by Kurt Ikeda
When I was a child,
I was just a little too Japanese.
My L’s and R’s
Came out as
Reft and Light
As in whenever I left my Japanese at home.
It would make me feel all right.
When I was in Math Class
I sat between two kids: a white boy and a Yonsei; we looked alike
Like a line between the divide signs
He couldn’t discern the difference between the dots
the Yonsei and I.
We looked alike.
But I didn’t sound like the others.
When I was bullied,
My teacher said that my sentences sounded funny.
Like how my English would flow together like brush strokes of Japanese-calligraphy
I woulda left the room but it wasn’t right.
I was a model minority student.
You see I was good at math
Because that was the only homework that my mother could help me with.
The numbers just didn’t add up.
The Yonsei kid was laughing at me.
If I subtracted the accent we were the same underneath.
My father told me that I am more than the sum of my parts.
But at that point I felt more like a divide line between two points, two nations and my heart
The Yonsei told me that I was fresh off a boat.
So I resisted the urge to speak.
Because in school I was suppose to raise the American
and submerge the Japanese.
We’ve heard this story before.
Divided between Loyalty and Resistance
Too many Stories
Stories that were never told
Questions that should not have been asked
At last we can take a moment
To look back at our collective pasts
Japanese American History is riddled with Land Mines
So make sure you mind lands.
On the point of our pens.
The point is that
Marking Yes or No
On two questions
Shouldn’t have been a mark of loyalty.
Shouldn’t have been the narrative of American.
Shouldn’t have divided our families.
Generations later we still try to do the math.
So we subtracted the parts of that made us other.
Memories fading faster
Cultural genocide disaster
Baa-chan I wish I asked her
Jii-chan I wish he told me
To know me
There’s no me
The Tule Lake resistance is still relevant
We defended the civil liberties of the immigrants
It’s time to dig up some skeletons
Here’s is my Shin-Nikkei Testament.
Resisters we are charged with the following:
Marching while being Black
Traveling while being Latino
Praying while being Muslim
Living while being Native
Resisting while being a citizen, Japanese and American.
Resisters, the senate silenced our voices.
We had appeared to oppose an unfair rule
We were warned
We weren’t given an explanation
Nevertheless, we persisted
Nevertheless, we resisted
First they came for the courageous
Then they came for the loyal.
Then they came for the people who were bound to no native soil.
A New Hope
Where we set up the resistance.
It lives on the Senate floor
Elizabeth Warren fighting for the rights of all
It lived 70 years before
50 Native American Fighters versus 1,000 U.S. troops or more
It lived in World War II Germany through a white rose
That arose to face fascist tyranny
Civil Rights isn’t history
Civil Rights is a verb
Reparations didn’t finish our story
There’s still redress to be served.
Yonsei and Shin-Nikkei
The new hope—The force has awakened
The pains of discrimination—we inherited
The hate of a nation—we inherited
Detention, relocation, unconvicted convicts—we inherited
Redress and reparations
Red Cards for Green cards
These “Aliens”, my students—I inherited
My Great-Grandfather’s name—Enemy Alien—I inherited
I inherit things from a family of collectors
My great-grandfather collected tuna can tops while we was incarcerated Tuna Canyon, California
My grandfather collected years waiting for his father at Crystal City, Texas.
We collected your stories today.
We are the 442nd and the Resisters of today.
My grandfather would have had his 82th birthday.
His father promised him the biggest gift that he could buy.
He never came home.
His father was the line of the divide sign.
Walking the rope between two nations.
It’s a shame that he was born on February 19th.
On his birthday we received an executive order in place of his father.
An educator by profession and a poet by passion, Kurt Ikeda is a high school English teacher at Camino Nueva Charter Academy – Daizell Lance Campus. A native of Hawai’i who was raised in Torrance, California, he preaches social justice to his students and puts it into practice as Board Secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District, as Co-President of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the JACL and most recently, as a member of the Manzanar Committee.
Ikeda earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his Master of Arts degree in Urban Education, Policy and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. His poetry, which can be found at can be found at http://socialjusticesaying.tumblr.com, is rooted in the incarceration story of his grandfather, informed by the Asian American experience and inspired by his work with high school youth.
The views expressed in this poem are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Kurt Ikeda. Photo courtesy Kurt Ikeda.
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