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Introduction

As a 25-year old mixed-ethnic Yonsei Nikkei of Japanese and Okinawan descent, I had a hard time understanding why my mom would say that I was part Okinawan, instead of just saying that I was Japanese. After all, when I looked at a map of Japan, and saw Okinawa, wasn't Okinawa a part of Japan? I didn't really understand it, and when I asked other people to explain it, they couldn't really tell me anything specific. Some people at most would say things like "Oh, Okinawans are hairier than other Japanese," or "Okinawans are darker," but I couldn't tell any difference. Growing up, and looking at my relatives, they all looked Japanese to me, so I didn't make too much of a distinction. Anyways, at that very early stage in my life, I was having a hard enough time identifying as an Asian, especially considering that I was surrounded by hakujin in a suburban community in Orange County.

But things did change, and as I grew up, I remember that my high school history teacher assigned our class to interview someone who had lived through World War II. So, when I asked my mom who I should interview, she suggested that I talk to my Japanese grandparents. In talking with my Ba-chan, I learned about how my great-grandfather had come here as a railroad worker, and later had been a farm laborer in the central California Valley, before setting up business in Los Angeles. From her, I learned how he had been sent to the Concentration Camps here in America, first at Fort Missoula, then to Santa Anita, and then later, to Rohwer, Arkansas. Even further, I learned about how my grandparents had survived the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, since my Ba-chan had gone back to Japan to marry before the war broke out. When I found out about all of this I remember being shocked, because I had no idea that my family was so rich with history. I mean, all that we had read in high school were books about western Anglo history with just the slightest smattering of information on the civil rights movement, but that was about it. So, needless to say, there was this really powerful feeling that I learned from my grand-parents, which was that we, as Nikkei, were a part of history, a living, breathing, part of history, and that we had a place in discussions about the past and about the future.

So it was that in college, I followed up on learning about this history, and had an opportunity to learn more at UCLA, where I later majored in English and History, and specialized in Asian American Studies. Also, during this time, my mom pointed out the Japanese American National Museum to me, and in going there, I learned about how I could get records on my great-grandfather from the National Archives in Washington D. C. Even further, I continued to collect oral histories from my relatives and even tracked down my great-grandfather's second wife's son, who lived in Boyle Heights, to learn more about the camp experience. With all of this information, I was able to track down and reconstruct the history of my father's side of the family.

Later, however, looking at the files I kept on my family history, I noticed one day that I had very little information on my mother's side, which was from Fukushima and Okinawa. Part of the problem had been that my mother's side was from Hawai'i, and both my maternal grandparents had died when I was in my early teens, so I wasn't as familiar with that side of the family, because of the distance. At a certain level, I wanted to learn more about that side of the family, and did what I could to learn about their experiences, from the plantations to the present, but that still didn't tell me any answers as far as Okinawans were concerned. In terms of Okinawan history, I didn't get to learn that much until my latter years in college, where an activist friend of mine gave me information on an organization called the Japan Pacific Research Network, which does research on minority issues in Japan. From them I got this informational pamphlet that had a basic overview on Okinawans and ethnic minorities in Japan. I was intrigued by this history, and later, in a history seminar on Japanese Nationalism, I used the opportunity to learn more about the issues and history of the Okinawan people.

It was through this research and study that I learned about the history of the Okinawan people. And it was also where I learned how little there was out there that talked about the Okinawan people's history in the English language. Since I didn't speak Japanese, I found that my search for information definitely had its limitations, and I had to make do in some sense with the little that I could find. But in some regards it was enough, and I wanted to write it down so that future Nikkei of Okinawan descent (Uchinanchu) could learn about our history and heritage, be proud of our unique past, and most importantly, use this information to galvanize us for action in the future. For, as an activist committed to the concept of social change, I have looked to the Okinawan and Okinawan American community for models of activism, because of the strong tradition of commitment to community and social activism in the Okinawan community. And even further, our homeland is still in the midst of struggle, caught between the strategic military interests of the United States and the willingness of the Japanese bureaucracy to sacrifice the Okinawan people for their own interests. We Okinawans are an independent nation under the yoke of Japanese and American colonialism. And as Okinawans in North America, we have the responsibility and resources to make an impact here in America to help remove the military bases from Okinawa for all times sake, to benefit all the peace-loving nations of the world. That is our history, and that is our calling. It is the calling of our homeland across the seas. It is the calling of our common heritage as Uchinanchu. And even further, it is our greatest challenge as we continue into the new millennium and face the next century with new hope for the younger generation here in America, and for our sisters and brothers in the motherland.

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