Thursday, September 18, 2008

SAW as in Single Asian Woman

My good friend commented on the blog about her new status as a SAW, Single Asian Woman. I think back on those days for me about 30 years ago and want to be there for her now. It was the Year of the Snake which are times of great change -- a long year during which I grieved my precious grandmother, went through a dissolution after 10 years of marriage, went back to work teaching, was pink slipped by spring and thoroughly unemployed by fall, moved three times -- out of the house into a rental which was sold from under me, into an apt, and back home when he didn’t want to live in the house anymore. “I think I’ll rent it out," he said. "It’s too big.” It made sense to me to move back since the house payment was much less than rent. In those days, we didn’t have the acronym for the new status divorce or dissolution forces us into. Without the acronym, I would guess the word that most accurately described me then was “pariah.” Two of my close married Asian women friends called me individually and told me best as they could that it would no longer be appropriate to socialize together because of my change in marital status. Year of the Snake is all about change but this was
mind numbing.

The story of my SAW initiation doesn’t end there. It continues on a very happy note. Being dropped socially meant new friends (remember the decade of the ethnic pride movements was still happening), new name, ears pierced (both on the left side because I was told the right hurt more than the left), lost my fear of driving. So I choose to remember that Year of the Snake as one where NASU and AASU and their coinciding community groups hung out together; the year I worked VERY part time as multicultural coordinator for 4J with crummy pay, housed in a little closet like room -- but I got to share that room with the newly hired director of the NATIVES program, Twila Souers, who remains today one of my closest friends. No room is too small if you both like to laugh a lot!

That was the year I was relieved to find myself gravitate toward learning to beadwork rather than bars. And beadwork led me to the Longhouse, which led me to pow wows; we piled into my new red Datsun B-210 for all destinations to find beads. Mostly, that was the year the first of my 30-plus roomies moved in because I had to do something to pay the $135 a month house payment while I was severely underemployed. Thanks to Eugene’s "pre fair housing law atmosphere," I had quality renters, the first of whom was Bob Flor, first PhD graduate of Filipino descent from the College of Education! Bless him forever! He got his PhD, and kept a roof over our heads, and on graduation day everyone celebrated this great day at the house Bob saved!! I learned to just go with the flow, or more accurately, the flow came right through the middle of my house. After all, there are times every Movement needs a house.

This house has known many I-5 artists and activists. Janice Mirikitani, my favorite poet, taught me which direction the head of the bed should NOT face when she spent the night here. Despite the mystique she held for me because she was my favorite poet, she cut through all that and all was comfie like good friends. The rep for Free Cho Sul Lee left his records behind, and so did the Noh Buddies. (We didn’t have cd’s). Nobuko Miyamoto and the Chop Suey cast who didn’t party hard stayed with me and learned what a Giveaway was firsthand when my roomie Roger Amerman impulsively and with a full heart gifted them with all he had with him to show his appreciation for their performance. Frank Chin, Frank Abe, Lawson Inada, and a my close sister friend Peggy Nagae brought us up to speed on the first Day of Remembrance at Camp Harmony here.

Speaking of Peggy, I remember Bob Shimabukuro saying he had the perfect t-shirt for us, one that said, "I'm a strong Asian woman with a Bad Attitude and a Chip on my shoulders!"
Once Peggy asked Bob, how is it that he grew up to be a Feminist man? He answered, "As you know, I have asthma, and when I'm having difficulty breathing, someone would rub my back." Then he explained when his dad rubbed his back he talked about Marxist philosophy. When his mom rubbed his back she talked about Okinawan pride. And when his sister rubbed his back she taught about sexism and feminism. If he wanted to breathe, he listened very closely.

But I digress. In this house, there were many meetings for Reunification of Korea, to stop the war, to organize conferences on Asian American Justice issues on the campus and showcase our artists, taiko drummers, poets, musicians on and on. And afterwards at the house, always the after party.

Roger had his Beatles Party here playing each album from the first to last, and it took exactly 12 hours -- from 5 pm to 5 am, then everyone went to Hoots for breakfast (not me). Marcine decided to have "Halloween on Pearl Harbor Day party" here with tasteless (yet yummy) snacks and Marcia brought hotdog sushi.

This house also knows the agony of ecstasy of a couple of the NASU pow wow directors. Oh, my! How can I ever forget what happened when the salmon didn’t come for the feast as expected. My friend Emilio who had gone hunting had been storing his elk meat in my freezer for about a year until he could get it. What could I do. The pow wow director was a roomie, after all! All I can say is that the elk stew was good and fed hundreds. My roomie, Greg’s day was saved. But what of Emilio who went hunting, had the meat cut up and wrapped and labeled perfectly. Wouldn’t you know the day of reckoning came very quickly and Emilio showed up just days later to take home the elk meat. He was forgiving but I still cringe. And when Roger lived here and was pow wow director, there was a family in each room, while I slept squeezed in with the washer and dryer. I think Rog’ the Dodge slept on the lawn. When I think of it, those years may have been pretty stressful but I cannot deny that it was the best of times too. For each loss, there was a gain times 100.

So to my good friend who just wrote me, we’ll watch out for each other! Call on me. Everyone in transition needs a Bob Flor, or Alicia Moccasin, or Wilma Crowe, or Martha Choe, a Marcine Anderson, or Roger Amerman, or a sister Marti. I guess some of us needed a whole movement. I and so many others want to be there for you and your family. May there be many unexpected blessings!

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.