Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Uprooting anti-Blackness in the Japanese American community

Nikkei activist Yuri Kochiyama, courtesy of UCLA Asian American Studies Center, sign by Katherine Nagasawa, WBEZ artist Mari Shibuya painting a portrait of Breonna Taylor, photo by Ellen M. Banner, The Seattle Times. 

Register now for a free series of digital workshops this fall and winter! Geared for non-Black Japanese American youth, community members—and all who wish to attend! These sessions will be moderated by Dr. Kyle Kinoshita and an intergenerational team of API organizers. Let's "clean our house" as a community so that we can better show up in solidarity for our Black siblings.  

Japanese American youth: What needs to happen in our community so that we can be powerful accomplices in the movement for Black lives? How can we ensure that our cries for “Never Again is Now!” are rooted in collective BIPOC action—not simply in the self-interests of non-Black Nikkei or API's? This upcoming webinar series will empower Nikkei young people—and others who wish to attend—through education, community-building, and dialogue. Join us for these much-needed learning sessions where we’ll be “cleaning our own house” and examining our history (such as the creation of the "model minority" myth and Black/Asian solidarity). By coming together to learn and connect, we hope to give youth the anti-racist tools they need to navigate the world today, and to lay the foundation for a future we all believe in.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Poem: 'Different, but their strengths meet in you'

Audrey Remle is a Mixed Race (Hunkpapa Lakota, Paiute, Japanese and Black) woman from South Seattle. Below is a poem she created for our Mixed Race Seattle webinar series, which Remle helped to co-direct and organize. 

A stranger in the back of the bus
Yelled loud questions at the girl
trying to guess her ethnicity

An inhale
An exhale
The mountainside steepened

She wanted to reply
her favorite food growing up
was Obaachan’s homemade inari

And she’d add, with a smile
buffalo were important in her tribe
and also quite tasty

Home was getting farther away

Children pointed, fox smiles wide
The God that loved them
had never loved her

The distance was lonely

Children learn from their parents
Depression is somewhat hereditary
The heavier your backpack
The slower you move

She was dying
Running up the steep mountain
Silently screaming
Many different looking ancestors chanting
All of them pushed her forward


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

'What’s Your Ethnicity?’: The question you don’t actually want the answer to

By Audrey Remle 

"What is your ethnicity?”

I have joked many times that if I received a nickel for every time I’ve been asked this question, I probably could have come out of college debt free.

On one hand, I understand their curiosity. Humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards people who look like them and share any kind of similarity.

On the other hand, it’s not easy to be constantly reminded that you don’t look like you belong to the people you come from.

If you peruse each feature on my face, you might be able to guess a heritage for each one. But please don’t do that. It’s uncomfortable. My thick curly hair has always been described by non-Black people as “Black hair.” To Black people, it’s not really Black hair. Regardless of what people see it as, my Black ancestry is what makes it what it is. The only times you can see a glimpse of my Japanese features is when my eyes turn into two half moons when I smile. You could probably guess my skin tone was related to either my Asian or Indigenous roots. But some would say I’m "not dark enough." 

Race allows people to find a sense of community and comfort without having to exchange words. At times we need to challenge those immediate senses of comfort and learn to be more open to differences, but it is also important for BIPOC communities to have that immediate sense of security. We’ve spent generations being severely hurt and oppressed for being different from White people, so it’s no surprise that we feel safe in the presence of people who have shared those generational traumas. But where exactly does that leave someone like me? Where does that leave multiracial people who carry such diverse histories in their body, but do not outwardly present the features of their ancestors?

Each time I hear the “what’s your ethnicity?” question, I’m reminded that even my own people see me as an outsider looking in. Another culture vulture trying to steal their way of life. I’m reminded how even some of my own family do not believe I have the right to claim my ancestry because I’m not full blooded. These are things people who are only one race or one-race-passing don’t ever have to think about.

Young Audrey holding one of her brothers with her great-grandfather. 

I have struggled with my mixed race identity since childhood. I primarily identify as Indigenous, Black, and Japanese. But I have Mayan, Indian, Siberian, and a whole lot of other things in me that I’m not aware of. My highest blood percentage of these races is probably around forty-percent, quite likely to be less if I knew more. So you can see why blood quantum has always been pretty irrelevant in defining who I am.

The convenience of giving up a part of who I am to save myself the remorse of being denied my own culture has won countless battles against being able to take pride in my mixed race identity. Despite the memories I had of my Obaachan making me homemade inari or my grandmother waking me up with “ohayou,” I was not Japanese enough to either Japanese nationals or Japanese Americans. I internalized anti-Blackness because of the abusive man who gave me my Black heritage. People can often guess I’m mixed Black, but if I erase it from the narrative, I’m ambiguous enough for it to fly under the radar. I took advantage of this to not associate with a traumatic past associated with my biological father. My family identified primarily as Indigenous and Japanese—I was the only one who was also Black. So I stuck with what my family was in order to avoid standing out.

But I came to realize that my biological father was not the only one my Black blood connected me to. It connected me to a community of powerful and beautiful individuals. It connected me to resilient and strong ancestors. And if you were to go back hundreds of years and view my distant family, they’d be living life in Japan just like the relatives of "full blooded" Japanese people. Somewhere back in time, the people needed to create me are walking on the uncolonized lands of North America, South America, Africa, and probably every other continent besides Antarctica, honestly. For some reason, colonization and White supremacy has made us think we are somehow less connected to these ancestors because of this strange concept of blood quantum. As if you could put my blood into a flask and watch the layers perfectly separate into different races.

Young Audrey. 

I am one hundred percent mixed. This all is the answer to your “what’s your ethnicity?” question. It is complex, confusingit is all a beautiful part of me. When you ask that question, you will not get the response you're looking for. You will not get the response to make all the puzzle pieces in your head solve themselves, creating a perfect picture of what I am. How could you ever solve the puzzle when the image you tried to create was not the artwork of its owner? You may see the outside and create assumptions on what you see. You may try to deny me of my identity’s validity. But only I know my history and the deep-rooted connections I feel to all of my cultures. You will never be able to put a percentage or physical attribute on that.

Audrey Remle (she/her) is a mixed Native American (Hunkpapa Lakota and Paiute), Japanese American, and African American woman local to South Seattle. She served on the Seattle JACL board from 2016-2020, and currently works as a Professional Mentor for Friends of the Children Seattle, a nonprofit providing long-term mentors to children who need extra support in their lives. Remle is a co-creator of the Mixed Race Seattle conference and webinar series.  

Uprooting anti-Blackness in the Japanese American community

Nikkei activist Yuri Kochiyama, courtesy of UCLA Asian American Studies Center, sign by Katherine Nagasawa, WBEZ artist Mari Shibuya paintin...