RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Nichi Bei Helps Keep Community Connected

We’re heading into a brave new world where a mighty effort is being made to keep Asian American journalism alive. I refer to the valiant battle to keep the Nichi Bei Weekly in publication and reach out to our increasingly spread out and fragmented community. And yet, many, if not most of us, would very much like to have a means of keeping in touch with our community. Certainly this newspaper can play a vital role in maintaining ties.

Think about it. What would it feel like if there were no paper at all? As the various publications disappear, I think that many of us will feel that there’s a lack, a hole in the web of our lives as Asian Americans and Japanese Americans. For instance, perhaps I would have missed my old friend, Cedrick Shimo, who had come to the Bay Area from Los Angeles, to appear at The Officers’ Club in the Presidio of San Francisco, and speak about Shirley Castelnuovo’s book, “Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II.”

As I age, I find that I am examining various periods in my life, and I’m slowly making an assessment of who I am and how I became who I am. So, I am recognizing that my Japanese American heritage is a very big part of who I am, what happened to me, and how it colored my values and perceptions. I realize that I am a part of many communities, but one of the basic parts of my experience is having had very Japanese parents (both educated in Japan) and then being part of a group that was hell-bent on assimilating and joining the great American society.

I think that many of us have little trouble now wending our way through American culture because we are immersed in it. But then, there is an underlying comfort level that we often find when we are in the company of other JAs. There’s a certain common culture, a set of unspoken understandings, that we seem to share that create an atmosphere of trust. Now, I am oversimplifying, but I think you all know what I mean.

This past holiday season, I went to visit my siblings who live in Oceanside, a town south of Los Angeles and about an hour from San Diego.

Of this family, only my sister Emiko and I left to live permanently away from Oceanside. So, when we go back to see our brothers and sisters, we are returning to a large extended family whose members live fairly close to one another and, therefore, have occasion to cross paths often. We’re all into retirement age, so we have time and leisure to pursue whatever interests us. Yet, that closeness means that there is a shared community that forms a network of friendships and blood ties. This means that we can rely on one another in good times and bad, that there’s a feeling of safety and love.

It’s really quite wonderful. And even though every one of my nieces and nephews has married non-Japanese, there seems to be this sense that the old ties are still very strong and resilient. They gather together on the holidays and have really fun parties, eating tamales, turkey, sushi and homemade tsukemono, and gossip about all their old friends. Weddings, funerals and births are still important affairs, and duly celebrated. There is a real warmth and grounded quality that is comforting in this day and age.

I may be romanticizing all this a bit, but I don’t think that I’m too far off the mark. Now, as we Nisei fade away, it may be that this state of affairs won’t last, and the younger generations will go their way without maintaining these ties. But for now, at least in my family, we still gather and eat mochi, play hana and find out what everybody is doing and how they all are faring.

I would like the Nichi Bei Weekly to be part of this social network in the Bay Area for many, many years.

Chizu Omori is the co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” A recent transplant from Seattle, she now writes from Berkeley, Calif., and can be reached by e-mail at chizuomori@earthlink.net.

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