Bad Xanga! Bad, Bad Xanga!

Comment of the day… When I tell people who have just arrived from Korea that I’m an English major they gape at me in awe mingled with horror: “She’s such a race traitor. She should have stuck with being a teacher or a nurse, like the rest of the Korean women”…. But yeah, my point: I DO feel fortunate, even when I’m labeled as all sorts of things.
— Posted 1/21/2004 by bane_vixen

Is it just me, or is Xanga having a tantrum with you as well. On more than just a few occasions, I have written comments on other sites and clicked the submit button only to see my comment evaporate into virtual space. What the freakin-A is going on here? I’ve been anally copying the comments and then submitting just in case it disappears again. Although I have observed that if I click the “If comment box is not working, click here” button, I have yet to lose anything…

All Japanese School

Yesterday, I mentioned I went to an all Japanese school. ddsb2000 commented: “I didn’t know they had all japanese schools in america.” Well, they don’t anymore, but they used to. I went to an elementary school called Maryknoll in Los Angeles. They stipulated–if I remember correctly–that a child had to be at least one-quarter Japanese to be eligible for admission. I don’t remember if there was any specific law passed, but sometime in the 80s it became clear that the school could no longer discriminate based on race and they began accepting all races. As a Catholic Mission, Maryknoll attracted hispanics from nearby areas, but as the enrollment of non-Japanese went up, the number of Japanese American families went down. In the end, it closed its doors as an elementary school in the late mid 90s due to lack of enrollment. It continues today as a community center, the Maryknoll Japanese Catholic Center.

From what I can tell, the general consensus could be summarized as: “If our kids are going to a mixed school, they may as well go to public school; it’s closer and free.” It sound like a rational, economically sound arguement, but I have heard the whispers of some who did not like the idea that Maryknoll was desegragating. Some JAs took the pride thing too far, or they adopted some of the uglier aspects of Japanese culture.

Not that Japanese culture is all bad… But there is a distinct attitude of Japanese uniqueness that reverberates in Japan even now.

In any event, Maryknoll was a segregated school. It sounds awful now, but before you place judgement, let me tell you that it was also a blessing of sorts for Japanese in the beginning. It was established in the early 20th century when racism and the “yellow peril” mentality was still a part of mainstream society. It provided a place where Japanese nationals in America could worship in peace in a language they understood and study without fear of prejudice. The Catholic mission is located about three blocks from LA’s J-Town, and unlike the current Lil’ Tokyo, J-Town back then was a place where many of the Japanese community lived. There were a few houses, but most rented long-term hotel rooms–many are still there above the stores and restaurants on the north side of 1st Street across from JVP and Koyasan Temple. (My dad used to live there as well.) The kids could then walk to Maryknoll for their education. During my time, the school was still a source of community. I was born ten years after WWII, a couple of years after the Korean War and was a student there for nine years (kindergarten to 8th grade) during the Vietnam War. On the street, away from Maryknoll/J-Town, I was called a Jap, a Chink, and a Gook. Maryknoll provided me with a place I could study and play without fear of random and malicious harrassment, and sometimes violence–I have been beaten up for being “Japanese”. While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Maryknoll empowered me, it did allow me to grow without restraint and, in a way, innocently. Unfortunately, it also cultivated that attitude of being special to the detriment of others; by segregating others, we ultimately segregated ourselves.

When you were growing up, did you have the opportunity to congregate with those that share your heritage?

Comments galore

For the past few days, I’ve written about posting blogs and comments, and received more comments than I am truly worthy of. Thanks to all of you. As a way of showing my appreciation, I’ve started–as you may have already noticed–a Comment of the day box to the right, where I highlite the comment that caught my fancy. But yesterday, there were so many interesting comments: zettonv‘s “i bit my tongue and it hurts“, bane_vixen‘s “women comment on my page faithfully. the men are fickle“; crotchety_old_mani guess im just a man of few words…“; iiSoNySoUnDii‘s “I’m a regular. (^_^)”; Piratechan‘s “I leave comments when my brain can think of one, but sadly my brain has been MIA on me lately. It’s the cliched ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ excuse.” But SammyStorm‘s giri-commento really caught my attention. For those of you who don’t know, giri-choco is, in Japan, the Valentine’s Day chocolate that female employees give to their superiors at work out of obligation, and to a certain extent, the chocolate that men give to these women in return on White Day. (What’s White Day? Ha! That’s another entry). So with giri-commento, Sammy effectively merged Jap culture and the thoughts many of us have as we savor, indulge–some would say wallow–in our Xanga addiction. And he did it all in one short phrase! Speaking of which…

What’s in your Culture?
Culture through Film class started last week as I wrote, uh… last week. And I introduced the course content and screened the first half of Seven Samurai.On Tuesday night, I started lecturing, but before going into my spiel of what Japanese culture is, I asked the class what they thought culture was. Very few hands went up… So instead, I asked: “If someone came up to you and asked you what was American culture, how would you respond? Keep your answer short.” Still no hands. One student said that it isn’t possible to give a short answer on what American culture is. Why? Too diverse. So I fine tuned it even more. “What might be a characteristic that most Americans seem to manifest?” The responses were somewhat predictable: The American Dream. Individualism.

So how do these characteristics affect a culture? Well, in a number of ways, I think The idea that we act as individuals, that we are responsible as individuals evokes a sense of empowerment in each of us, doesn’t it? We sense that we can accomplish things, not because we everyone does it, or because we do it as a group. Instead, we accomplish things–or Dream we can accomplish them–because of this sense of individuality, that it is up to one’s own self to get things done. None of this waiting for someone to do it for us.

And to a greater or lesser extent, this idea of individualism allows us to forge a cultural identity, and this is especially crucial for many of us Asian Americans, or at least for me as a Japanese American. Growing up as a JA, I had learned the concept of group consiousness from an early age at school–I went to an all JA elementary school in LA. But I always tried to wade into main stream society, to be a part of what I always saw on TV or in movies. While I couldn’t identify physically with the Americans I saw–remember I look like Jackie Chan not John Wayne–but I was always drawn to the concepts conveyed in the media. Individual strength, individual accomplishment, individual responsibility. And so I am a hybrid of sorts, combining what I believe to be the better parts of both my identities: the idea that the group is an important aspect of society, that I should strive to support and complement the group; but I should also not rely totally on the group, that as an individual I had my own responsibilities and goals.

I consider this unique and special. I have been given a gift. In this society that celebrates diversity–at least ideally (sorry, had to throw that in)–I have a life that can channel two different cultures, providing me the opportunity to cull the best from both worlds and forging an identity that is distinctly my own. And ultimately, this is my definition of American culture: one that celebrates–indeed encourages–the freedom of distinct individuals to contribute to the larger culture. This is, of course, the ideal and we often find ourselves in situations that are far from it. But by the same token I have found myself contributing, and that, to me, is something that I relish. Indeed, that is why I teach: To reach out and touch as many people as I can. (Crap, I didn’t mean to sound like an old AT&T commercial.) Sometimes I feel very fortunate…

Do you feel fortunate?