In the wake of John, Mike, and Eric’s second damning

Sophomore year of high school, a teacher led an exercise about race in my English class. At least, that’s how I remember it. Because she asked anyone who ever felt like they didn’t belong in America to stand up.

I stood up. I stood up for my blackness. For my daughter of a Japanese national-ness as well. But mostly for my blackness. I wasn’t the only one. I remember how some of my classmates looked up from their seats, incredulous, appalled even. I wanted to cry, my face made hot by the scrutiny.

To think, in that moment, I worried about having enough examples to justify my stance.

I remember a retort along the lines of, “If you don’t belong here, then where do you belong? Where are you gonna go?”

The soul cries.

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Black Girl Pain

My mama said life would be this hard
Growing up days as a black girl scarred
In every way still we’ve come so far
They just know the name they don’t know the pain
So please hold your head up high
Don’t be ashamed of yourself know I
Will carry you forth til the day I die
They just know the name they don’t know the pain

Black girl

Talib Kweli, “Black Girl Pain”

It may seem a strange way to break the silence of these winter months, but settling is always uncomfortable until it isn’t. This post is dedicated to Little Queen. Welcome to the world.

I will never forget the moment I recognized the black American experience as distinct. The history, the struggle, the heartache, and triumphs were assuaged into the numbness of normal by my assumption that experiences are both universal and relative.  That was, until, I found myself on my knees, tears streaming down my face and through my fingers as I tried to explain to my mother after a particularly grueling day why, to some people, I would never be enough simply because I was black. She craned her neck back, furrowed her brow, and looked at me as if I was a stranger around whom eggshells were strewn about.

“Don’t you understand what I’m saying? Do you know how painful it is to know that?” I pleaded.

She paused. “No, baby. I don’t understand. I don’t know what you mean and I can’t know what you mean because I’m not black.”

I love my mother with equal parts ferocity and frivolity. She is my Ride Or Die Chick. But a line had been drawn, or maybe a frame, a necessary frame I should have drawn years ago around myself and between those I had unwittingly forced into an embrace of solidarity. The point is, very few can empathize, even if they love you.

This is a painful reality. One of many Black Girl Pains. But the real pain is not in the manifestation of a warning. It is in the surprise of feeling. “I knew it would be this bad. I didn’t know it would feel this bad.” It feels like a slap in the face, the sting of shame when you hear first, a voice insult the color of your skin, and second, the silence of no one’s objection.

The wind gets knocked out of you when you read the word, “cunt,” associated with a 9-year old black girl. It was just a joke. Shame on you for thinking, this too shall pass. Your ego on one end, humility on the other, burning when Everyone Else tells you, “Now I wouldn’t go that far,” when you hint at bias in the grading system, as in every system. What I want to tell you is, go that far. Go farther. “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses its understanding.”

It takes a while for the confrontation over the gentle, but unauthorized, grasp of your curls, or the offhand comment about the ontological differences between the races to come to raised voices. But when and if it does, know that you’ve rubbed salt on a hundreds-year-old wound and that healing burns. The hate and anger that seems to spill from a dark gusher unearthed is the sadness of ignorance and the fear of a great and glorious unknown. This conflict is healthy. Meet it head on.

Things are getting better. But they should be better. What once showed up as strange fruit on gnarled branches now manifests as mutterings between confidants, wary eyes and nervous laughter. Sometimes this jitteryness results in an off-loaded gun. And maybe if we recognized it as such, by the time you come into your awareness, Little Queen, things will be as they should.

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The library series

Hi folks! I’ve been in Oxford for nearly 10 days, and they’ve flown by. Everyone’s been really nice and  the sun’s been out, except for yesterday’s rain in which I had to bike home in my white skirt.

In typical ASB fashion, it took me forever to get my basics in order and I got really frustrated doing mundane things like withdrawing money from the bank. At the pinnacle of this frustration, however, I went on a tour of the Radcliffe Science Library, and the librarian said, “The Magna Carta lies beneath your feet. Literally.” And then I realized I have to just shut up.

So I guess to sum it up, I’ll have to steal a line from my new friend Alexa:

“Is this real life?!”

Studying in the Taylorian. I think every post will include a picture of me in different libraries because a) there are so many libraries and b) I foresee myself living in most of them.

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How it ends

最後。 さいご。Saigo. Last. End. Conclusion.

I had an amazing time in Japan. I’m back in Seattle now, after a whirlwind tour of Belgium, Spain, a bit of Holland and two lovely days in London thrown in there too. Of course, a weekend in Cali. Now it’s back to the PNW (Pacific Northwest, for the uninitiated).

It’s three days into class and I realize I’m tired. The weight and energy of the past six months is catching up with me and I am ready to realize it.  I also think I’m becoming a morning person.

Little things remind me that, even though I’m no longer in Tokyo, Tokyo is still with me. I take off my shoes instinctively pointing them towards the door, the heels lined at the border between foyer and living space. I wash my hands compulsively. I have difficulty with fork and knife. And peace signs seem to creep up whenever someone brandishes a camera near me.

How many times can one say thank you?

Thank you to my fellow Sophians.

Thank you to my Abercrombie Crew.

Thank you to my host family.

Thank you dear friends.

Thank you my family.

Thank you Tokyo.

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You already know

Time. 時間 or “jikan”.

I was MIA for the majority of the month of February because my mom visited for two weeks, my friend Tom for one, and I had back to back shifts alternately dancing my ass off and practicing my honorific Japanese. On days I didn’t have work, or when I wasn’t playing tour guide, I was either sleeping in late or dancing til dawn. Both practices achieve the same result – not facing reality. A windowless club, with its pulsing throngs, throbbing bass, and shimmering glass helps you forget that there’s a world outside, with responsibilities and people to face, in the same way that the curtains of your eyelids let you hide behind vivid dreams,  ambient music, and pitch black. Maybe it was the weather – Tokyo gets dark around five, the wind whips relentlessly, especially in the tunnels created between the cold, towering buildings. Maybe it was the realization of time running out. Maybe it was my credit card bill. Probably all of those things, in cahoots with the chemicals in my brain. Whatever it was, I want you to know, depression happens, even when you’re having the time of your life.

And I have had the time of my life.

Mommy

My mom came on her birthday, February 2nd and stayed until the 16th. Due to both felicitous and dastardly acts of happenstance, we spent more time together than intended. We had moments of frustration, one such in which I collapsed upon my luggage in the middle of Tokyo Station, bawling my eyes out and cursing the entire staff of Japan Rail, my mother haplessly patting my shoulder. We had moments of shock, for example watching my 92 year old great aunt climbing a steep hilltop by herself and informing us, “It’s ok, I rode a motorcycle until my eyes went out seven years ago!” We had too many laughs, usually regarding my chibi cousins, aged six and two respectively, who favor copious amounts of fine grade sashimi to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We shared memories, well, more vicariously for me, of the Kansai region, her birthplace, as we traversed up and down the area. But most of all, we had moments together, which was most precious. There were moments, like ones that have occurred sporadically over the past five years, that jolt me to the unsettling realization that your parent is a person, with an identity separate and increasingly restricted from you. My mother is not just family, she’s my best friend, and not in the way that most family members are automatically inducted into the friendship circle, but in the way that, had I met her outside of the womb, I would probably still think she was amazing and want to hang out with her.

I cried when I said goodbye to Kelley in Shibuya Station. When that smile, you know the mournful smile of memories flooding back and the realization of distance, crept up on my face, she sharply turned away, “Ok, bye!” I feel like I left my long-lost, long-longed-for sister behind.

The second time: Sera and I were talking at the table the morning I left. She folded my clothes for in this way, in this loving way that one would imagine four months could not produce.

I got on the plane satisfied. My time was up.

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How do you know

When it’s time to leave.

Today’s word of the day is re-entry permit:

再入国許可書  (さいにゅうこくきょかしょ) sainyuukokukyokasho
Say that ten times fast.
I had to get one of these today because I’m going to Korea for three days (South, obviously). My cousins convinced me and to tell you the truth I’m not that excited. I sure am restless for some reason though. It will be great, and it’s one of those things where, why not, I’m close enough.  So this permit is required to maintain your visa when you leave the country and come back. I’m only going to be coming back for about a week more, and I could have just had the student visa cancelled and continued with a tourist, but that would mean accepting that this is truly over. I don’t want to admit it, but the weeks went by like days, days like hours, so on and so forth. And now there are signs everywhere around Tokyo telling me to leave.
You know it’s time to go when you start worrying about normal stuff like how much you got paid. You know it’s time to go when you dread the evening rush hour commute home. You know it’s time to go when you’re caught up with the American prime time drama season. You know it’s time to go when you’re having conversations with your neighborhood convenience store clerk.
So you hold someone’s hand just a little bit lighter than you used to, walk down the streets a little slower, let your eyes linger on leaves and things. You zip your coat up to the hood and suck in your breath when he stands there in front of you,” なにする?”みたいな, because you know it will be the last time.
Open your eyes but glaze your heart as your lips form the word that starts with a g.
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In celebration of Black History Month

I am reading the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. But not in celebration of Black History Month. I just am. I think it’s about time. Today’s word is 思い出 【おもいで】”omoide.” Memories.

I remembered it was Black History Month only last week. But I never forget that I’m black. So I think we’re even.

I will remember Mizuki and we will reminisce about Tokyo and laugh at our recollections over drinks in DC this summer.

I will smile every time I think about Sera and my slumming days.

I will never forget the look in my mother’s eyes as we rode the train together through Kansai.

I’m so glad Tom is here and that he is as I have always known him to be.

I want to remember every moment of this last month in Japan.

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Having, holding, and letting go

Today’s word is

わすれもの
wasuremono
something forgotten.
I’ve decided. I’m going to leave parts of myself all over the world. Not visceral parts of myself, just, you know, books, and shirts, and the like. I might even leave them in random locations in haphazard ways. Some of these items I might intentionally lose. You know, sometimes, it’s easier to let go of something if it just happens to get lost, it’s easier than holding back the tears and cringing as you thrust it upon a typically unenthused beneficiary. So yes. I might casually forget jackets in cafes and not go back. Or lend pens or bracelets with abandon. Hopefully these pieces get to travel as much as I have these past few years. Not to say I was there, per se, but to say, hey, we were there, together.
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Happy birthday to me (or, I should have been an English major)

Happy Birthday indeed. I’m 22 now and still young and yet sometimes I feel so old and weathered. But what makes me feel old are the worries and concerns made all the more worrisome due to my youth. Like what to do with the rest of my life. Or at least the next year.  This will be full of tangents by the way.

I saw Kyungbung today. It made me realize how much I must cherish these fleeting moments these times, Mizuki’s blog posts, the sun coming through the window this morning, all these things, so precious. Kyungbun and I got lost on the Nambokusen today, and while my head pounded with fever and I wanted to go home, I was also really glad to have the extra time to share hugs and smiles and squeezes of the hand with my dear friend.

I was reading Mizuki’s blog the other day, and once again I was struck by the naked honesty of her words. Often she translates conversations she has straight into English, and while I do that too (to a minor degree, due to my limited skills), I usually adapt the English words to more standardized way of speaking. But in that, some of the meaning, no something deeper than that, the spirit, fades in translation. But Miichan, she stays true to the word.  This amused me at first, because, and this is hard to capture, but the meaning of the words are just different here. Words have a meaning apart from culture and untainted by time and sometimes that honesty seems awkward when translated. Still Miichan, she keeps it. She stays true.

In her recounting of childhood memories, long embedded in the walls of these harried lives we lead, I found myself sitting with her in the back of the car, looking out the window together, tears welling in my eyes. I wondered if her eyes welled up too. I was struck, slapped in the face by the urgency of the past. I have to remember what happens, I have to be present to every moment, because this pain of forgetting, it stings with the desperation of regret. I also realize I don’t say thank you enough, out loud at least.

Every month or so my host mom and I sit down and have a spontaneous heart to heart. They are always exactly what I needed but didn’t realize I wanted kind of things. In that sense, all moms are the same even if they aren’t your own. It started off with a discussion about the concert she held earlier in the day. I started feeling sick last night and by the intermission of the early afternoon concert I had to go home. When I finally came down this evening, she apologized for making me sick with her bad performance. I assured her the concert definitely wasn’t the cause but she insisted. Our harshest critics are always ourselves. The concert was much better than the first concert of hers I attended, and I am no classical music expert, but I could see where things could be improved. But still, I enjoyed what I saw and wished I could have stay for more. She mused about aging and how it was affecting her technique, how she’s being outsung by younger people, how she needs to practice more, but then she ended with, “These are only excuses. At least I’m doing what makes me happy, even if I’m not good at it.” Then she turned to me and said, make sure you don’t do what’s expected of you. Find out what you want to do with your life and make sure you do it. It’s important that you figure that part out first before you fulfill all the things you’re “supposed” to do with your life, like get married, be a housewife and have kids (remember we’re still in Japan).

We talked about her husband and her daughters, all extremely driven and successful people in their own ways who are yet unfulfilled. Arisa is an event planner at a very prestigious firm, but she really wants to be a photographer. Haya is a PhD candidate in agricultural chemistry, but the work is boring. Toshio started his own consulting firm, but he misses the camaraderie of his old company. Compared to them, Mamasan is the least successful, but she is by far the happiest. And because of the kind of work she does, the kind that makes her happy, she is so driven and disciplined. The woman easily spends ten hours a day in her performance hall, practicing and perfecting her technique, of her own accord. The rest of us, we drag our feet out the door to face another day.

She looked at me with tear glinted eyes and said, “We have this house, we have so much money, but what do we have in our hearts? If you don’t find out what makes you happy, you will never be able to make others happy and you will never enjoy what you have. It is meaningless.”

When I blew out the candles on my mango birthday cake, I wished that everyone gets what they want. I didn’t mean myself. But I’m thinking I should have.

I have my final itinerary for the rest of my days til April: Japan until March, then Korea for three days, and then two weeks in Europe, visiting Zach in Belgium, Kristen in Spain, and Alex in London. After that, Boston for a couple days, then Cali for a week, and then back to Seattle. I will be back in the states on March 23rd, back in Seattle by the first day of classes.

I’ve been so stressed out I’ve made myself sick, thinking about the final tests I haven’t studied for and papers I haven’t started, what to do for the rest of my life, thinking about how to do the things I should do for the rest of my life (i.e, pay off credit card, DC or Jersey, dating, return to Japan, family, whatever), damning my proletariat background, and I just realized: fuck it. To hell with money, and decisions, and shoulds and should nots, I’m going to be happy.

Thank god for January birthdays, my wishes join the resolutions I could never keep, save for the weight of hope.

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Away but never far (enough)

Today’s word of the day is, じゆう(な), jew-nah:  Freedom

Thanks to THE INTERNET. I typed the word in capital letters in imitation of my friend Sera, who always remarks with wide-eyed wonder the magic revealed through her high speed connection.  I go about my day, speaking another language, gazing at a skyline not Seattle, conferring with dictionaries as I would a friend, I am in Japan. But when I come home, sit down at my desk and turn on my computer, I’m back in the States. I know I’ve talked about this before, but it astounds me sometimes. I feel it so much it aches. It aches out of equal parts longing – for home and for here.  I want to be fully present in this space and time as it will never happen again. But I also want to know what an Orszagasm is, what the Stranger thinks about Avatar, and what my college-sophomore brother looks like these days.  The wonders of THE INTERNET. When I log onto Gmail, Facebook, and The New York Times, I get that old feeling. That this desk is not in a room on the third floor of a house in Tokyo but actually in a studio on the third floor of a building in Seattle. That I have work to do, plans to make, emails to return, things to keep up with. I hate that old feeling sometimes. And the reason why it is so strong is because I’m NOT at my desk in Seattle.  I am here.

It’s my own damn fault I know.

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