Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Mizuko and Yokohama Mary

In 2005, a documentary /movie was released named “Yokohama Mary.” It centers on a figure of an elder woman, dressed in a white Western aristocratic-era dress, with a parasol, and high heels, painting her face in white with bright red lips, almost like a Butoh form character, who wandered around the train stations and city streets in Yokohama. She was seen by the Japanese public over and over for about a decade. Then in 1995, she suddenly disappeared from sight.  In Japan, rumors began……….

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Mizuko – and Negishi Cemetery

a headstone at Negishi Cemetery. Photo from Debito.org credited to “CF.”

 

In 1853, Commodore Perry intruded the Japanese and Okinawan islands with demands, and finally landing and then the following year again, after repeated threats and failed negotiations with the Japanese Bakufu, demanded a gravesite for one of their sailors who died on board one of the American ships. This was the birth of the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery in Kanagawa Prefecture,  just down the road from the future famous Elizabeth Saunders Home for Mixed Race Children, which was a well-known place where mixed-race babies were given up to during the World War II era. During subsequent years, through many battles with Russian and Chinese military, as well as trade relations, the number of foreigners dying in Japan, alongside Japanese soldiers, became too large and the cemetery grew to house the graves of many kinds of foreigners in Japan.

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Black, Yellow, White in Japan and Asia

JPN - Black Sambo - Ufu and Mufu - Robert Moorehead
Black Sambo characters: Ufu and Mufu, popular in Japan – photo by Robert Moorehead

 

My need to think about Blackness in Asia goes far beyond the fact of my father being an African-American soldier stationed in Japan during the Korean War. It goes beyond anti-Black attitudes among Asians that I have experienced, and the anti-Asian attitude I have experienced among African-Americans today. I knew that a superficial and very American notion of anti-black racism in the United States would not do to understand my own place in history and the languages I would use to uncover and do my part to undo its power in the world.

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Young Black-Japanese Volleyball

Evadedon Jeffrey - Miyabe Airi
Evadedon Jeffrey – Miyabe Airi

The Rio Olympics have come and gone! Although I know that like many other global events such as the Olympics, is made possible through the displacement of underclass communities and in many cases, a stress on ecologies and linked to economic-social-ecological ruin for the local, and at the same time linked with benefits for a certain few, there is the ideal, the spectacle, the beauty and tragedy of sport, of different world cultures, of the striving toward excellence.

The next summer Olympics is slated for Tokyo in 2020. As one born in Japan, and raised there twice in my younger life, and with Japanese being my first language until I was fully bilingual as a teenager, I have a special place for Japan and Japanese sport. My chosen sport was volleyball.  I learned basic skills from young teenager players at a Japanese Junior national team public practice in Japan, after I had first been attracted to volleyball in Hawaii in the mid-1960s. I continued in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a player and later as a player at Long Beach City College in the Los Angeles, California area in the late 1970s. Volleyball in Japan, in the 1960s, was the most popular women’s sport, and there was a ブーム (boom, or explosion in popularity) in those days, and due to the popularity of the National Women’s Team that had gone undefeated in years and in 1962, had won the world championships and ending with the Gold Medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, against bigger, taller opponents. “Witches of the Orient” (東洋の魔女) as they were called, became an attraction to me and later became a reality for me in Hawaii in 1966, upon seeing volleyball there.

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Now Showing in Theaters: うまれつき (Born With It)

A Black-Japanese student enters a Japanese school.  The Japanese students are amazed, curious, condescending, afraid, finding ways to make him outcast.

This Short Film, written and directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr., shines a lens onto a small town, and gives a picture of how Japanese-mix children and people, and black-mixed people and Blacks are treated in Japan.

I was born in Japan and raised there until 1962-3.  Then again, from 1968 to 1970–when I was 13 to 15 years old.  There was a difference in the two periods.

In the 50s and 60s, racism was more overt, physically violent, and widespread– for me and my kind in Japan. In the late 60s, it was more private and more prone to ostracizing and teasing, although physical violence was still a relative normal response. And as we know from news reports and stories of public figures in Japan who are Black-Japanese, it has not changed much in Japan.

The director hoped to shine a light on this persistent problem of Japanese identity and its treatment of “the other.”

 

 

Japan Entertainment Magazine Interview

Eye-Ai あいあい 2016年7月号

In the July 2016 issue of Japanese Entertainment Magazine Eye-Ai(あいあい), Eric Robinson, Creative Director of Online Magazine Black Tokyo is interviewed for a second time.

In this issue, I am mentioned and quoted, as well as my book, along with interesting quotes from Ariana Miyamoto, recently crowned Miss Universe Japan, who is Black-Japanese.

Mitzi Uehara Carter, who is a scholar and teacher whose heritage is Black-Okinawan, and who runs the blog: Grits and Sushi, is also mentioned, as well as Enka Singer from Chicago, Jero ジェロ , whose mother is Black-Japanese Amerasian.

Eric Robinson, Mitzi Uehara-Carter and myself presented together at the forum at UC Berkeley in 2011, entitled:  Deployment, Bases, and the US Military in Movement: Imagining Japan and the Self Through Race and Sex.

In this issue, Eric Robinson speaks to how Black Tokyo came to be, and offers thoughts on the importance of Black-Japaneseness being in the Japanese (and global) public eye in the present, where issues of race, gender, and nationalism are important to think into for nations to create a more positive co-existence for diverse citizens in a transnational world.

Eye-Ai(あいあい) 2016年7月号 – Below is the link  (try different browsers if you have trouble viewing it).

The Interview begins on Page 28:

http://digi2.fujisan.co.jp/digital/docnext-viewer/Launcher.html?bid=1376765_sample&dhost=2&mhost=3&view_from=catalog%2Fsample&vt=3&z_cry=0&z_dgmg=978a55962b2fb0721346e018bf034759

Militarized Mama Amerasia – an International Women’s Day Reflection

Mama in our front yard in Albuquerque, New Mexico, circa 1972

Today, according to a few sources, there are an estimated two million Amerasians–children and adults of local women across Asia who have been sired by United Statian military and civilian men and abandoned by the men. If we are to include Ameri-Pacifics–those born in the Pacific and South Seas Islands, the numbers would, of course, be higher. Often, in these stories, the harrowing and rough stories of Amerasians are told, and must be continued to be told. But the stories of the mothers, are backgrounded.

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MY BOOK: The Layout and Proofs are Going! Yes.

Mother and child - Canton 1920
Mother and child in Canton, China circa 1920.

My book: Dream of the Water Children: Memory and Mourning in the Black Pacific, is slated to be out in late spring 2016, in June.  All is on schedule so far.

We are working on the layout and design right now, including the placement of the photos. I am also editing the Afterword section after the editor worked with it.

The Layout is beautiful!  I thank Gabrielle David and the folks at 2Leaf Press for their very very hard work, their tenacity and dedication.

They walk their talk.  A press dedicated to multicultural literature and education is rare!  I am so happy with our work together, although as usual, it’s not all easy.

Exciting!!

2014 – VIDEO: Korean Hapa Tour – Homelands, New Lands, Healing

hapakorea

In the Fall of 2014, a group of Mixed-Korean Amerasians, mostly adoptees from Mixed-race orphanages in Korea, went on a small tour organized by the tour group Me & Korea, back to Korea, to the orphanages, and to meet Insooni 김인순 — Black-Korean pop-star/diva, who was partially responsible for this event.

 

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