. But this being American in 2018, the philosophy of yin and yang means that for this bit of good news (the chief will be benched from uniforms but not from team merchandise) there is a balancing blast of bad news. That came at practically the same time, when I saw a post on Facebook sharing a godawful item from Walmart.com, a "Kids China Boy Costume," complete with a photo of a young white boy dressed in an inappropriate, culturally appropriate and inexcusably phony polyester suit with baggy pants, a Mandarin-collared shirt with Chinese-style knot buttons, and a matching hat with an attached queue of braided hair (which is sold separately to "improve your costume").
Erin and I attended the opening performance of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," a moving tribute to the tragic life of jazz singer Billie Holiday, who is remembered today for classic renditions of "God Bless the Child" and the stark song condemning the racist lynching of black men she first recorded in 1939, "Strange Fruit." Holiday was one of the most influential singers ever, whose influence crossed over jazz and blues to folk, R&B, rock and pop music. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" is set in a bar in Philadelphia just months before her death in July 1959 from heart failure caused by cirrhosis.
The skeletal dome that marks ground zero for the atomic bomb that deciated Hiroshima is now part of the city's Peace Memorial Park. We live in tumultuous – and possibly perilous – times. Our government and society at large is more divided than I can remember, even during my childhood in the 1960s. Race and gender issues fill the headlines every day, and that’s just looking at domestic headlines. It’s not “fake news” to say that our country is struggling today, on a variety of levels on a variety of topics.
When the word “veterans” comes up in conversations within the Japanese American community, I suspect most of the time the image the word conjures is a picture of Nisei soldiers of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team fighting during World War II.
When I was a kid, I used to tell people who asked what generation I was, that I was “Ni-hansei,” or second-and-a-half. That’s because although my father was a Nisei born in Hawaii (technically a Kibei because his family moved to Japan in 1940 and he was stuck there during the war, but that’s another essay), I was born in Japan.
All the recent controversy over “whitewashing,” Hollywood’s habit of casting white people in Asian roles, got me thinking about how Japan has been portrayed in films over the years. Because I was born in Japan, my earliest movie memories are chambara, or samurai (and especially ninja), movies that I watched in black and white on television. We didn't get to see many movies in theaters, but my mom used to take my brother and me to Disney features when they opened, riding the trains with us to the cinema. After we moved to the States, I treasured American films that were set in Japan. There haven’t been a whole lot but it’s interesting to see how Hollywood depictions have showed Americans’ stereotypes of Japan, and how that’s changed over the years. Here are a few (Click the images to purchase the films):

Perspectives on Asian-American culture through the lens of identity, history, and experience

Gil on Twitter

@GilAsakawa

- June 21, 2018

RT @AARPAAPI: YouTube beauty superstar Michelle Phan talks about how her Vietnamese American heritage has affected her rise on social media…
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- June 20, 2018

Lunch w/ the MIKADO crew: Jerk Chicken w/… https://t.co/Tch7EtAUoJ
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- June 20, 2018

I was on KUSA 9News in Denver today to talk about the imprisonment of Latino immigrants through the perspective of… https://t.co/XVtzBLSf7j
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- June 20, 2018

Dinner while serving as a screener for AARP AAPI… https://t.co/AN37jUZPUG
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- June 19, 2018

I'm going to be interviewed today, live during 9News at 4 pm and will be taped for the later shows. The topic? Conc… https://t.co/LSdyHDqsSJ
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More from Gil Asakawa

Being Japanese American

“A must-read book that will delight you with its humor and amuse you with its insights; for non-Asian, a must-read book if you’re curious about what makes Japanese Americans tick.”

— John Tateishi, National Executive Director, Japanese American Citizens League