Our annual San Fernando Valley Obon Festival was held over the weekend before the 4th of July.
Writing this column has caused me think more about my life and the people and events affecting it. A few weeks ago, I mentioned coming across a pamphlet by Nobu Miyoshi, “Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp,” published in 1994. Ms. Miyoshi did her original report in 1978 when she was director of family therapy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine.
The pamphlet contained a study by Ms. Miyoshi concerning identity issues resulting from of a lack of communication between Nisei and Sansei regarding the Nisei’s camp experience.
Although I was young (8-10) and was not Nisei, I realized I had not talked with my two daughters concerning my wartime experience in camp. I had to ask myself, why? To be sure, the experience had a profound impact on my life. Why did I not talk about it with my children?
I became acutely aware of this communication gap when I was asked to talk about my camp experience in my daughter Laurie’s high school history class. I found myself telling the students stories of my camp experience that I had never told Laurie.
Communication issues between generations, it seems to me, have their beginnings with the Issei and Nisei. Even aside from the language barrier, I don’t think there was much meaningful dialogue between the two generations. I seldom talk to a Nisei who knows very much about the life his/her Issei parents had in Japan. So, given this behavioral model, it does not come as a surprise the Nisei did not say much to their Sansei children about camp.
Getting back to Ms. Miyoshi’s study: She contends that the lack of communication between the Nisei and their Sansei children concerning camp lead to their identity crisis. This may well be. However, let us consider the identity crisis experienced by the Nisei: Here they were, one day living as fully accepted Americans, and the next branded as “Japs” and put in prison camps. What effect must this have had on their identities as Japanese or as Americans?
Our Obon, coming so close to the 4th of July, causes me to think about what it means for me to be Japanese side-by-side with what it means to be an American. Much of what it means to be American is taken for granted. Being Japanese, during Obon, takes a bit more reflection.
Obon time is when the community comes together for an activity that engages the entire community: Buddhists, Christians and non-religious, working together in harmony to benefit their particular organizations. The joyful Obon dancing engages a wide range of generations and races.
The Buddhist significance of Obon, honoring ancestors, is one carried out in many Japanese families with “haka-mairi” trips to cemeteries during the year. And I am always impressed by the lack of litter on the grounds after everyone has gone home.
Whether you are Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei, Gosei, biracial, biethnic, Obon can be a time for our whole community to honor our ancestors and to celebrate being Japanese.
Phil Shigekuni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.