05 Dec Sites like I Am Korean American & Discover Nikkei collect stories about identity for our communities
Every once in a while, people ask me about the name of my blog, because they only hear the word “Nikkei” when it’s used for the Japanese stock exchange. “Nikkei” is also so the word used to describe people of Japanese ancestry outside of Japan. I’m a Nikkei-jin, or Nikkei person. When my blog first started out in the 1990s as a column in Denver’s weekly Japanese community newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Jiho, its publishers, Eiichi and Yoriko Imada, suggested I call the column “Nikkei View” since it reflected my perspective on pop culture and politics.
The name stuck. In the years since, I’ve come across “Nikkei” a few times as a term for who I am — mostly on research projects such as the International Nikkei Research Project, a three-year collaborative project involving more than 100 scholars from 10 countries and 14 participating institutions including the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in LA. There are organizations that use the term, such as the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, and the blog “Nikkei Ancestry.”
Now there’s another “Nikkei” site, which is republishing some of my babbling from this blog. In 2005, JANM launched Discover Nikkei, which is a gathering place for stories about Nikkei-jin from all over the globe, not just Japanese Americans but also Japanese Peruvians and Japanese Brazilians (two countries that have very large Nikkei populations), and every other country, as well as mixed-race people of Japanese ancestry.
Nikkei can send in their stories or videos or photos, and the Discover Nikkei staff will post it after — the site even posts in four languages: English, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese (the language of Brazil) — so the kaleidoscope of content reflects all aspects of the immigrant and post-immigrant experience of all of us with roots in Japan. It’s a fascinating site, and an engrossing place to spend time getting to know others who share my ethnic identity.
The first story I wrote that’s on the Discover Nikkei site is a reprint of my post about San Jose’s Japantown. Other recent entries include Neal Yamamoto’s weekly cartoon, and a brainy piece by Greg Robinson about Japanese Canadians, ““Two Other Solitudes”: Historical Encounters between Japanese Canadians and French Canadians – Part 1 .”
Here’s an excerpt from Robinson’s article:
As an American living in Montreal, I am frequently assigned the task of comparing the United States and Canada, and of reflecting on the particular factors that make life in these two countries, which share a border and a great deal else, so oddly different. One important historical element separating the two is that Canada, its relatively new policy of official multiculturalism notwithstanding, has not generally perceived itself as a nation of immigrants, as has more commonly (though hardly universally) been the case in the United States.
It’s fascinating to click around DN and see the diverse range of voices and approaches that make up the Nikkei narrative.
The same basic concept — sharing your identity — is at the heart of “I Am Korean American,” a site that serves a similar purpose as Discover Nikkei, but with a narrower focus on Koreans in the U.S. KAs sign in and post some basic information about themselves, including whatever story they want to tell about themselves and their identity.
The site introduces itself succinctly:
There are over 1.5 million Korean Americans in the United States. We share many similarities but are each unique and different. I Am Korean American is an online project that showcases the diversity and many interesting personalities of the Korean American cocts mmunity. Take part in this experiment and submit your profile today.
It’s fun clicking through each day’s posted profile. One recent one, for Un Chu “Angie” Hwang Cronin, tells an evocative tale of growing up as an outsider:
My family moved from Seoul to San Antonio in 1979. Iâ€™m the 3rd out of four offspring, but the youngest daughter to 2 (typically Korean) hard-working, immigrant parents. I have an accent, a South Texas drawl.
Growing up Korean in San Antonio was challenging: I wasnâ€™t white, I wasnâ€™t Latina . . . I was the kid whose people ate dog.
It wasnâ€™t until my first trip out to K-town in LA, when I was 16, that I saw Koreans driving â€œniceâ€ cars and had white collar, professional jobs. Most of the Koreans my parents knew in Texas in the 1980â€™s were janitors (Mom still is), lunch ladies or housekeepers.
I Am Korean American is a project of Barrel, a New York-based brand, communications and marketing firm that was founded by a couple of Korean Americans.
Both Discover Nikkei and I Am Korean American are important projects that give their respective ethnic communities a collective voice, and one that reflects the rainbow of experiences and variety of perspectives that have evolved from our immigrant roots.
I hope there will be projects like these for other communities (and I bet there already are)… and wouldn’t it be even cooler to get the best of the stories into another, pan-Asian site to celebrate the wider Asian American story?