Culture April 16, 2019
Writing "Dream"
When I first mentioned out-loud, to someone that I wanted to write something, it was to a leader at the Denver Zen Center in the 1980s, where I had begun my formal Zen Buddhist path. At the time, I knew that it would be connected to all of the journal entries I had begun mysteriously keeping off-and-on throughout my years, especially the conversations with my mother. But it would not be until 2010, when my book would be finished enough to begin querying publishers. Many things had to come together until I could finish a book, and much of the “things” were unconscious to me until that last year of writing. What had to become clear, conscious, and important enough for me to commit to, so that my book: Dream of the Water Children: Memory and Mourning in the Black Pacific, could be finished?
As a transnational Black-Japanese Amerasian, as kokujin- hāfu, as postwar child, as military brat, as bilingual, and not quite fitting into either a Japanese Amerasian category or American, I had to navigate categories and assumptions about both myself and my mother, hurled at both of us throughout our lives. In encountering postcolonial thought, post-structural thinking, and social justice writing across identities, I became increasingly more confident that I could write such a book, but I was not ready, until I finished it. What I needed to confront were all of the ways in which normalization and assimilation had to be looked at and wrestled with in both the people of the world and the institutions, as well as how I, myself, would practice being “normal” and how my thinking was so assimilated that I could not see certain things that needed to be seen. The reason this was important was that as I lived and experienced traveling and continually betrayed and violated, it became necessary that I learned to critique realities and assumptions in order to survive. In addition, I became aware of so much suffering around the world with so many others, and in trying to figure out why, the layers of how people related to each other and what we construct, became acute and I couldn’t ignore and deny anymore.

During the countless stops and starts and re-doings of my writing, this book shifted from a victim-oriented, familiar story of exoticism and redemption, to a much more multi-faceted, anti-oppression-oriented expression of multiplicities, contradictions, violence, and interventions into assumptions of identities and history linked with a very intimate personal family story.
As a Japanese-Amerasian, not adopted out, but within an nuclear family, being ignorant of much of what my parents went through until the 21st century came to pass, I credit my instructors at Antioch University Seattle, and my graduate school teachers. In graduate school especially, my teachers who are presently at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Law, brought post-colonial liberatory anthropological analysis of cultural-political life and history to complement my Zen Buddhist training. This shifted my thinking enough to be able to bring out a book I could be, at least, half-way proud of to release into the world.
During the countless stops and starts and re-doings of my writing, this book shifted from a victim-oriented, familiar story of exoticism and redemption, to a much more multi-faceted, anti-oppression-oriented expression of multiplicities, contradictions, violence, and interventions into assumptions of identities and history linked with a very intimate personal family story. The result is a purposefully displaced work reflecting dominant narratives that confine lives to certain ways of perceiving how humans reason why they are alive or not, how we survive or not, and the agency through which violence and joy of the state-of-the world, not just Black-Japanese Amerasians, must be confronted by humans. In addition, links to Blackness, Japanese-ness, and American-ness, are placed in a global view, where repetitions can be seen as created as opposed to being “natural.” What I am saying is that I wound up writing what I call in my first chapters—and what Velina Hasu Houston writes in the Foreword for my book—an “anti-memoir.”

And as one who had reluctantly entered graduate school and wound up appreciating more than I could ever express, I also resisted writing yet another “study” of a group of people, ghetto-ized and sequestered into a story that amused people with its ethnic exoticness, and false individualistic self-constructions of connectedness that make political forces apolitical and about personal happiness or tragedies
I resisted the straight form of most memoirs I had read. And as one who had reluctantly entered graduate school and wound up appreciating more than I could ever express, I also resisted writing yet another “study” of a group of people, ghetto-ized and sequestered into a story that amused people with its ethnic exoticness, and false individualistic self-constructions of connectedness that make political forces apolitical and about personal happiness or tragedies. Life is not only personal, but connected to larger worlds. Furthermore, Black-Japanese Amerasian identities, perhaps placed within a discourse of the more tortured postwar orphan identity, or as tragic stories or as anomalies of history that were birthed after World War II, needed to be archived and addressed more mindfully and with the diverse experiences that make Black-Amerasians, Amerasians, and Black-Japanese lives more real in their particularities.

I wanted to write her story so a reader might be able to intervene into questions of how identity, history and violence are linked. A key was to resist repeating how a foreign Asian woman “arrived” into her manifest destiny, how she “overcame” and all of these platitudes of life that dull us.
The large sweeping identity-markers of the mothers of Amerasians and the Amerasians from Japan, are often considered “already-understood” and known. This, I felt was a huge problem. For instance, my mother’s story was not reflected anywhere in literature. My mother passed away without most of the world knowing that she had lived. Traditional memoirs are usually a sort of “self-expression” that reveals exotic, exciting, entertaining stories for people to read about “the other” to confirm their own selves, like a kind of “zoo” for the intellect and emotions. I wanted to write her story so a reader might be able to intervene into questions of how identity, history and violence are linked. A key was to resist repeating how a foreign Asian woman “arrived” into her manifest destiny, how she “overcame” and all of these platitudes of life that dull us. Her life was none of these things, not just in the United States, but in China and Japan, where she lived.
And neither was my life about being invisible as some kind of black man in the U.S. or a typical any “thing.” Silence and ignorance wanted to be resisted while also making links of solidarities for social justice. The book may not be a success, but hopefully a touchstone. Black-Japanese Amerasian lives, I hope, can better empower themselves by the long utterings I exhibit in the Dream.
Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh