Lizz Hill

Embracing Yonsei

No matter what your political position was in 2016, I think we can all agree that last year’s political race struck a nerve in most of us. For many, race and equality was a fueled topic of discussion and I noticed many of my friends sharing their family’s experiences as immigrants and what it means to be the child or grandchild of an immigrant. This got me to thinking about my own family’s lineage, having a Caucasian father and a Japanese mother. 

I had the luxury of growing up as a purely American citizen, in a primarily white neighborhood, going to primarily white schools. Growing up on the West Coast, I was around many Asian people however wasn’t obviously identified as Asian myself so ended up feeling more like a Caucasian-American than a Japanese-American. 

During last year’s Presidential race, I found myself feeling thoroughly under-educated around my own family’s immigrant past, specifically on my mother’s side. Aside from the rice cooker’s place at our nightly dinner table and our family’s tradition of making sushi for major holiday gathering’s I really had no reference for what it means to be Japanese; no understanding of my grandparent’s experiences as a Japanese person, living in the United States. 

To further add to my embarrassment, I knew that my grandparents, being Nisei (2nd generation) had been sent to internment camps with their Issei parents by the Executive Order 9066, signed by FDR, during WWII, yet I had never heard a story of their time in the camps. I had never asked. And it was never talked about in our family.

I’ve since begun reading about their life during those years; a time spent, locked away from the rest of their country and its people. I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that both of my Nisei grandparents are alive and excited about this thing called “email” and I’m trying to educate myself about Japanese culture, something that for my entire life, has been as beautifully foreign as any other culture that I never grew up in, never witnessed first hand; never embraced. I’m trying to correct my first few decades by dedicating my remaining ones to understanding a people that exist across the world from me but who’s traits are my traits, who’s faces look like my Sansei mother’s face. I’m embracing and learning what it means to call myself Yonsei.

Photo by Jason Wiker.

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