Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Aoyama Michi Music Video: My First Black-Japanese Amerasian Entertainment

Growing up in Japan in the 1950s and 60s, there were a handful of mixed-Japanese (haafu– as we are called nowadays) shown on television. Even more rare were Black-Japanese. I, as you know, use the term “Amerasian” to refer to most of us (not all) mixed-Japanese in the postwar period, as our identities were directly linked with war, the U.S. and Allied Occupation of Japan, and the globalized nation-making period where race played an integral part.  Issues of ‘haafu’ differ today, as Japan has been thoroughly divested of a direct relationship to war and occupation–although it is profoundly linked with the present-day idea and life of Japanese-ness.  For us mixed-Japanese Black Amerasians, the appearance and sounds of Black-Japanese entertainers was both an incredible surprise and joy, but also a reminder of the disdain people had for mixed-Japanese during that time. Of course there were some Japanese who thought it nice and normal, or good. But the majority turned away with a disgusting look upon seeing us.  Sometimes even our own mothers.

One of the strongest memories of mine, was seeing, for the very first time, a Black-Japanese “konkestsuji” (the pseudo-scientific term for haafu love-child) person on television, alone, without a plot. It was 青山ミチ Aoyama Michi and her song: 叱らないで Shikaranaide (don’t be angry with her), which was released in 1968.  Although she became popular with her first big hit in 1963, this, her third release, was the one I remember and was the first time I had seen her on television with an eye toward my identity.  When I was younger and saw her, I didn’t think of her as “different” but recognized her as “someone like me.”  (continued below the video)

 

When this song came out, I felt that she was singing about me.  When I met with a few of my other haafu friends, they felt the same way and we loved this song.

The song and the images of her on television, evoked many things then, and nowadays, many things to reflect on.
Noticing that Black-Japanese as well as many white-Japanese haafu, were more sexualized in Japanese culture in those days (and perhaps even now), is evident.

In many advertisements featuring Aoyama Michi, her cleavage and her legs were often prominent. However, there was a tendency to whiten her, to make her “less dark-skinned.”  As well, her hair was straightened to hide her “kinky” African-American hair. She herself, was admonished by many to look as white as possible to be accepted.  Back then (and even today in East Asia) these are words that ring true.  It should make us think of our society. Also, to think of how her life must have been, trying to make it in the industry. But it was not tragic or dark, just harder. There were many, including her agents, etc, who wanted her to succeed, knowing that life in Japan, in the public limelight, would be excruciating at times, but must be endured if we are to follow our dreams against all odds, within a racist, sexist milieu.

The song definitely had, as most songs do, different interpretations depending upon the listener.  This song was generally heard through two main meanings:  1) was that in the refrain, she says “Maria-sama.” So in relation to Christianity and the Christian minorities in Japan, this was also a song that they especially loved and could connect with the appeal to forgive the girl who does “wrong” in society and to not be mad at her.  Essentially a prayer to Mother Mary.  I knew some Japanese Christians at the time, who kept their beliefs secret for fear of being bullied, who loved this song, along with us haafu.

The other interpretation which my haafu friends and I interpreted this to speak to, is the Amerasian version. Many of the street kids that were Amerasian, whether white or black haafu, could relate to the constant desperations and exclusions and violence we often encountered from the Japanese folks around us, both other kids and adults. After being tormented for weeks, there would be a breaking point and fights would ensue (my friends went through this alot, whereas I would usually retreat into my room and not deal with others). After the fighting, the Amerasian kid, of course, would be  blamed for everything and be punished. The song reminded Amerasians of the nuns at Christian orphanages in Japan, who were most often entrusted with the Amerasians left behind by the American (and to a lesser degree the Australian and British) Occupying male soldiers and the beleaguered and enraged/depressed and/or shamed Japanese mothers. The lyrics pleading for the nuns to not be mad at that child for creating trouble.  It was not only about children. The same hierarchies and abuses continued (and still does today in most of Asia) into adulthood. This was a scene that was not only imaginable by the haafu living in Japan in those years, but us Amerasians lived through these moments over and over again.  Don’t be mad at her.  Don’t be mad at me, we’ve lived through unimaginable heartaches—as the lyrics go.

This is a memory, strongly imprinted in many of us Amerasian body-minds since the postwar.  It is a memory-emotion we wish we didn’t have, and as well, something we hold dear, as a reminder of what we have survived and unrecognized by others.  Translation of LYRICS – below:

叱らないで
青山ミチ
作詞:星野哲郎
作曲:小杉仁三あの娘がこんなに なったのは
あの娘ばかりの 罪じゃない
どうぞ あの娘を 叱らないで
女ひとりで 生きてきた
ひとにゃ話せぬ 傷もある
叱らないで 叱らないで
マリヤさま
あの娘が戻って きた夜の
外はつめたい みぞれ雨
どうぞ あの娘を 叱らないで
夢をなくした 小鳩には
ここが最後の 止り木よ
叱らないで 叱らないで
マリヤさま
あの娘の涙は うそじゃない
うそで泣くほど すれちゃない
どうぞ あの娘を 叱らないで
なにも言わずに 十字架の
そばへあの娘の 手をひいて
叱らないで 叱らないで
マリヤさま
That girl did not become this way
all by herself alone.
Please do not be angry with her.
She has lived all this time as a girl alone
and has scars that she can’t tell people about
Don’t be angry with her,  Don’t be angry with her Miss Maria.
From the the night out there where cruel rains fall
she has come back
So please don’t be angry with her.
This place is a final stopping tree
for a baby pigeon that has lost its dreams
Don’t be angry with her, Don’t be angry with her Miss Maria.
Her tears are not lies
She has no need for fake crying
Please don’t be angry with her
Without saying a word, please take her hand near the crucifixion cross where we are
Don’t be angry with her, Don’t be angry with her Miss Maria.

Join ‘Japan’s War Brides and Their Legacies – 2018 Symposium’

Japan’s War Brides and Their Legacies: 2018 Symposium — a symposium on the legacies and effects of the lives of women who married non-Japanese between 1945 to 1965, will be coming at USC (University of Southern California) in 2018.

I will be one of the organizers and looking forward to building this into a solid first-time program.

My hope is that healing, learning, connection, and impacts are made, linking the individual and diverse post-war Japanese women’s experiences with the lives of their children and what and how this links with other stories that create spaces for thinking for social change and social justice, and to honor the lives of the Japanese war-brides, which are often mired in controversy and various forms of invisiblizing.

Our intention is to bring Japanese war brides, their children, and the scholars, artists, filmmakers, and the general community together for a series of events for sharing, thinking, healing, and inspiration.

If you are a child of a Japanese post-WWII marriage, or are yourself, and would like to join in bringing this symposium together, please join our facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1849706125309535/

MOSAIC TOURS – Korean Hapa Tours 2017 readying to Go!

 

Mixed-race Korean adoptees, which has become a major industry in Korea, has adopted out to other nations, including most to the United States, since the end of the Korean War (1953). Because of this, many families were separated, and many memories of adopted children—now adults, and adoptive parents, and birth mothers and families, have lived with the realities of their conditions, wanted or not.

The Mosaic Tours have offered healing for many of these people, to in the very least, visit the countries of their birth, many of whom do not remember Korea, since they left so young. Perhaps a fragrance, or a color, or a sensual memory lingers. And then for those adopted out at a later age, which gave chance for memory to endure, the chance to revisit and heal is a tremendous act in the our times of rapid societal and ecological change, and cultural memory being lost to dominant forces and the realities of war, occupation, and violence.  These tours offer great spaces of mixed emotions, joy and inspiration and perhaps sadness. In healing trauma, these moments are held precious.

The Mosaic Tours for this year, are about to embark. If you, or someone you know, is interested, please contact them (refer to the poster from a previous blogpost I published, which I repost below).

 

 

My Early Puzzling racial questions……..

diz-carla-mama-me
Mama, myself, and my friend Diz and his sister Carla, in front of my Dad’s new Mercedes just outside of Tachikawa Air Force Base, Japan in 1961.

When I run into and get to know mixed-race American-Japanese people in the U.S., most of the time, they mention histories of being confused about who they were, their identity. Although, let’s say out of fifty persons I knew, seven or eight of them did not tell me that they questioned their identity, about confusion, the others did. I am one who never had any questions of who I was. But I also began noticing that those who questioned their identity, were mostly born in the United States, or left Japan as a child, before they could form too many sentences. Since American-ness is a place of individuals disconnected from communities, where people must craft their intimacies and friendships and relations, it began to dawn on me that this was not a surprise.

Equally so, was that I was quite sure of who I was and never questioned who I was or what I was.

Read more…

Mixed-Race Identity: Celebration?

multiracial-what-is-race-kids

 

Let me be clear from the start: I am critiquing, not criticizing. Criticizing judges, has a moral hierarchy, is more “truth oriented.”  I come from an intellectual background that struggles to critique–to point out crevices, junctures, and points of diversion that may open to new possibilities that present multiple locations from a single space (as opposed to criticism which tends to negate and/or annihilate whatever it points to). What is “multiracial” and “bi-racial” for? Who does it serve? What does it do or not do? Why?

Read more…

HAPA JAPAN FESTIVAL 2017 – February 22-26 & Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference – February 24-26

hapa-fest-2017-logo

 

This Year, University of Southern California (USC)  is hosting a concurrent mixed festival and conference: the biannual Hapa Japan Festival (mixed-Japanese heritage studies and celebration) and the annual Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) Conference.

Here is the program for the Hapa Japan Fest:    http://dornsife.usc.edu/cjrc/hapa-japan-festival-2017/

cmrs_program_cover

Here is the program for the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference: https://criticalmixedracestudies.wordpress.com/cmrs2017-program/  

 

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.

Read more…

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.”

 

 

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