Will and I are going to become part of TsukiMikai 3, an oral history project and cultural exchange of Nikkei from the United States with the Nikkei of Cuba. From what we are reading of the history of Nikkei there, there was a period of time in the early '20's that large numbers immigrated there. But even before then, although in small numbers, immigration began as early as 1917. We learned about this from Steve Wake, director of "Under the Same Moon," who showed at our film festival last year. As luck would have it, Steve stayed with us because he was one director who did not mind sleeping on a couch in our humble home. Steve is one of the more engaging people we've met. First of all, it didn't feel like we met him for the first time. Never mind that we have the very same Mission style rocker, the same wood burning stove, never mind that both our eldest daughters are named Josina and both are named after the same Mozambiquan freedom fighter. I guess it's that it seems we feel "at home" in the same circumstances. Anyway, Will and I feel "at home" with Steve. I'm hoping someday he and his family will come with us to Winnemem. And this time it will be at home in Cuba.
I have friends who have gone or who plan to go. It's much more casual than our trip. It is so JA that we study our readings and have homework and do activities which check if we did our readings. I had to giggle when Steve announced at the first meeting, "we're going to play jeopardy" with the reading and I could hear one of our group groaning "we had to read this before today?" The night before Will had complained, "you're not really going to read this this late are you? They won't expect this by the meeting."
"Are you kidding?" I said. This JA studied!!
I'm just being humorous here because it is important we know this stuff. Tsukimikai has a purpose, and we have work to do.
Today's blog is a result of our homework this week. For our cultural exchange part, one of our team will be writing a play. The play will be inspired by our JA experience and to capture that, we were given some prompts and encouraged to do 15 minutes of writing. I am posting one of my pieces today because as I wrote I realized this piece was not a poem waiting to happen as I had always thought but something as simple as the answer to "Why I want to go to Cuba" -- a place where I have heard still live some original Issei, who immigrated during the time our grandparents left their ancestral homeland for new lands across the Ocean.
As an adult I attended a photo exhibit in Portland about (internment) camp days. Accompanying many of the photos were stories. One of them reminded me of my Grandfather. The story was that the Nikkei, especially the Issei -- each one only allowed to carry just what they could carry in two hands -- buried within their suitcases little packets of seeds.
My grandfather always made small packets of his seeds after each harvest -- cantelope, tomato, squash and others -- choosing carefully from the harvest, drying and cleaning the seeds, wrapping them carefully in newspaper or packaging paper in tidy little squares, and writing in Nihongo what seeds lay within, waiting for the earth, water and warmth of springtime. I always loved to watch him. These little packets left from the previous harvest are what I chose as my inheritance when he passed on. I still treasure them. After all these years -- fifty years since his death, sixty from when I used to watch him go through this ritual -- these tidy packets remain secure, the seeds still tucked carefully inside. I'd try to plant them but I can't bear to break his packets open. Thinking about my grandpa, his careful work, the tidy packets that lay in a drawer at home, I couldn’t hold my tears back. My tears rolled down my face at the moment I realized “I would have forgotten to pack the seeds.”
It’s hard to express the grief of losing a whole generation of people but that is the moment that encapsulates it for me. If I had dug deeply I would have known that I am going to Cuba in the hopes of meeting an Issei in that nation of a few long-lifed elders because I have been too far removed from that precious generation for so long. I will probably never stop grieving them.
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