My aunt who was living in Michigan, visited my family in Osaka Japan when I was 6 or 7 years old. I was so curious about her daughter who was probably a teenager at the time.
She fascinated me because she spoke a language I had never heard, and her hair, eye color and skin tone were much lighter than mine. Although my aunt spoke Japanese, she sounded a bit funny and I didn’t know why. One day, we were staying at a hotel, and my aunt asked me to ask her daughter for the “Kagi” (Key) in Japanese. Then, she gently took my hand and said, “Open your palm, and say, “Kii” to her, she’ll understand what it is”. And she smiled. I was a bit nervous to take such a huge responsibility, and that was my very first time speaking up to her daughter. I stood up in front of her, and did exactly what my aunt told me; showed her my little palm and said, “Kiii” but sounded like almost whisper. She looked at me for a second, but immediately understood and put the room key into my palm with a big smile on her face. That was the first time I realized that there are people who speak different languages, there are places other than Japan that I can only imagine what it looks like, and it was definitely my first “Culture Shock”. Then I remember the story my aunt told me when I visited her in Michigan for her daughter’s wedding.
How she met her husband, who was an American Soldier while he was stationed in Japan after the World War II. They got married, and moved to the States. They had 3 children, but soon after he was sent to Russia, got sick, and passed away little after that. She didn't teach her kids Japanese language out of fear that her kids would get teased and/or bullied when other kids found out that they are “Mixed Race” especially with Japanese heritage; that the country that surrendered and lost the War. I often wonder how hard it was for her to live through that era in the States, facing racism, losing her husband, raising three children to be “American” and protecting them from many obstacles that many immigrants had to face… How funny it is - our lives take us to our own journey… I met my husband 16-17 years after my “first culture shock” and moved to Colorado. I remember when I told my friends in Japan where in the States I’m moving to, they had no idea where it was on the map back then. I also remember I felt so very isolated when I first moved to Colorado. I felt like I was the only Japanese person who lived in Colorado. There were not many ways to network and getting to know other Japanese people unless you’re an exchanged student and/or your husband is in the military, or Japanese business man who was sent to the States as the head office representative, and/or have a child and meet other Japanese people through school events. My husband and I didn’t fit into any of those categories, and I had to get used to this “isolation” for a while. One way to get to know other Japanese people for me was through the food. I used to work at a few different Japanese restaurants as a server, and built a small network from there. One day, I was serving an elderly couple who used to come to the restaurant often. I can’t remember how the conversation went, but she asked me if I’m a citizen of the United States, and I told her “Not yet”. She asked me if I’m considering to be a citizen, and if so, “Be proud to be a Japanese American, we still have much work to do for our next generations” I was going back and forth about getting the citizenship for a long time, and I finally made my final decision to take the citizenship test in 2015. But at the first, when I made the decision I felt a bit of guilt. I felt like I was throwing away my nationality, and/or betraying my hometown. But the thought was completely gone when I passed the citizen test and attended the ceremony. Then President, Barak Obama was on a big TV screen, welcoming all the new citizens of the United States with warm smile, he made a heartwarming recorded “Congratulations” message.
At the end of his speech, he said, “Since our founding, generations of immigrants have come to this country full of hope for a brighter future, and they have made sacrifices in order to pass that legacy on to their children and grandchildren. This is the price and the promise of citizenship. You are now part of this precious history, and you serve as an inspiration to those who will come after you.” I was thinking of what the elderly couple said to me that day, “Be proud to be a Japanese American. We still have much work to do for our next generations” and of course, also, remembering my aunt’s strong will and spirit to live in the unknown country, and raise happy, healthy, and bright 3 children. I’m no way near those pioneers who stood strong, resist and fought racism and kept hope up high, and built a better future for the next generation. But someday, I hope I’ll be someone else’s part of history through introducing Asian Food with my husband, Chef Aric.... . . . .
. Since Chef Aric lived in Japan for 7 years, he adores and respects Japanese cuisine, and many times he creates something “When West meet East” that are all so delicious! He created “Miso Glazed Grilled Pork Chop with Grilled Shiitake Mushrooms, Japanese Eggplants, and Bok Choy & Steamed Rice”.