Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | asian american
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[caption id="attachment_5501" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Amache Japanese American internment camp The Amache Museum, a block from Granada High School, is managed by students from the school who take the "Amache Preservation Society" class. The students maintain the concentration camp site outside of Granada.[/caption] It’s a rite of greeting among older Japanese Americans. I’ve seen it happen over and over – one JA is introduced to another, and if they’re old enough, the first question they ask of each other is, “what camp were you at?” We all know that “camp” in the context of Japanese Americans has nothing to do with summer camp. These people are not being nostalgic about singing “Kumbaya” around the campfire, hopping along in potato sack races (maybe it would be rice sack races?) and learning how to “rough it” in the great outdoors. “Camp,” of course, in the Japanese American context, are the internment camps, or as I increasingly call them, “concentration camps,” that 110,000 people of Japanese descent were held in during World War II. So an elderly man says he was in Arkansas, and the other man says “Oh yeah? Which one?” “Jerome.” Common ground is found, and the two reminisce, if that’s the right word, about their families’ unjust incarceration.

jeremylin-linsanity Evan Jackson Leong, the director of the entertaining and inspiring documentary "Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story," tells interviewers that Lin's story "transcends sports, race and culture." That's true enough, because Jeremy Lin's story -- a determined young man loves basketball above all else but is ignored by colleges and the NBA despite his talent, and perseveres in the end by sheer determination and religious faith -- is universal. But as an Asian American, Lin's story is inspirational for me precisely because he's Asian American. His ethnicity was the main reason he was dismissed by colleges and the NBA, even though he was an all-star leader in high school. I hope everyone watches "Linsanity," which went on sales on DVD this week, and is inspired by his universal story, or his incredible accomplishment as an Asian American. I know many Asian Americans watched it at film festivals, or during one of many special fundraising screenings for Asian and Asian American nonprofit organizations across the country. In Colorado it was screened by an Asian American fraternity at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a Japanese American history group in Denver. If Asians didn't watch the documentary in a theater, they probably watched it on cable TV -- Comcast featured it in its Asian American channel for months. But it's great to revisit "Linsanity" on DVD (wish there were some extras added, though).

sueypark I've watched in awe and appreciation for the past week as a Twitter hashtag created by writer and activist Suey Park, "#NotYourAsianSidekick, has achieved the impressive feat of trending on the social network, sparking a global discussion about Asian stereotypes, Asian American identity and especially, the challenges faced by Asian American women. Park first used the hashtag on Sunday, December 15 to promote a Twitter conversation the next day about how feminism had minimized and marginalized Asian American women. "Be warned," the tweet announced. "Tomorrow morning we will be have a convo about Asian American Feminism with hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. Spread the word!!!!!!!" The conversation couldn't wait 'til the next morning. It began right away, and led to a torrent of posts from Asian American women who aired their frustration and anger, inspiring others to add their voices to the chorus.

hawaii-five-0 We're fans of the CBS series "Hawaii Five-0" for lots of reasons, including the fact that it's a showcase for Asian and Pacific Islander actors such as Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, and the entertaining "bromance" relationship between Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) and Danny "Danno" Williams (Scott Caan). I always loved the original series that ran from 1968-1980, and think it's great that this reboot uses pretty much the same arrangement for the theme song, and even uses quick-cut images that evoke the look and feel of the intro sequence from the earlier Five-0. And finally, who can't love a show that celebrates the coolest and best-looking of all the United States, with loving b-roll shots of both its glistening city life and its incredibly beautiful natural scenery? This week, we get a whole new reason to appreciate "Hawaii Five-0" and tune in regularly. The producers are focusing on an aspect of American history that still remains under the radar of most mainstream American pop culture: The American imprisonment of people of Japanese ancestry in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

snowfallingoncedars-BenandArleneMany Japanese Americans who've grown up since World War II -- myself included -- dreaded December 7 every year. As kids (and sometimes as adults) we've been taunted with hateful calls to "Go home, Jap!," "Go back where you cam from!" and the classic, "Remember Pearl Harbor!" As if we could forget. The war happened decades ago, and as Japanese Americans we had nothing to do with the attack on the U.S. military on Hawaii that sparked America's entry into WWII. Hell, today, most people in Japan had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Yet, I still feel wary when I go out on Dec. 7. Although I haven't faced a dumb remark in years now, I know that feeling is always there, just beneath the surface of civility. The ugliness comes out, perversely, when a tragedy occurs in Japan, like the "It's God's revenge for Pearl Harbor!" comments that were tweeted out after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan. So we decided this year, we'd face our trepidation directly. We bought tickets for "Snow Falling on Cedars," the stage version of David Guterson's award-winning 1994 novel about the after-effects of post-war racial hatred against Japanese Americans in a small Pacific northwest community. The book was made into an atmospheric film in 1999 starring Ethan Hawke that was nominated for a cinematography Oscar. Seeing the play at the Vintage Theatre in Aurora would help exorcise the Pearl Harbor demons, we figured, even as it reminded us of the hysteria that the bombing caused. That hysteria led just a few months later to the imprisonment of almost 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry -- half American citizens, born in the U.S. -- in concentration camps away from the West Coast.

katyperry-kimono Katy Perry opened the American Music Awards with an over-the-top performance of her song "Unconditionally," dressed in a gaudy, faux-Japanese kimono (with Chinese-style mandarin collar and slits up the legs, as well as American-style exposed cleavage) and painted in hideous full-yellowface makeup to fake an "Oriental" look. The performance has sparked some outrage in both the blogosphere and mainstream media. Maybe that's what she wanted. She's probably pissed that Miley Cyrus has been getting all the media attention recently for her edgy, racy performances. The opening notes of the AMA segment (below), plucked out on shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, while a woman in kimono was silhouetted behind a Japanese shoji screen, had me hopeful that something that showed respect, appreciation and understanding for Japanese culture was about to be broadcast. But no. As the screen is pulled away and the woman behind it -- Perry in her fake kimono -- started singing, my heart sank and my gut clenched. Here we go again, a cultural mishmash of what white people think is "Japanese" all thrown into one ugly, cluttered, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink four-minute nightmare.

[caption id="attachment_5367" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Nagomi Visit Travelers are treated to home-cooked Japanese food when they book a meal with Nagomi Visit. (Photo courtesy of Nagomi Visit)[/caption]   There's no getting around it: One of the most reliable ways to generate international friendship and cultural understanding is through the stomach. Diversity in dining is a reflection of an evolving society. Just think of a typical American culinary palette of the 1950s: Pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, spinach boiled to drab green mush, creamed corn. Your plate was all white and tan, with maybe a green highlight or two (it helped if you had an iceberg lettuce salad on the side). The one bright spot, color-wise might have been a jiggling red blob of Jell-O for dessert. I'm oversimplifying, of course. Depending on where in the U.S. of A. you lived in during the decade when I was born, you would have grown up having Italian food, or Jewish food, or maybe Mexican or Americanized Chinese food. But Middle America -- the land of Better Home and Gardens Cookbooks -- was all about red meat and multiple kinds of carbs. Don't get me wrong -- I love white and tan food. Except for that over-cooked spinach, which is a crying shame, I love that typical '50s meal, including the Jell-O. But for 2013, I'm sure glad that Americans have a much wider appreciation for ethnic cuisine, from Italian and Mexican to Chinese, Korean and Thai. I grew up eating Japanese food, naturally. My mom cooked Japanese food for herself even if she cooked spaghetti, or steak, for the rest of us. In fact, we had rice every night, even if we had pasta, mom made rice and I often had a serving on the side alongside my noodles. But mostly, my brothers and I grew up eating my mom's home-cooked Japanese food. Whether it was basic like teriyaki chicken or grilled salmon, or fancy and more "ethnic" dishes like oden (a traditional winter stew) or chawan mushi (a hot savory egg custard), we knew we were always getting a true authentic taste of Japan, because that's what my mom grew up with. A lot of us love to travel to Japan so we can have authentic Japanese cooking. Eating in restaurants in Japan, whether expensive high-end eateries or funky hole-in-the-wall joints, can be a satisfying way to hook into Japanese culture. But imagine the awesome experience of having a home-cooked Japanese meal, in a Japanese home. OK, so you don't have relatives that you can mooch off, or friends who you can crash with who'll cook for you. No worries -- there's a brilliant service called Nagomi Visit International through which you can set up a home-cooked lunch or dinner during your travels in Japan, and make new friends while you're at it.