Wednesday, December 30, 2009

For Bahati Myhelatu

I got my first "comment" to TBAsian. It was exciting. The comment came from my good friend Bahati Ansari who spent many years (twice) in Eugene, making it a better place, and now lives in Arizona. My recent blog on Japanese New Years Open House made her a little homesick.

I miss Bahati. We were sisters, here in Eugene. The first time we met, she had come to my house to a First People's Coalition potluck. We all talked like that back in those days. We rejecteds the pejorative implication of the labels first and third world peoples. We called ourselves first people just because we could. We were a group of women of color getting together to talk, eat and have fun. I remember Bahati picking up a small beaded gourd bowl from the mantle of our fireplace and saying, "Here it is!" Apparently the two of us would take turns going into a favorite store and each of us would pick it up and cup the small bowl in our hands and then put the costly little bowl down regretfully and return home. One day my husband bought it for me, and at Bahati's next visit to the store, "her bowl" was gone. I don't remember if I made her take it with her then, or if I found another one and gave it to her, but we are sisters of the matching bowls. She liked to call shopping as we do in shops with beautiful things from Africa, Asia, Latin America "liberating things" and we'd bring it home. Her home was beautiful, dark wood, bronze, fabrics of the world draping, white curtains, rafia, wicker, books, baskets, shells and other found objects. She also had a collection of racist knickknacks, also liberated, bunched together -- cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers, dolls, all together in one place, and as a grouping, no longer caricatures, but a family.

At that same potluck, she was enjoying a dim sum treat I served at the party. "mmmmm" she said savoring the flakey crust and the sweet gravy inside around chunks of barbecue pork. "What's this?" When I told her she said, "OH NO! I'm f..'ed up! (Over the years, I learned that Bahati never ever swears so this was a big slip of the tongue!) I don't eat pork-OH-well" and laughed and finished the treat. Bahati is Muslim. From enjoying an occasional pork for the sake of multiculturalism, it is an easy stretch to imagine her reading an article about Japanese New Years food and feeling HOMEsick.

Bahati got her name in Kenya. She attended the United Nations Gathering of Women held in Nairobi. As she and another delegate passed a group of elderly women sitting in the marketplace, she was gestured over to them. The elders were speaking their native language but Bahati's friend understood them. She said to Bahati, "they say they know you are from their tribe, the Kisi people." She listened some more. "They just gave you a name. Your name will be Bahati Myhelatu." She went on to explain that Bahati meant "the lucky one" and Myhelatu is "happiness like a butterfly." She listened further. "They just gave you some land and when you come back with your children someday, you will have a house."

Now, how many people, searching for their roots, find it in a moment, passing through a marketplace?

Bahati stands out. She shines. She emanates strength and welcome at the same time. She illuminates. Wherever she works or plays, she brings wisdom out of everyday situations. She "radiates rescue." There are many people who have "come out of the metaphorical cold" to find strength and comfort within her circle. There are the Powerful -- the big fish in this small pond -- who would listen to her when they would dismiss others. And there were some that would try to squash her when her Truth threatened their comfortable skewed world. She still stands.

I've written about Bahati. I think I wrote a blog about her son's bad experience at school and how she turned his school into a Racism Free Zone. I think I wrote a blog about how Ms. Rosa Parks, while campaigning for Rev. Jesse Jackson in Eugene, comforted her. She heard about Bahati taking her sons out of school until schools addressed the racism and told Bahati that when the days seem the darkest it meant that the dawn was near. I think I told you already about when the national treasure Rosa Parks slept for the first time (when touring) without body guards because she had sent the Fruit of Islam to accompany her new friend Bahati Ansari to face the combined forces of teachers, administrators, school board and critics from the community to jump on her and teach her a lesson and teach her her place to dare to confront the District. And when Bahati walked in, surrounded with proud Black men in three piece suits, bow ties, sunglasses and brief cases and who spoke alongside with her, then things kind of turned around. "Yes," the faculty would go through training. "Yes," it was wrong to hang up a picture of a hanged Black man and a flaming cross; racist drawings were not protected by "freedom of speech." And, "Yes, Ma'am, Ms. Ansari, you can design the training." And how it ended up is when she was not cut down, THEY won. They became a proud and beautiful school with a proud history of being a Racism Free Zone, a school which actively worked toward inclusion and respect, where students spoke up powerfully against harassment and bullying where other schools simmered in frustration with the adult's powerlessness to expect respect in their halls and classrooms. The school became a role model for excellence and front page stories changed from trouble to awards.

Bahati adopted my mother -- probably one second just before my Mom adopted her on her own. She became my mother's third daughter. Before that, I did not know that Bahati had such a childhood that she would not know her mom. Even as a little girl, she took her aloneness, her having to learn on her own, having to hug her own self, having to keep her own spirits up and nourish a proud and open heart without an adult's kindness and guidance and grow her own self up.

Bahati auntied our daughter. And that is quite a story, but it's Maki's story, so I'll leave it be. Suffice it to say, Auntie Bahati's authority and some of her wisdom was recognized even by her during the time that in her opinion no adult of worth existed on the planet.

Bahati and I took each other into our worlds. She walked in an Asian sister's shoes and I in hers. The world opened up in good ways and bad. I am formed forever by witnessing how often the daily life's calm is broken with ugly, "out of left field" racism -- DAILY -- by walking with Bahati, and she is familiar with my life experience on the edges, the voiceless invisible region of the forever-foreign. Our alliance is built on standing up to that together, and unfortunately for our well-being, right to the end. Our health has somewhat suffered because of that. I just whipped off an email to her about what I learned to keep us healthier just this morning. It's hard for us to let go. And apparently it comes out of love, not anger. Lot of grieving and loss in our lives.

And the good things! The good things! Celebrations! Marches! Flower gardens! Victories! Beauty! Belly laughs! Kitty cats! Tea! Big hugs! Group Hugs!

I will always miss Bahati when she is not here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Lady Does Not Sing the Holiday Blues

This year will be the first year in 26 years that Will and I will be spending New Years away from home. Every New Years since I moved from my family home in Idaho, back in 1968, I have cleaned the house furiously from Christmas to New Year's Eve and worked from morning to night cooking traditional Japanese food. Each dish meant something so I carried this burden of responsibility to cook it so that those good things would happen during the year to feed our guests who dropped by. Often, I lived where there were very few Japanese Americans so A) No one drops by without invitation and B)they wonder, "what's this?" as they look over the people. My friends are cool so the question is not judgment but an expression of interest as they scoop a healthy portion onto their plate: there is nishime -- a mixture of root vegetables of the earth; sushi; decorative rice molded into special shapes, a whole chicken, a whole fish, a side of black peas, kombu (kelp) and chestnuts, a bright orange gelatin called kanten, okowa which is red adzuki beans and mochi rice, chirashi gohan, vinegar rice dish sprinkled with shredded vegetables, and Japanese style potato salad (includes a green vegentable like string beans, carrots and olives). These foods symbolized strength, robust health, good luck, the family staying together, happiness. I'll let you match them up. All the foods were made to be eaten the next day because we don't work on New Years. We just visit each other and eat from other Japanese family New Year foods and good conversation.

Will and I would catch New Year's Eve parties after a day of cooking a week of cleaning, and of course, paying off our bills so we don't enter the New Year owing anything, which would symbolize debt all year long. But, nowadays, we never can quite stay up for midnight -- unless we're at Jim Garcia's house!

On a day between Christmas and New Years, I would make rice cakes or mochi. You cannot greet a New Year without our traditional breakfast of a mochi soup, the cake dropped into a tasty broth with vegetables (all with meanings) and kamaboko, a decorative fish cake which has a meaning. (We all love ozoni).

I also made kazari=mochi for our alter. This is constructed by two large mochi put on top of each other with a leafed mandarin orange on top. Trying to find one fresh for New Years was always a frustrating reminder that we are off the radar to the produce managers. The leafy oranges so prominent for the Christian holiday of Christmas is completely gone for our needs on New Years. For this holiday, the stores are stocking up on snacks for football games. But we MUST have that one orange to place on top of the stacked mochi for our ancestors! Over the years, I think we have educated some of the healthy stores to stock oranges a few days longer and the hunt is not so consuming.

But this year, New Years being so close to when my mom passed on, I don't have the steam to even think about what needs to be done and to top it off, our daughter who moved back into town informed us she is off to Pasedena with the Oregon Ducks and can't do the New Year thing after all. It took a moment's consideration -- the timing, the injured wrist which requires help, and no help. It seemed to be time to finally let go of the burden of guaranteeing a good year for my family by the magic of cooking and cleaning. Nature and the Great Creator provides for us all, and for our part, it is what we do all year which determines happiness, good fortune, health and our family staying together. So this year, Will and I will observe New Years in a peaceful manner. Maybe Will will light the Sacred Fire before New Years' Day as he always has done, and we'll have our mochi breakfast, thinking about Mom and our ancestors. Our family of daughters have their own lives. Josina lives clear in Minnasota. Margaret, William and baby Celeste will be with there own family in southern Oregon. And, of course, Maki's taking off for the Rose Bowl with friends. When she made the decision to skip New Years, some time during fourth quarter of the UO/OSU Civil War Game game which determined who would go to the Rose Bowl, her date promising to pay for the flight for her and her friend, tickets to the game already secured, that kind of revealed us for who we are, and that is we are two people headed for the Siuslaw River to relax, of course. No Dummies, we. This lady does not sing the holiday blues.

After the one year observance of my mom's passing this coming summer , we will have that open house party we always had at New Years sometime in September/October. It'll be a way to show gratitutde for the harvest, to celebrate good work together, to welcome the students back to a new academic year, and all the birthdays and anniversaries which seem to be observed during those two months within our circle of friends, during a time it's safe for Margaret and William and our granddaughter to travel up to do with us. As for next year, this might be a good change to keep. On New Years, we will, like the rest of Nature, take it easy, have prayers by a Sacred Fire, prepare food for our ancestors' alter and for New Year's breakfast for the two of us and any daughter who might be at home and also want to wake up early enough for breakfast with us. The happy thing is we will actually be able to stay up late enough the night before partying on New Year's Eve at the Longhouse, welcoming the New Year in company of friends with lots of kids and of course elder Wilma Crowe, who celebrated her 91st birthday this June, at the Longhouse, rushing outside to bang on the Longhouse pots and pans at midnight. Life is good.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

WW/ Bringing the Salmon Home

Will and I are enthusiastic about another opportunity to travel, this time, on behalf of the salmon and the Winnemem River. The Winnemem Tribe have been invited by the Ngai Tahu tribe of the Maori who live along the Rakaia River to come to New Zealand. The Winnemem were told that their fish had been sent to New Zealand about eighty years ago and the Ngai Tahu have taken care of them. The tribe have extended an invitation anytime to the Winnemem to come and sing for their fist in the Rakaia River. Head Man Mark Franco has kept in contact with the Ngai Tahu. And this year, we are thinking of taking that historic journey.

For the Salmon to be safe in their river, fish ladders must be built over Shasta Lake Dam, any developments threatening to their survival should stop, and the people must continue to sing the songs, dance, keep up the ceremonies. The Winnemem are committed to their historic responsibilities to the salmon. Some federal organizations interested in protection of the oceans are concerned about the health of the salmon and the McCloud River. The Winnemem are willing to make this great journey with War Dance to the Rakaia River with the gracious hospitality of the Ngai Tahu, and will begin the steps of preparing the fish of an even greater journey home.

As our part in this the Winnemem Support Group of Oregon is taking on a project and we call it Bringing the Salmon Home. Anyone of you who are interested in joining, we welcome you. Just download the information. Our goal at the earliest is to send the Winnemem leaders and war dancers January or February 2010, and at the latest, January or February 2011. The salmon run will be January through March.

The Ngai Tahu Tribe of the Maori people who live along the Rakaia River in New Zealand have invited the Winnemem to come and sing for their fish. Back in the late 1800's, salmon eggs or fry were sent around the world. The salmon from the Winnemem hatchery on the Winnemem (McCloud) River were sent to New Zealand After the Shasta Dam was built in the 1940’s, and because it was constructed with no fish ladders, the salmon of the Winnemem do not come up the river anymore. The Ngai Tahu people have assured the Winnemem that when the conditions are right for the salmon, they would most assuredly send the fish home.

Why now: A private energy company (Pacific Gas and Electric) is planning on increasing their power output on the McCloud River by constructing an additional power plant on the McCloud River Dam. If the additional power plant is built, its turbines would kill all the fish even if a fish ladder were to be built on Shasta Dam and river flows may not be enough to provide for sufficient flow for the spawning fish and their returning fry. A publicly owned water district (Westlands) located 400 miles from the McCloud recently bought up an area of the river that once belonged to the Winnemem for the expressed purpose of removing any impediment to the raising of Shasta Dam. With the discussion of a power plant and dam raise, it hastens the need to bring the salmon home. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS),two governmental agencies whose work has to do with the health of the oceans and fisheries, are also interested in restocking the Winnemem River, so the tribe is not alone.

How: Chief Caleen Sisk Franco is ready to take the Winnemem and the war dancers to New Zealand March 13 - 27, 2010 during their salmon run. Chief Caleen Sisk Franco, Headman Mark Franco, the war dancers and singers will go to the Rakaia River, build their prayer fire, pray strong prayers and sing for their fish to prepare them for the journey home.

Why: Chief Caleen Sisk Franco began the long struggle to stop the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) from the further raising of Shasta Dam drowning more sacred sites. She teaches all that would listen that salmon are essential for keeping water pure and river systems healthy. She and the warriors will do what needs to be done to bring the fish back from New Zealand’s Rakaia River to a healthy home -- to swim upriver on the Winnemem -- as their ancestors have done from the beginning of time.

HOW CAN YOU HELP: For those who want to contribute to help the Winnemem war dancers, singers and leaders get to New Zealand, you can donate to the:

Winnemem Wintu Organization
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe c/o Indian Cultural Organization.
Both have 501C3 non-profit status.

Send to: Winnemem Wintu
14840 Bear Mountain Road
Redding, CA 96003

For questions:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Letter to Cuba

My feelings for the Nikkei of Cuba is hard to express as a narrative. There is so much for me to digest. There is so much to unpack before I can tell the story, our trip to Cuba to meet, to share culture, to record the oral history with Cuban Nikkei. Actually, I can't seem to be even able to talk about it coherently until I wrote my first email to Mr. Miyasaka, Cuban Nikkei, Nisei, and the administrator of La Sociedad de la Colonia Japonesa de la Isla de la Juventud, and in a surprisingly short time, received his reply. Email is such a great thing. We are a "hit of the send button" away. I cannot explain the feeling when I read his email. It was all in Spanish, and I tried to pick out the words I might understand. "Siento mucho lo sucedido . . Mardre ..comprendo porque yo tambien . . . mi madre." He understands my feelings about my mother's death because he too experienced it and he is sorry.

My good friend is translating it for me but even without Spanish language it was there. He was talking of his mother "inculco . . .valores eticos y morales de respecto, solidaridad, . . . responsabilidad y la culyuta del detalle." Our mothers instilled in us everything that is important. our values, ethics, respect, sense of solidarity and responsibility for our culture. Maybe I am not perfectly right, but I do believe I have the gist of his message, reaching across distance and saying exactly the words I feel -- the great sense of "on" which is the heart of my grief, the unrepayable debt I owe my mother even separated by death -- as only another Nikkei friend could capture.

It is not easy being Nikkei in the USA, and I am speaking only for myself here. This is my perspective only. There is judgment we make toward each other which limits us. That is what I notice about us. Maybe judgment is not the perfect word but for now I'll give it that name, this feeling which was so inexpressible and omnipresent before the trip -- judgment. It is not mean spirited judgment. With insight I gained in Cuba where I that feeling was gone and all of its awkward side-effects, it seemed almost as if that something I now call judgment had nothing to do with being Nikkei but was just a weird survival skill we picked up in the US generation after generation which has outlived its use -- or has it ?

I am reminded of the youth circle at Cienfuegos. The Nikkei youth, Cuban and from the USA, sitting in a circle, shared with one another the difficulty of growing up Nikkei and their fondest dreams. The Cuban Nikkei talked in such matter of fact day to day terms. A job they felt passionate about. Travel. Family. The Nikkei with Tsukimi Kai spoke instead about pain -- pain of racism, witnessing victims of oppression, living on the brink because you will acquire a huge debt going to college and debt in the US is a dire thing, and their tearful hope for a just society.

Apparently, our youth, four or five generations later, live in a fearful place still.

Whatever the case, this thing I call judgment and as a weird survival skill is something which divides us and in dividing it provides a false sense of safety, of manageability in a somewhat hostile environment over which we have very little personal control. It has a lot to do with creating a sense of trust, perhaps of belonging in the thick of it.

When TK3 met for the first time after returning from Cuba, we out of towners over Skype, to share something from Cuba, I simply could not talk about this. Why? Not because of choice. It was so bunched out in my mind -- Cuba -- the Nikkei -- that it was too big and too full to express. Because I had no words to talk about the IT which had so profoundly shifted in me, I could only find the first narrative which embodied the feeling I came home with. So what is it -- this profound gift I brought across the border without declaring it from Cuba? FREEDOM. Freedom to be and to express me without caution, secret regret, apology -- for heaven sake. Nikkei know what I mean -- the apologetic stance. The Cuban Nikkei, especially in La Isla, probably because it was the one place I experienced the Nikkei completely on their own terms in their own element.

Some time I will write about that Freedom. For now, this sense of freedom opened another door into that conversation of identity, something which still interests me although there are many who have said they think the subject of identity is so yesterday. (Judgment survival tool?) but I reply "there's still racism, isn't there?" (false division between the two groups? What's another way I could have expressed this.)

Cuban youth talk of their problems, solvable day to day problems, their aspirations and hopes as achievable personal goals. Our youth, however, talk about hopeless crisis and a future which would require an outright revolution to fix. Nikkei identity in the USA carries with it this context, the USA legacy. There are many many ways we express it, some on different ends of the scale. Where do we identify ourselves on this scale -- and is that place which best suits us our identity -- and what does that identity serve and on how many levels -- to help us feel we belong, feel more in control in the midst of it all.

At this Cuba debrief, sharing an anecdote for what we came back from Cuba with, all I could come up with at the time without months more of 'unpacking" was the Jose Marti quote "I have lived in the monster and I have seen its belly." That phrase expresses the attitude all Cubans including the Nikkei exhibit and the freedom and self reliance, the confidence in themselves and in a revolution they build together. When I say "including the Nikkei" that is a big deal to me. Not on the fringe, not off the radar, not co-opted but included.

Jose Marti's quote captured what I felt was what I brought back from the Nikkei of La Isla best without my ability to express anything specific yet because it had everything to do with so many thingsn -- their embracing welcome, deep sharing and generosity -- free to be completely who they are -- and it includes my own internal feelings, I felt that I freely belonged -- Nikkei someplace in this world. Whereas being part of a multigenrational family on an Idaho farm was enough for me as a child, as an adult, an island country in the Caribbean gave me the sense of safety that Japanese aspire to give to their children, to their descendants when they can. How do Nikkei in the US carrying our history pass that on? Yes, there are problems in Cuba too to be Japanese. But, I'm just talking about me and my own change and what I gained in Cuba, and what shifted in me AS A NIKKEI.

Because I haven't completely let go of the It which is hard for me to explain -- I do think "can I really share this with anyone else who is Nikkei. Is it woo woo beyond belief? Will they judge me?" We must all bear the burden of that line of thinking often. Hence the shared loneliness because we are wired for clans and groups not "the me kind of independance." The burden of this survival skill I call judgment, a survival skill one picked up in a desert surrounded by barbed wire, or moving away from the farm, years after the issei are gone, outside the clan does not serve the purpose anymore and I discard it. It's not that things changed here -- it's just that I've been to Cuba and met Cubans who are Nikkei. And that is enough for me.

So, you will find this letter is some of that unpacking. It is a thank you which must be said first before the stories flow. To our friend, Noboru Miyazawa, who with Steve Wake and Barb Morita created the friendship which opened the door for all the rest of us to belonging and also opened doors to our own internal history and let in the light, this is dedicated to them:

Dear Noboru-san,
Thank you so much for your quick response to my email and your kind thoughts.

I have talked with Mike Takahashi, the President of JAA. He may have missed your email. But I shared mine with him as well as your address and he is very happy to be in contact. Mike is a Japanese citizen and can travel to Cuba freely. And he speaks Japanese. I know you will meet someday.

I have a dream. My dream is that JAA is able to build a friendship between our Obon Festival here with the Nikkei of La Isla. My dream is to return to La Isla for the opening of the Nikkei history museum at the Presidio with some of the Japanese Americans from here. Most in the Japanese American Association will probably hesitate going unless they can return legally, so we have to seek information about sponsorship so that can happen. Please keep us notified about the opening as well as the progress. My biggest dream is that someday you will dance with us in the Obon and Taiko Drum Festival in Eugene, Oregon. We are a very simple group and have a very simple festival in a city park, the last Saturday of each July. But we have fun together, and many of our friends and neighbors come out to our festival each year to dance with us.

I was raised in an even smaller farming community of Nikkei in Idaho. My family were never put in camp because only Nikkei from the Pacific coast states were uprooted from their homes and put in camps. In fact, we lived in such an isolated area, we literally lived only 40 minutes from a Nikkei concentration camp (Minadoka) built out in the desert and sagebrush.

My Grandpa and Uncle would take 'yasaemono" to camp. They would tell our family of what they witnessed and our family felt very strongly how wrong it was. We Nikkei who lived outside of camps may have suffered because all our neighbors and the whole country seemed to have branded us "enemy aliens" and hated our presence in the community, but at least we had our intact families. At least Obachan and Ojichan still were the head of family, and we sat together to eat each meal as a family, and we all spoke Nihongo because otherwise we could not communicate with our precious elders. (In fact that is all we spoke until we entered school and learned English.) We can withstand any cruelty if we have our family.

Even though we did not go to camp, I go to these pilgrimages for the families and descendants who were part of the concentration camps because I feel strongly about what it is they truly lost by the disintegration of the family structure in camp. Yes, in camp people had to endure horrible living conditions, the loss of freedom, death. But the worst thing for Nikkei is with the breaking of the family structure in camps, which negatively affected the ability to pass down the language with which to communicate with grandparents and the family centered traditions in a normal way. The Nikkei in the USA cannot help but experience this indescribable feeling of loss. We discovered at these pilgrimages, in the inter-generational talking circles, that we pass this feeling down to the next generation. So, our Nikkei families in the United States are not ok, Miyazawa-san. I cannot put my finger on what it is, but after experiencing the Nikkei Cuban hospitality, I do think that we do not have the community joy together that we experienced at La Isla.

I may be somewhat lucky that we were poor farmers in Idaho who had to live crammed together in one small house, aunties, uncles, Obachan, Ojichan, and two little girls. We owned no property because of the Alien Land Law which did not allow any further purchasing of land by Japanese. The region we lived was outside the War relocation zone and we were spared from going to camp. The earlier immigrants in California, Washington and Oregon did have land, and worked hard to make it good land. Greedy speculators took advantage of war hysteria to support the Executive Order 9066 to steal the Japanese land, in my opinion. The forced mass evacuation into concentration camps of 120,000 or more Nikkei made many non-Japanese people in California, Washington and Oregon rich.

Even if our family did not go to camp and understood it was wrong, and lived in an intact family with Issei grandparents as the family center, speaking Japanese and feeling comfort and strength from being Japanese, we all still are part of a community, with 120,000 families affected by the camp experience and, therefore, the whole community is affected. When our family finally moved and were legally able to buy land in early 1950, we moved to homestead in the Snake River area of the state which had just opened up and all our neighbors were Nikkei from Minadoka Camp who decided to stay and farm in Idaho rather than to return to their hostile communities in the western states.

When we hear the stories of what happened to the Issei and Nisei during WWII in Cuba it is very much the same. We are moved to tears of what happened to the parents, to the women and children of Nikkei in Cuba. But for USA Nikkei, the response of the Cuban neighbors is an unimaginable thing for us. I learned from that why Cuban Nikkei have a different sense of themselves, especially after the revolution, of their place in their country. I understand the difference of Cuban descendants sense of self as it differs from Japanese Americans who feel less American than other Americans and have made that a proud stance of strength (seeking justice), joining other historical struggles of Latino, African and Native Americans in this country. I understand that if I lived in Cuba I would be puzzled by the question -- do you feel more Japanese or Cuban. The question simply makes no historical sense there, where it is completely understandable in the USA.

Cuban neighbors and friends being supportive of the Nikkei women and children is very special. However, I must say there were also some good neighbors in most Nikkei's life here in the US who were courageous enough not to lose their neighborly feelings. There are rare instances which when we hear the story, we burst into tears. I remember a Nisei sharing how he felt as a school child when Pearl Harbor happened, and how he felt when he was seen as the enemy as a little American boy of Japanese descent. He remembers the day his family assembled to be taken away from their home to a destination unknown to them, all their property lost and keeping only what they could carry with them. He said he heard his name being called as they stood on the platform waiting for the train, and turned. There stood his second grade teacher and she had brought all his classmates there to say goodbye. When he shared that story, we all dissolved into tears. What a special teacher to have taught such a lesson to her students and to have shown her little Nikkei student such love. I cry still in the retelling of it.

What a difference it might have made for Nikkei in the US and how we feel about being ourselves if, as a rule rather than the exception, our neighbors would have remained neighbors.

There is such a freedom in Cuba, and for me as a Nikkei, especially in La Isla among you and your neighbors. If I may state it, it is as if Cuban Nikkei are "free from shame" free from the hesitancy to express happiness, generosity, friendliness fully across generational lines, cultural lines. There are no lines. Just one family, just as we sit at dinner as intact families -- not the young ones there, the old ones back at the barracks, the children over there, the really traditional ones another place, the 150 percent Americans at another, and the pro-Japanese "bullies" scaring everyone else. That's the American concentration camp model of Nikkei life in America, the unease, the hesitancy, the awkwardness of how it is to be fully "who we are" simply and comfortably with each other, even within our own community. I felt free to be me in Cuba.

In La Isla, I was quite literally filled to the top with happiness, and often my eyes filled with tears with the beauty I felt there of being Nikkei. In Cuba, my deepest feelings about my heritage could come completely to the surface. I realized at that moment in La Isla, at the Obon and afterwards that my loneliness was gone. I lived with it so long from the time I moved away from home I didn't even recognize loneliness was there in the first place. I sought out Nikkei wherever I moved and became involved, I'd go home as much as I could, but La Isla was the first place that I was around Nikkei who so freely expressed their deep feelings and so freely shared with people. even those they met for first time at such a deep level. Even as I write this and confess this, my emotions well up.

I find myself homesick for Cuba. I believe a big part of it is because I feel more at home as a Nikkei there than I ever have since leaving my hometown, my childhood life with Obachan and Ojichan and our three generation family, my sister and I sleeping on either side of mother (no one had their own bed or bedroom) eating together, speaking Nihongo, Obachan and Ojichan at the center their whole life. Despite the fact I do not know Spanish, I felt like I was Home.

It is true the United States does not allow their citizens to bring back gifts from Cuba. However, I walked across the border with priceless treasures in my heart -- your story about your father, Julieta's story about her grandmother, and Ms. Aoyagi's sharing of her feelings for her brother who still grieves for his father even after several decades have passed since his father died. It is so hard for us to live with the knowledge that our issei died with such sadness. His father was never able to return to see his homeland, Nihon, once last time and his son still has such regret on behalf of his father. His sister nodded toward her brother and said she was glad we came to visit especially for him. Then she gestured to the sky and said, "He's happy today."

I also brought back the priceless gift of being at the Obon and the dedication, creativity, pride, patience, deep friendship and commitment and positive spirit and faith it represented. I have never seen such a wonderful portrayal of our culture and so many generations as well as the whole community participating. I have never been treated with such generosity at an Obon. The shi shi mai was the proudest shi shi mai I've seen. Everything was beautifully made, beautifully done and displayed. Everyone embraced us like I have never been embraced by Nikkei, except by family at home with Obachan and Ojichan as part of the circle. My Ojichan would have loved to be Cuban. I know that in my heart! I believe I shared that truth with you when we spoke at the Presidio.

I came to Cuba to try to understand a little more what was essentially Japanese by being able to see what we Nikkei of two very different countries share. I remember when I asked you about the Japanese fit in Cuba, you answered that Cubans and Japanese have a similar feeling for family. That the Cubans were also very generous and friendly like Japanese. And that insight you shared is also a gift I brought home with me across the US border. I will hang on to that thought of Nikkei being friendly, generous, family-centered. And from what I witnessed at Obon at La Isla, there was also the work ethic and resourceful creativity the same values I saw in my Ojichan who could make a "fue" out of an old fishing pole, a beautiful container out of hollowed "kampyo" gourds, could fix anything so it works a few years longer and invented something which lured fish better than something bought at a store. I learned at the La Isla Obon what was Nihonjin, the beautiful shi shi mai, the samisen made out of recycled materials, the beautiful regalia sewn with expertise, the style in which the Obon was organized. And with these gifts of experience in La Isla and in your beautiful friendship, it also illuminated for me what we Nikkei do in the USA which might simply be a reaction to group trauma rather than something traditional. Granted, we probably reacted to group trauma in a Japanese way, but to keep it long past its usefulness is a burden and the challenge may be to let it go.

Miyazawa-san, I thank you so much for the work you do in the community to bring people together. I dream of returning someday with some of the JAA Nikkei or even just Will and I or with TK if it works out. It must be very difficult for the TK group to include "out of state people" like us especially those who don't have the skill of language (me). The project requires language facility, and the frequent meetings and high level organizing it takes to put a trip like the one Steve Wake and Barb Morita put together demands much more from participants than any out of state person can satisfactorily give. But they brought Will and me to Cuba anyway because that's the way they are, spreading the goodness. Will and I are eternally grateful for having been included in TK3, eternally grateful, and we definitely gained more than we would ever be able to give. I will be TK no matter what -- part of the support group, at least, and a member, if possible -- for as long as I can!

Finally my big dream is that you will come to Obon someday or to Tule Lake Pilgrimage. Someday we friends may travel freely to see one another. I am going to lay the foundation for my dream to be at the opening of the Nikkei Historical Museum at the Presideo. Please educate me when you know the circumstances of the museum. If we can be of any help (JAA or Misa and Will), please let us know. We would be so honored!!!! With Mike, our President, being free to travel, it will not be so difficult.

I am excited with those dreams! I apologize for the length of this email.
Always your friend, Misa

My Cuba reflections will be here and there. Although I think of Cuba every day, every day I think of the people and the land, writing about it is a stretch. I remember Ryan and Alan on TK3 suggested more down time to reflect. It's like that. It seems I need a LOT of down time. It is a journey into another world. We live in a world where capital is fundamental, innovation, competition is key. We must also adjust to its side effect of waste and consuming not to mention billboards and neon advertising as a landscape. At the same time, we also live in a world where we are simply running out of natural resources (which rationalizes wars which progressively are becoming upfront wars of aggression with no apology) and face a very grim apocolyptic future of a dying planet. Here everything is a business including healthcare, housing, food, education, and some people can afford it and others can't. That is the world we live in. So to explain the experience of a country where our brothers and sisters helped build a revolution rather than the role we as Nikkei serve here all over the board, where human rights dominate corporate rights, where the priority globally is to earn allies rather than chance enemies, where everyone is a descendant, not just the DAR or the old South aristocracy, it gets complicated and hard to talk about. As a top scientist of the nation in Cuba said to us in his lecture on the nation's Hurricane Prediction and Response System, "We are a materially poor nation. Because of that our most valuable treasures are human life and the earth. In that situation, our priority becomes very clear. In other more highly developed countries, there are competing priorities, and that makes it somewhat complicated." So gracefully said and generous, his differentiation.

And listen to the young Nikkei woman in Cienfuegos who answered "What do you want to tell the youth in the United States?"

"Turn off the television. (laughter) The situation is in more highly developed countries, we would want to see way beyond our boundaries. But to sit under a tree, to breathe the fresh air, to see the beautiful flowers, and to think about our lives and blessings, that is something we can do."

See what I mean? All the thoughts want to come out all at once in any particular order. I'll be back again about Cuba after more unpacking. Perhaps preparing for some of the talks at UO or LCC will help.

But let it be said, Cuba has doubled the truth that at 64, I am still very much a work in progress.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Short Break and the USA Version of Welcome Wagon

I have many stories I want to share about Cuba. I wanted to write about meeting the Cuban Nikkei, but I've saved that for when I have some days. It will be long. It was the heart of our journey.

Suddenly my days became full. Fun side, Bettie Sing Luke is coming to buy apples, a craving she never shook after returning to her beloved Seattle from a ten year stint here in Eugene. Immediately following her visit is my youngest brother Marcus Amerman who's on his way from Santa Fe to do a residency in the Washington art institute for glass. Marcus is a remarkable artist and designer, and Buffalo Man, but that's another story. And soon after Marcus Winnemem Head Man Mark franco and his dad will take a much needed break from the tribal duties regarding the US government, now that the papers have been sent off, and hang out some in Eugene. Saturday Market! Cheap movies!

This onslaught of dear friends necessitated a major rehaul of rooms so that both rooms are bedrooms. The junk room is no more. The giftbags for future TK Cuba trips are in closets. (Yes, we are TK forever. Even if we cannot go I will always gather. Whenever I go into a store, my eyes are caught by potential omiage at a great price!) Washed laundry folded and put away. Piles sorted through, recycled or filed. Just in time!

The other part of the last few days circles around a situaation which I learned about only by accident. I've been a human rights commissioner for about five years. I recently resigned a year early and was attending my last meeting, a meeting which promised to be slow and short. In the casual conversation at the end of our meeting, one of the commissioners who is the city councilor liaison to the commission dropped a bomb. He said about three or four weeks before apparently there had been a terrible misunderstanding. A landlord called the police about a possible break in to one of his properties. This property often had people spending the night illegally. The police responded and peeked in the window. Sure enough, two guys in sleeping bags. The police knocked on the door. If you have ever had a visit by the police you know the knock. The door was opened by a young Chinese man. The councilor said they found out later that he was a Chinese international student, new to the US, very little practice with English. Of course, George said, the police knew no Chinese. The police officers ordered him to back up into the room (again, if you have ever been visited by the police you've heard it -- kind of like football players coming out of their huddle, only longer and with a gun behind it).

The student stood there and stared (we know why. He's in shock and doesn't speak English) and the police ordered him again, then put him to the floor and handcuffed him. They went further into the room and another Chinese man was now sitting up in his sleeping bag. The police ordered him to stand. He did not -- and now they know it is because he did not speak English well, he was awakened, and he was being yelled at by armed cops with his roommate handcuffed on the floor). Finally, he must have guessed and started to rise as he was ordered -- and the officer tazed him.

In this town our police chief defends adopting tazers after much debate assuring the public that they are only being used as an alternative to deadly force.

So a guy getting out of a sleeping bag -- as ordered -- his "accomplice" down and handcuffed, puts the fear of death into the officer. There is absolutely nothing more deadly than an Asian guy getting out of a sleeping bag, hair messed up, wakened from a sound sleep. Hundreds of volts were sent through his body, flopping, and finally he is subdued.

Then, as the paper the next day reported, the landlord hears the taze from the outside, and peeks in and "omigosh!" He recognizes the handcuffed guy as someone who came by to pick up keys that afternoon. He rushes in and tells the police, "There's been a horrible mistake. These are renters!"

The news article ends saying that the young students were given two month's free rent by the landlord. Tickles my heart.

When the city counselor finished telling us the story at the meeting he added, "It's public record. I'm surprised you haven't heard about it." He looked at me. " I think they're trying to do something about it. Get a translator. Apologize. I wonder why it wasn't brought up at the Police Commission. "

(You know, I can possibly answer each of those rhetorical questions. I haven't heard about it because tazer abuse is kept under wraps especially if the victim and the community he is seen as part of means nothing to the city. They don't care. It wasn't brought up at the police commission because the anti-tazer people whom the police see as enemy might hear about. Those pesky nay sayers are always at police commission and human rights commission meetings waiting for something like what just happened that night).

By then my face was hot. With as much calm as I could muster, as I blessed the councilor in my heart for letting us know, I said aloud, these young students are going to need more than a person with language facility. They need to get hooked up with people who will know what they're going through, not just speak their language. They need to feel safe. I have two names, David Tam and elder Ada Lee. Could you please let someone know to get in touch with them and hook them up with the youth.

That seems to be the hardest thing to accomplish for the city. A week later and still not done.

Human Rights Commission meetings are public. As commissioner my responsibility was to let people in my community know. First I called David Tam who is mentored by Ada our elder, first Asian to come to Eugene back in the Forties and supportive of every newcomer -- and Chinese. Theirs will be a private meeting, one on one with the students. Then I emailed the police chief and the auditor asking both of them for two meetings -- one with David and Ada and the other with a group from the Asian community. I emailed community activists from various Asian communities re-telling the story and asking if they would be interested in meeting with the Chief.

It is easier to mobilize the activists than to get a frigging message to the students because they are now surrounded. The morning paper headlined with their story. They now have counsel. The UO is understandably concerned. They have a huge agreement with China, teaching their youth sent to "safe Eugene"-- those who don't live in our skin may think it is a veritable oasis in America untouched by racism -- to learn English. Needless to say this story hit the Peking newspaper stands at the same time it hit the RG stands. The UO got the students a lawyer sooner than I could write this sentence. But again, has this institution gotten in touch with the community? APA students are off their radar -- (sarcastically said) they don't suffer from discrimination. In the Office of Institutional Diversity in Education, there is a vice provost, no less, of Native American Affairs, African American Affairs, Latino Affairs . . . . That's it. It is hard for the Asian voice to get into the UO.

The phone call I got today says the students are quite anxious and fearful. I finally got a phone number of the students' lawyer and relayed my message that if the students would like support from the Chinese community -- private, personal, familiar support, -- there are people here who are more than happy to be there for them who understand what they are going through.

You know, I don't know if David and Ada will ever get their message to the students. I truly don't. I know it is not David and Ada's style to continue to try to initiate their willingness to support the students. They won't butt in.

I know certain groups think they've got everything covered -- the police chief with his illusive translator, the landlord with his free rent, maybe even the advocate with the suit. But no one knows the inexplicable feeling of shame, the embarrassment of the public eye, the big "to do" when all they're trying to do is to study and to experience Oregon, the flashes of thoughts which came with the glare of the flashlight, the metallic click, the Tarzan shouting, the excruciating pain, the numb-brain for days -- "Where are we? Where in god's name did we come to?"

"Welcome to being Chinese in the USA."

The question remains: Are these two students going to be able to hook up with the America which each community fashions out of necessity, off the radar because we are perpetual strangers and therefore invisible, and underground because we are distinctly American Asians, and survivors.

The other of my emails to the activists started a wave of response which traveled up north for sure to Portland and connected us south with San Jose where a young SE Asian youth was tazed so badly that even professionals are saying "abuse." And distinctly USA, you can catch the assault and the screaming on YouTube. A letter has been shot out from one person signed by many, a meeting arranged for us to get together and hammer out what we will want to say to the Chief. Definitely, every city official I wrote to is most willing to meet with the group. a bit concerned because they have been told by many non-Asians that they screwed up.

But the young men. What of them? Not as "the issue" but as two students, far from their family and country, in a whirl of yellow leaves, rain, and a sea of white faces.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Learning Spanish, Make That Learning Cuban

I watch the scenery pass while riding on the Amistur bus. Green everywhere. Royal palm. Trees I can't identify, maybe because they only grow here. Surprising gardens in the middle of meadows and woods even right on the edge of cities, or sprouting in open land wherever someone chooses to plant. I see banana tree orchards, sugar cane fields, rice fields, garden plots. Everywhere are old buildings, good bones, waiting for paint, decorative metal grills, balconies, I see the ubiquitus living fences, some cacti, some made of trees which sprout from cuttings. Every other fence pole sprouts new leaves. Our eyes are drawn to red hibiscus, the aromatic butterfly flowers which hid the messages behind women's ears during all revolutions, the bougainvillea. I see parks and plazas. Everywhere I see beautiful people, walking with umbrellas, riding fast on bicycles, or shouting, waving greetings with both arms, crowded in the back of a passing truck, a full to the brim bus, and carts pulled by horses. I see people sitting in groups in the shade in front of an old stone church as if waiting for the camera to flash. They sit outside a community hall or out on the porches, fanning, watching us pass. I see mothers with babies along the road waiting for the bus to stop. Buses are fined if they do not stop for passengers.

I see signs by sides of the highway, in the middle of fields and pastures, at the entrance of schools, clinics, community centers. Knowing no Spanish, I struggle to pronounce the words saying then aloud, feeling them on my tongue and letting them go. I practice until it feels right.

Seguimos con su ejemplos (with Che's image) (We follow his examples)

Siempre revolucion (A revolution always)

50 años (Fifty Years)

Venceremos porque esta en nuestro lado justicia (We will win because justice is on our side)

Las armas mas poderosas son las ideas (Ideas are the most powerful weapons)

Hasta la Victoria siempre (Always toward victory)

Para defender la revolucion (To defend the revolution)

Ni ingenuos, ni debiles (Neither naive or weak)

Alertas, energicos y combativos (Alert, energetic, willing to fight)

Tenemos y tendremos Libertad (We have and we will have freedom)

Absurdo Primer Mundo! (Absurd First World! No one sells themselves out)
Nadie se vendera

Producir con calidad es eficencia (To produce with quality is efficiency)

Cinco razones
Para sequir luchando (pictures of the Cuban 5 heroes)
(Five reasons to continue struggling)

Por la Patria
(United for the homeland, we will win)

Decir ejemplo (pictures of local heroes)
Es decir revolucion
(To say example is to say revolution)

We stopped briefly on the way back from Batabano on the side of the road. Will wanted to film the rice fields flooded up to the ankles. After a moment, the farmer clambers up the steps of the bus bringing us coconuts cut open for us to drink and ripe guava. "Thank you! Thank you!" we said, passing them to one another. "Thank you!" "Gracias!" He nods,and gives a slight salute as he backs off the bus. Amanda tells us he has climbed tall coconut trees with his knife and brought down enough for us to drink and picked his fruit for us. Visitors resting by his field. Fifty Years!! Cubans will always be Cubans.

"Venceremos! " I say under my breath. The word slips easily off my tongue. I lift the coconut to my mouth and tip my head back for a deep drink of coconut. Viva to the revolution which entrusted the land to the man who works it, grows the fruit. It is he who harvests the fruit and seeing a bus of American Nikkei admiring his rice field can follow his generous nature and upbringing freely rather than labor hard under the rules of an absent landlord who counts his profits carefully in an office in another town.

The Five Heroes

On our first day in Cuba, sitting comfortably in our buses after the stressful experience of crossing borders, TK3 headed in great anticipation to Old Havana where we will be living for several days. On that very first bus ride, we heard Joe, our guide for the next 14 days, speak about the Cuban 5 who are incarcerated in US prisons. The Cuban 5 have not been forgotten by their country -- not in Havana, nor the small island, La Isla de Juventud. They have not been forgotten in Cienfuegos to the South or any town in between our destinations. Everywhere, there are their pictures and references to them. In Cuba they are called the Five Heroes: Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Ramon Labanino Salazar and Rene Gonzalez Sehweret.

In the Museum de la Revolucion, once inhabited by Batista and known as the Presidential Palace, on the top floor, the paintings of the nation's finest artists hang on marble walls, each piece inspired by the Cuban 5. When we visited schools, community centers, museums, restaurants, we would see posters of the Five. They stand in prison garb and around their photo are those of their families, especially their brave mothers and wives as well as their inspiring quotes. Young Gabriel and Antonio, sons of Antonio, and Luarita, Aili and Lizbeth, Ramon's daughters as well as Rene's daughters, Ivette and Irmita will grow up knowing their fathers have never been forgotten by their country, and held up as heroes. The Cuban 5 were mentioned each day at some time during our two week stay, and finally, at the end of our trip together, TK3 elder, Mitzi Asai said, "I'll be teaching an adult education class when I get home and I'm going to teach about the Cuban 5." She set the standard for TK3 -- to come home, tell the truth of what we saw in Cuba, and tell the story of the Five Heroes.

If you are like me, you do not know much about the Cuban 5. Perhaps you caught a small article in October this year about their re-sentencing. The motion to dismiss by the 11th circuit court in Atlanta was overturned. Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Ramon Labanino Salazar and Rene Gonzalez Sehweret must stay in prison. As ruled by the United Nations Human Rights Commission Working Group on Arbitrary Dentention, May 27, 2005, their incarceration is arbitrary and it contradicts Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Noam Chomsky calls the case of the Cuban Five "such a scandal that it is difficult to speak about it."

In fact, in September of this year when Professor of MIT, Noam Chomsky, was interviewed by BBC regarding the October re-sentencing, he said, "They weren’t criminals. They were heroes. I mean they were exposing to the US government crimes that are being committed on US soil; crimes the US government is tolerating and theoretically should be punishing itself." Instead, Professor Chomsky said, rather than acting on the information gathered by the five heroic Cubans and honoring them, the US government is punishing them. "And that’s why global opinion is so appalled by this travesty," Chomsky concluded.

In the early 1990's, these five men came to the United States to monitor Cuban exiles of southern Florida who were known to attack Cuba -- whether through false media attacks, political pressure or outright terrorism. The mid 1990's was a time marked by the crumbling of the Soviet Union with whom Cuba had a trade relationship. With the demise of the USSR, the Cuban economy suffered and Cuba turned to strengthening their tourist industry. South Florida Cuban exile terrorist groups began to wage a violent campaign against the tourist industry -- bombing hotels, airports. Terrorist acts occurred even before since 1959. Between 1959 and 2002, south Florida extremist terrorist acts killed 3, 478 and maimed another 2,099. The Reagan administration and those following should have been alarmed that 360 were committed on American soil -- 15 in Washington DC, 59 in New York, 172 in Miami, Dade County, 28 in Puerto Rico and 11 in New Jersey. Interestingly, seven were committed specifically on the date, September 11, in years before 2001, while another 5 were around September 11.

The US and even the UN did not listen to Cuba and their protests against these earlier terrorist actions. So in 1995, Cuba had no choice but to send people to infiltrate these terrorist groups and report any plans for attacks on Cuba, which the Five succeeded in doing. The Home Affairs Ministry of Cuba provided the FBI files of detailed information on plans for violence in Miami, audio and videotapes and information about the organizers of criminal activities. What was done with this information? The injustice is that rather than act on the new information, the FBI rounded up the Cuban Five.

In violation of human rights, the Attorney General's Office tried to make a deal with Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert saying that his wife and American born daughter would be deported unless he pleaded guilty. He refused to plead guilty and turn on the other four. His wife was arrested and brought to the Miami jail to be shown to Rene and he still refused. The INS then deported his family and they have never been allowed to see him, even his American born daughter.

The long trial of the Cuban Five in Miami ended after seven months with a conviction of the four of the Five for conspiracy to commit espionage, and for one, the conspiracy to commit murder. Of course, attorneys asked for a change of venue from Miami many times, but were denied. In December, 2001, the Five were given prison sentences. Antonio Guerrero was sentenced to life plus 10; Fernando Llort sentenced to 19 years; Ramon Salazar to life plus 18; Rene to 15; and Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, two life sentences plus 15. They committed no crime. These are their sentences for fighting terrorism.

According to lawyers, Leonard Weinglass and Ian Thomas, "conspiracy to commit" is a charge prosecuters generally use in political cases. The charge of conspiracy relieves the government from having to prove the crime, crimes which was never committed. In other words, the government never had to prove the espionage that never occurred. The charge of "conspiracy" receives the same sentence as the actual crime -- life imprisonment.

The lawyers for the Five go on to say that there are other groups like the Five who infiltrate organizations on behalf of protecting their home country against threat, just as the US does in other countries themselves. To their knowledge, the lawyers say that these groups have not been prosecuted, but just sent back home.

Cuba is treated very differently by the US in many instances -- immigration policy, exchanges, and, in the case of the Cuban Five, the punishment for infiltrating organizations dangerous for their country. The lawyers believe that the difference in treatment is solely based on the way the US deals with the Revolution.

As of October, Antonio was imprisoned in Colorado, Gerardo in California, Ramon in Texas, Rene is in South Carolina, and Fernando in Wisconsin. All are in maximum security and were, at first, confined "in the hole" with no light, for one and a half years. In violation of human rights, the wives of the men have been denied visas by the United States to see their husbands. Ramon's beloved mother died since imprisonment,

This is while the known terrorist, Orlando Bosch, still walked the streets of Miami. Labeled by the US Justice Department as the most dangerous terrorist in the Western Hemisphere, he is responsible for the recruiting of Luis Posada Carriles who masterminded the bombing of a Cuban airline jet in 1976 which killed all passengers on board. Carriles was only recently jailed, after freely living out in the open in Florida for the last six years. Roberto Martin Perez, south Miami terrorist and good friend of Eduardo Avocena, imprisoned terrorist for having bombed sites in New York City and New Jersey, was being wooed by Presidential candidate John McCain who made a promise to release Eduardo Avocena.

I conclude with some words lifted from Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez' defense statement presented December 27, 2001:

Why so much hatred for the Cuban people?
Is it because Cuba chose a different road?
Because its people want socialism?
Because it did away with the large estates and wiped out illiteracy?
Because it gave free education and medical care to its people?
Because it lets the dawn break freely over its children?

Cuba has never placed the security of the United States in jeopardy nor committed any act of aggression or terrorism against it. It deeply loves peace and quiet and wants the best relations between our two countries. It has shown that it admires and respects the American people.
'Cuba is not a military threat to the United States,' Admiral Carroll said in this courtroom. General Atkinson testified that Cuba presents 'zero military threat' to the United States.
It is my country's unquestionable right -- like that of any other -- to defend against those who try to harm its people.

The job of putting a stop to these terrorist acts has been complex and difficult because the terrorists have enjoyed the complicity and lax tolerance of the authorities. My country has done everything possible to warn the US government of the danger of these acts and to do so it has used official, unofficial and public channels. However, such cooperation has never been reciprocated.

In the 90's, fired up by the demise of the socialist camp, terrorist groups intensified their activities against Cuba. It was, they felt, the long dreamed hour for stirring up the final chaos, for terrorizing the people, destabilizing the economy, damaging the tourist industry, building up a crisis and dealing the death blow to the Cuban Revolution.

What could Cuba do to defend itself and be forewarned of the terrorist plans against it? What could it do to avoid a greater conflict? What options did it have to safeguard its sovereignty and the safety of its children?

One way to prevent these brutal and bloody acts, to prevent the suffering becoming worse because of more deaths was to move quietly. There was no alternative but to rely on men who -- out of love for a just cause, out of love for their country and their people, out of love for peace and life -- were prepared to voluntarily agree to carry out this honorable duty against terrorism, that is, to give advanced warning of the danger of attack.

Antonio ends his defense with several quotes.

If I were asked to do the same thing again, I would do it with honor. An excerpt from a letter that Cuban general Antonio Maceo who fought for Cuban Independence in the 19th century, wrote a Spanish general comes to mind at this time with force and passion: "I shall not find any reason for having cut myself off from humanity. I pursue not a policy of hatred but of love; this is not an exclusionist policy but one founded in human morality."

Because of your rulings, my beloved brothers and I must be unjustly kept in prison, but there we shall not cease from defending the cause and the principles we have embraced. Your honor, many days and months of an unjust, cruel and horrible imprisonment have gone by! I have sometimes wondered, what is time? And like Saint Augustin, I have answered myself, "If they ask me I don't know but if they don't ask me, I do know." Hours of solitude and hopes, of reflection about injustice and small mindedness; eternal minutes in which memories burn bright. There are memories that burn the memory!

I take these verses by Marti for the last page that I write in the diary of my long days:
"I have lived:
It was a duty that I pledged my arms
And not once did the sun drop down behind the hills
That did not see my struggle and my victory . . ."

And here in this courtroom I quote from the Uruguayan and world poet, Mario Benedetti: " ... victory will be there, just like me, simply germinating"

Because in the end, we shall rest free and victorious beneath that sun which we are denied today.
Terrorist? NO!
Son, patriot, father, poet, artist, thinker and beloved son of the Cuban people.

Write to two of the Five Heroes and let them know you know their story.

Fernando Gonzalez Llort
Ruben Campa Federal Detention Center
P.O. Box 019120
Miami, FL 33101

Antonio Guerrero
Ruben Campa Federal Detention Center
P.O. Box 019120
Miami, FL 33101

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


As an introduction, let me explain that Will and I returned August 25 from Cuba. We spent two weeks there with a Berkley based group, Tsukimi Kai, Japanese Americans doing a cultural exchange and oral history research project with Japanese Cubans. We first learned about Tsukimi Kai when director Steve Wake, also trip coordinator, showed his film "Under the Same Moon" at DisOrient Asian American Film Festival 3. Will and I had the privilege of hosting Steve in our home.

We became so excited learning that there were Nikkei in Cuba from Steve. Why that is a surprise anymore to me is a sad comment on how easily one becomes brainwashed. Of course, the USA is not the only country where Japanese immigrated during the chaotic time following the forced opening to the West in the 1850's. Japanese went to Latin America including Cuba, as well as Canada and the US and I'm sure many other places in the world. Anywhere they were recruited to do hard labor.

"Under the Same Moon" made Cuba accessible to Will and me. And when Steve emailed us about Tsukimi Kai 3, TK3 became the door to a longheld fantasy. We had planned for the summer a small kitchen remodel, maybe work on the "bathroom from hell" our name for the back bathroom, but it was no contest. Cuba won. (Side note. I don't call these rooms insulting or apologetic names anymore. I think of them as my Cuban kitchen and bathroom because they haven't been upgraded since the early 60's, the same time of the beginning of the blockade.)

It's expensive to go to Cuba, and two weeks is a long time at this time in our lives. It meant leaving my mother and putting a hold on Winnemem work. Beyond the two week trip, TK3 is a very serious kind of group. Every other week on a Saturday, we attended meetings on Skype, and in between times had homework. There was the readings, of course. Also there was the play -- in Spanish, the Soran Bushi dance (done the hard way) and sub committee meetings between the larger meetings. The subcommittees were working subcommittees. Will was on the social documentation committee. I was too but I realized in Cuba I was useless without language. And I was on the gifting committee (omiyage) for 250 Nikkei we would meet on the Isle of Youth, and other Nikkei families in Cienfuegos, Batabano, Havana as well as a museum, elder center, youth community center, a Committee in Defense of the Revolution (i.e., City government), and a community murals and art project, our bus drivers, guides, and other people helping us. The workload for every committee was quite heavy. Other committees included logistics (very inportant but daunting) and fundraising as well as the Home Team. Preparation was key.

So we went to Cuba and returned. Now it's a month later from our departure to Mexico City to Habana. We are having our first Skype meeting since our return on Thursday. The meetings are not over. And we are to address any one of three prompts: a) share a highlight of our trip; b) what was learned about Nikkei and Okinawans; or c) Cuba's significance -- effect on our life, how we see the world and how we see Cuba. We each have five minutes which means prepare. I am sharing with you my response to the TK3 team and will write about Cuba many times on my blog. How did I like Cuba? I will say that from the moment we returned, I felt something which could only be described as homesickness. Cuba is in my heart.

For the moment, my trip highlight story also addresses how the trip affected me, how I see Cuba and how I see the world.

At Murealeando, a group of us, Will and I, three of the mural artists and the school principal were talking. I remember joking, the work’s not easy living in the bowels of the Monster. “Aha!” said the principal pointing with one finger toward the ceiling. “I have lived in the Monster, and I have seen its belly! That’s what Jose Marti said!”

Will and I involuntarily shouted and applauded. That quote was such a revelation.

Over the two weeks, what we saw in Cuba no matter what neighborhood we may have visited, was an application of Jose Marti's quote. Just 100 miles from a huge empire who had plans of their own for Cuba since the 1800's and in the years since the revolution which purged their country of US thugs, the mafia, and which nationalized US sugar companies, Cuba has remained true to themselves despite acts of terror, a long US blockade affecting its economy. Despite the huge challenges, Cuba has realized in a very short time all their important revolutionary goals beyond anyone's expectation -- agrarian reform, health care and education. The rest of the world knows Cuba by the cadre of Cuban doctors who are often the first to arrive at every disaster site in the world. The rest of the world knows Cuba by its educational system which graduates doctors from all over the world, third world countries and even a few from the USA. The rest of the world's citizens travel there freely as tourists. What they see is that being Cuban is a hard life but treasured, that Cubans work together to stay Cubans. Cuba may have little materially, but what I witnessed is a wealth of pride living their revolutionary vision, something that so many countries aren’t able to do yet. I am inspired by the democratic values expressed in their Constitution, the power of grassroots organizing, their optimistic view, resourcefulness and hard work despite a lack of materials and their tenacious defense of their identity, lifestyle and revolution. I feel at home with the “tribal-like” hospitality I witnessed everywhere. I feel uplifted and cleansed by the land and the climate.

I am forever changed by Cuba. We’ve all experienced becoming well and not realizing until then how sick we really were. Cuba lit Hope in me that apparently I had been living without for quite awhile. Even if I had some hope, Cuba certainly made the fire flare higher. Within a few days there, I felt my stress go. I hadn’t realized I carry it all the time. The faces of the youth without an edge, the unexplainable feeling one gets in a country where no one is being crushed, the tenor of the laughter, the breadth of the hospitality, the quickness of the embrace, the landscapes without ads and and airwaves without jingles, surrounded with that, I was more lighthearted than I have ever felt.

Will and my gleeful response in Murealeando to the Jose Marti quote erupted because it so resonated in our own lives, our most significant choice being that we accepted tribal membership when it was offered along with the heavy responsibilities which come with it from a small unrecognized historical tribe in California who will always be Winnemem no matter what. From the beginning of time, they have demonstrated their sovereignty. The tribe has taken a stand against every attack upon our way of life, a stand which we refer to as War Dance, or H’up Ch’onas as the Winnemem ancestors did before us. The tribe, like Cuba, does not have material wealth, and as a result, human life and the land become our treasure. Our position -- on the outside of the Monster's belly -- gives the tribe strength and direction. Our chief may joke about Winnemem Wage -- working hard for no pay -- but to belong to mountains and springs, and inherit the privilege and ancient responsibility to speak for sacred lands, the salmon and clean water is a rare privilege in this "Land of Opportunity." I was anxious to share Marti's quote and other things I witnessed in Cuba with my Winnemem family. And when I did the Headman encouraged me, if I could, to set up something which would help build a relationship between the Winnemem and the Cuban people.

My own perspective on world struggle, after returning home, has shifted. Even for those who are not tribal and do not have an historical pre-colonial relationship with the land, there’s a living example for survival just beyond this crumbling empire’s borders, a country running on people’s power, guided by human rights. No matter what happens, communities of people can rise to any challenge, even without material wealth and live happily if their eyes are fixed on valuing human life and the earth and if they work together to accomplish any task. Even in its imperfection, the Cuban people see themselves "in process" of meeting democratic ideals. That is how they view struggle. As the young violinist said whom we met at the community center, a center which was brought to life by disenchanted youth and the adults and elders of the community, “I have hope.” And that’s the gift I brought home with me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Corrupting Mom

Was it because she put my hair in ringlets and dressed me in dresses? Was it because when I turned 13, she looked at me and said, “You are thirteen and you will need to wear lipstick and a bra. We’re going to town,” ignoring my wail,“But I don’t want to be a girl yet.”

When mom came to live with me, in a matter of time, out went the bra and the girdle. In came comfie undies of both kinds. Comfie became the style -- looser pants, pull over sweatshirts, bright colored with designs of animals, or flowers or sayings about being the greatest grandmother in the world. In the spring we went for colorful hoodies over floral tees. I couldn’t resist an occasional “peace” message on them. In came the bright and wacky socks, special for each holiday season like her second grade bulletin boards always were. Mom was a real holiday décor person. Glitter, pompoms, the glitzier the better. It worked because if mom had the same socks on for two days, I could tell with a glance.

She complained about the sun in her eyes, so I always threw on a billed hat -- black straw for fall, white canvas for spring. On the white canvas since it was much too plain, I pinned some of her elephant pins and a special locket pin of the statue of liberty. It was so nerdy it was cool.

Ok. Comfie undies, tees and hoodies, a billed cap with pins all over it -- HEY! we are ready for a demonstration. Slap on some sunglasses with leopard designed frames and whip out her candy apple red wheelchair, and we’re ready to go! Mom would go with me to a few gatherings against the war or for immigrant justice. She enjoyed people watching during the speeches, read the signs aloud to me, and when we lined up to circle the federal building holding our signs and marching, the cars would honk, and mom would do her princess wave. She thought we were in a parade.

When she would ask, I would answer truthfully. “We think it’s fair if people who come from other countries are treated with respect, not like criminals. They’re like grandma and grandpa.” She would nod. That made sense. Like Grandma and Grandpa.

Before the wake for her, my sister and I were going through pictures. I stared at Momma’s photo as a very prim elementary school teacher. “Oh, my,” I thought, “ I hijacked mom’s style.” The comfie, hip, youthfully dressed Eugenean who
mom had become would have tickled the perfectly coifed, collared, pinned, girdled woman of her past and made her giggle. It reminded me of the time she visited us, a long, elegant dress in her suitcase because I was taking her to the Bach Festival. She was shocked to see so many people at the Hult Center in casual clothes, Bermudas and tees. “People just don’t know how to dress in this town,” she complained. I liked mom’s old style. She was always dressed colorfully, with jewelry, and very put together. But, I have to admit some satisfaction with the balance of things as we dressed one another -- she when I was a girl and I, these past precious years, ushering each other into the next phase. Momma, forgive me. At least the clothes were stylish. The proof lies in the fact that your style conscious granddaughter now wears her Obachan’s hoodies to keep herself comfie, warm and close to her Grandma.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Update to HealthCARE Blog

An update 9/25 on the healthcare blog I wrote: This morning I got a call from my mother's medical doctor's office. A person on her staff called and left a message on behalf of the doctor that they were sorry to hear about Mother's death, that they could understand why I neglected to cancel my scheduled appointment with the doctor and they wish the form letter had not been sent. Oh, my word. I guess since this is all second hand, the caller did not know that I had written the doctor last Friday, seven days ago, responding to her form letter scolding me for not keeping the appointment that I had indeed canceled the appointment and that I was writing because I thought she might like to know that she wasn't getting all her messages.

Coincidentally, my naturapath and I talked on the phone person to person; she wanted to check how the homeopathic meds were helping me. AND I received a sympathy card with a long heartfelt message from my Indian doctor's sister and her children. All in one day.

You know, I think this "professional distance" rule doesn't really makes for good care in health, necessarily. It certainly doesn't improve communication. FAX's, answering services, receptionists just don't improve doctor to patient, one on one communication. It seems there is a communication breakdown both inside and outside the medical organization of my mother's doctor's clinic. It sticks at me because my mother's declining health began when a urinary tract infection was not treated for ten days because the doctor's FAX machine did not deliver the UTI result and prescription to Southtowne, and when the same doctor saw my sister and mother in the clinic on the day she read the lab results she did not say, "by the way, your mother has a bladder infection" in her rush in and out of the room. My sister kicks herself that she did not know because if she had she would had followed up on Southtowne and the medication.

Our family knows for a fact that good communication (the best being doctor to patient and probably longer than 10 - 15 minutes), careful details, follow up is crucial to healthcare. Without it . . . . .well, it will always, always hurt.

And this is the last I will talk about this issue. I need to let it go.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009

Almost exactly one year ago, I began blogging and wrote my first piece about my mother. Today I offer a collage of thoughts:

I look at the trees beginning to turn and think about our rides. Mama loved the glorious falls of the Willamette Valley. I try not to regret that we were anticipating another beautiful season of daily trips and be grateful for the past two autumns we shared together.

My auntie and cousin Becky are visiting today, and we will reminisce and plan. Auntie came twice a year to visit Momma and Uncle Bill came to see her too. Once with Auntie Tsuta. Those were special days. Her siblings and their spouses meant the world to mom. Ojichan and Obachan’s memory inspired her. And all her nieces and nephews made her so proud. She adored them all. Marti and I, our children and their children, of course, were her world. The family is of great comfort now.

The memorial is next weekend. two days before my 64th birthday, 1945, October 5, when a young mother gave birth to her first daughter, me. I came out the hard way -- umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, blue. Two years later, when she was pregnant with my sister, the baby was so heavy, it broke her size 3 feet. In our case, adolescence must have been a piece of cake next to pregnancy.

I had sad days, and now each day I have sad moments. I can do it.

Will and I are going to the coast for our anniversary this weekend and I keep having to shoo away this knee jerk impulse to call my sister to see if it’s ok and if she could come down . . . then I remember, she doesn’t need to come down anymore, and we don’t have to ask anymore. Today, that is the loneliest thought.

I called the minister, the cemetery and the stonecutters today to prepare for the memorial. It will be another family affair. The Kawai clan are always there for us. They will be part of the program, gather the koden, take care of the flowers, staff the guest book, write the thank yous, make the sushi, organize the reception table and help us bury our mother at her mother and father’s feet. How does a person even begin to thank family. Without our even saying a word, they have gathered around us.

Yesterday, I watched Will drive up and as he got out of the van, I stood outside and waited for him to come up the walk and hesitantly asked if we could go home to Idaho every year to “ohaka mairi.” He said yes and gave me a hug, and I burst into tears.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of Dreams, Drums and Mothers

Our oldest daughter, Josina Manu, had a dream the other night and shared it with me:

i had a very long involved dream last night. in one part i was in a living room with a number of women, and you were there across from me. i was telling a story about something i had read in a book. your mother interrupted me and started telling a story, i can't remember how it started but she started to dance, she was moving her feet in a step and then leaned forward, still dancing, and began describing how the drums used to be made. she was motioning over a handbag as if it were the drum, and explaining how the barrels were made of metal but they would stretch the skin over it and sew it on before they were done smithing the metal. once the skin was on then they would finish working the metal. all the while she spoke, her hands were in the motion of stretching, then sewing the skin, and her feet were still moving in dance.
there were many mothers in my dream, and ancestors. when i woke and was describing the dream, i kept saying "misa's mother" but not mary. i honestly don't know if it was mary or grandma florence, because she had a younger face that i didn't recognize.
but i wanted to tell you about it.

It almost seemed as if she dreamed a dream for me during this hard time because it carries such meaning for me, and at this point, is very comforting. There is a reason why Josina could not tell whether it was my Mama or Grandma Florence.

I have two mothers. One is my Mama who gave birth to me and raised me the best she could. The other came into my life when I became a mother and had no clue what I could do to mother this little one, our second daughter, who had already made up her mind about life in an orphanage in Korea. We clearly were in over our heads and needed help, and went for help to Winnemem spiritual leader and doctor, Florence Jones, whom we call Granny.

My mother, Mary, gave me the framework of my life to carry me along. For me, the metal circular frame is from my mom. And, then, Granny made a drum of me.

That needs to be explained. Al Smith, a wise Klamath elder, was sitting in a counseling circle of former addicts, watching his friend expertly lead a conversation. Afterwords, his friend asked him what he thought. Al said, "remember that you aren't the drummer, but you are the drum." That really resounded in me. I think many of us offer ourselves to be drummed. I know I did. And it led me to Granny. And daughters.

Both Granny and my mother carried handbags. They carried EVERYTHING in the handbag. It wasn't a place for money only. There were things to soothe, to cure, to comfort, to stave off hunger AND things to mend, to patch, to cut, to fix, to prettify, to write notes, to open things up, to entertain. Like I said, everything. They were prepared for anything. Both these women certainly meant to prepare me for everything I might face. Therefore, the handbag, and circling mother hands fashioning a metal piece and that metal form completed by another mother fitted with a drum head. They worked together and molded me.

Both were so strong and full of vigor and life, in different ways, of course, my two mothers.

This is a beautiful dream where my mother(s) revealed themselves to our eldest daughter, Josina.

It's a blessing for mothers to be taught that they are not the drummer but the drum offering themselves to be drummed. There is something about daughters and mothers which ultimately teach that lesson to one another, "we are not the drummer; we are the drums who offer ourselves to be drummed."

Dedicated to: Mary, Florence and their mothers and to Josina, Maki, and Margaret, and our little blessing Celeste. And since our family is very complicated, to our daughters' other mothers and grandmothers and other daughters. It seems we are a clan of two-mothered daughters.


I sit in an interesting intersection right now. I received three messages in a very short time from three doctors who treated my mother. One is a medical doctor. Another is a naturopathic doctor. And one is my Indian doctor. All are women. All well respected for their doctoring. I am simply printing their messages to us as we are grieving the death of our dear mother, and I print them here in the order I received them:

September 10 (the day of the Wake) an email from my Indian Doctor:

I am thinking of you today and the strength you will need to get through it. The prayer house fire is burning so I put some tobacco down for you to feel our love. I wish I could be there for you now, but Mark is in Sacramento so I am watching out for Dan. I know that if you close your eyes for a moment, you will feel the fire and gain the balance you need today. It is once in a great while that we actually have a mom's love more than once, and how lucky we have been. It's a crazy world we live in and your mom made the best that a little person could at the time. But now it's time to send her home where her heart is. Now, settle your heart, burn your root and breathe deep. I love you both. See you soon.

September 15 (posted after returning from her vacation on September 11) from our Naturopath a sympathy card and handwritten note:

Thank you for your kind message letting me know your Mom had passed away. I'm glad she was at home, and you and Marti were both there. Your mom was very lucky to have you as a daughter. You took wonderful loving care of her in these last few years.

September 16 (a form letter dated 9/8/09, the first workday, first appt. slot on the fourth day after my mom's death) from my mother's medical doctor whom I was considering having as my medical doctor for hospital privileges:

Dear (my name inserted)
According to our records, you failed to keep or cancel your appointment with our office on (tues. 9/8@8 am inserted).

Since you are a new patient to my practice, I had reserved additional time on my schedule to meet you and to work with you on your health issues. If you cannot keep your scheduled appointment, please call my office at least 24 hours in advance to cancel. Advanced notice of cancellaation allows us to give appointments to patients who otherwise could not be seen. if you do miss your next scheduled appointment, you will not be able to establish care with me and will be asked to find a new provider.

I appreciate your cooperation and look forward to seeing you at your next visit.

Sincerely, (signature)
New patient letter #1

I understand that sometimes form letters are sent by clinic staff other than the doctor, that these are probably even pre-signed. I understand that perhaps the doctor did not get my appointment cancellation message called into the after hours answering service explaining that my mother had died and that I would be busy making arrangements all through September so both our appointments must be cancelled. I understand that perhaps the police officer didn't inform the doctor as he said he would or that she doesn't read obituaries, or that her answering service did not give her critical information of why I was cancelling all these appointments. She may not have known. After all, the lab called days after my mother's death to ask me to call regarding her lab results, something the doctor had already told us at the appointment hours before my mama died. The doctor said on the basis of the results, we needed to hook up with hospice and she would be happy to help us. This is not a blog to blame a doctor or damn an institution even if seems to have some glitches with inter-departmental communication.

Like I said, I sit at an interesting intersection looking at systems of healthCARE in our country.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


One of the Tsukimi Kai 3 friends with whom Will and I traveled to Cuba wrote a comforting email to me of a lesson she learned after her father had passed, “You will still grow to know your mother and understand her as the years go by.”

Those words struck me because it is so true. In the days, mere days, following my mama’s death, I began to have flashes of her as a woman, what her choices revealed about her as a woman without the mystique of Mother.

My mom was raised to be and do right in this world by her family. Every example she saw, every story shared with her, and those were the stories shared with my sister and me as children, the examples and role models she pointed us toward, were of rightness, of goodness.

However, in her life, she encountered and sometimes even became immersed in things she had never imagined -- hate, violence, wartime hysteria -- all that was not right or good, a side of life she had never been prepared for; no insights to help her de-construct clearly.

Each time "life threw her a big one," she held fast to what she knew to be right and good and without becoming immobilized, walked through the best she could and took her babies with her.

For her, doing right meant to be a single mother in a multi-generational home. Every woman knows what sacrifice of personal worth and independence that choice must have required. At the same time, every human being knows what a gift it is for children to be raised by a mother, and grandmother and a grandfather. Her choice was clearly made for us. Once single and living with parents, always single -- with all the baggage of a single person living with her parents carries in the eyes of the Nikkei as well as the rest society, seen as the perennial dependent and the effects of those dynamics on the rest of her life.

Our upbringing was shared by my mother and grandparents. Definitely we learned Grandma and Grandpa knew best. However, I have a clear memory who taught me how to navigate a school system in which a teacher put me in a closet if I spoke Japanese, god rest Mrs. Finney’s soul. I remember who read Mine Okubo’s book to me as a child and clarified that the Nikkei were not guilty of anything when they were herded into concentration camps and it was wrong. In this way, my mother planted the seed which sprouted fully in me so that when I saw injustice, I knew it by name and could stand firmly on the side of justice and stand with any child victimized by it in the classrooms without fear or hesitation.

Definitely, it was my mother who taught me a very healthy attitude toward protecting myself as a little girl and later, as a woman so I would not be easily victimized. My antenna for 'red flags' are quite sensitive.

Definitely, it was my mother who taught me that becoming involved in public service, civic responsibility was a good thing. I remember the whispered arguments in Grandma’s bedroom between them over me -- whether I should join choir, whether I should run for office, whether I should be involved in so many school activities. It may have been Grandma’s house but those were the battles my mom decided to take on while letting the others go. And when there was a performance or event, both Mama and Grandma would be there supporting us.

I remember peeking in her bedroom -- a.k.a. the sewing room -- her back bent over the Singer, late late at night, sewing something for my sister or me. I remember my spoiled attitude that I had a personal designer of my own. We would go to buy a pattern, and beautiful fabric, but I always wanted something changed -- not a mere hemline -- but the scoop of the neck, the dip in the back, a hemline which draped. And mom would do it.

I read and write for fun because of so many “fun times” with her, my sister and a book and how much praise I received for writing, encouraged to enter into contests. My mom is not so much a reader, so that is something she deliberately did for her daughters. I went to college because it was a given, an expectation from the time we were little girls. We were encouraged to put our pennies in a big piggy bank for college. Now I know that she did this in spite of the “out of reach” costs of higher education so that when the time came I would be motivated to find a way -- national grants, work study -- to actualize what was essentially a dream.

She taught me from the time I was barely walking all through adulthood that all people were equal, including me, even if she may not have been able to believe that fully herself. It was just one of those things she wished for me -- just as she wished for me to go to college when she could not, choose my profession even if she could not, choose my life partner wisely even if that choice was not something she was able to have, to participate in community, run for office even if those options were closed by war and law from her.

She did not wantfor her daughters a life where bad things were thrown at them -- unexpected, unfathomable surprises as her substantial challenges must have been for her -- and she prepared us for life the best she could. She wanted us to have some say about our destiny. I am grateful for the blessings of my life because she thought about what I might need on whatever road I might choose and gave me everything she could to prepare for any difficulty.

Along the way, my mother did follow her daughters into college, became a teacher, and dedicated herself with great passion to a chosen profession. When given bad news about a third procedure for her heart in her 70’s,she moved into assisted active living near my sister and did not allow the prognosis to limit her. In fact, for the first time away from Home, she lived as an independent individual, had her first best friend, went on tours around the world, and lived the life of a popular coed. When she received bad news about dementia, and it became serious, that did not overwhelm her. She moved with me and even with her dementia, lived with personality and grace intact, greeting each person, each new day, and all of nature with love. Finally, as I witnessed it, when faced with dying, she simply left in an instant, her face reflecting surprise and wonder at something I could not see or hear before she shook herself free and took her last breaths.

The blessing from now on, as my friend passed on to me from her own loss of a parent, will be to grow to know more and more, to begin to understand my mother. For this I am most thankful.
"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.