Phil Shigekuni’s recent article on “Japanese/American Values” prompted me to write an “Ochazuke” on being a Nisei and my feelings about the Nisei. Perhaps those who read this “Ochazuke” may not agree or wonder about the contents/sentiments, but I am merely expressing PERSONAL opinions from my experiences encountered with the Nisei and as a Nisei.
The Nisei are a generation who are faced with two different cultures. The Nisei are the second generation, having parents who were born in Japan and came to America with the traditional and customary ways of Japan. The parents strived to carry on these by teaching their children (the Nisei) early in life to never bring shame (haji) to the family, to be humble at all times, to speak only when necessary, to practice the enyro system.
There is a great difference in attitude, feelings, etc., between the Nisei who is the oldest, the one in-between and the youngest among the siblings. The Issei parents depended heavily on the oldest child to be respectful to them (oya-koko) and to care for the younger children. Hence, the older Nisei child has had, shall we say, more responsibility and has had to “set an example.”
However, it has been proven and even surveyed that the Nisei, although intelligent and skilled in whatever trade and position he is in, is rarely chosen for the “top” position in a company partly because of the above traits. I have witnessed the enyro system, much to my disgust, in congregational meetings, committee meetings and conferences where only three or four speak up and express their feelings and/or thoughts.
I have lived in San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, D. C. and Los Angeles. I have found that the city and/or area where one lives makes some difference in the Nisei, their thoughts, actions and socially.
Los Angeles is so widespread and if one lives on the west side and a friend lives on the east side, that in itself is a minimum of 28 miles round trip. It makes it inconvenient to get together more often socially (if you make one wrong turn on the freeway in Los Angeles, you are in another city).
San Francisco and San Diego are not as widespread. Nisei friends are closer, which gives more opportunity to get together, even spontaneously.
I have so very much enjoyed these spontaneous invitations for lunch, dinner, or as a guest to the theatre. The closeness seems to be the main reason the San Francisco/San Diego Nisei seem to be friendlier and more sociable than the Los Angeles Nisei. I have to admit, however, I have met some Nisei in Los Angeles who are just as friendly.
I have sat among Los Angeles Nisei who were strangers at social functions and it is rare that the Nisei will initiate a conversation or even return a smile. They seem to sit with their own friends and forget the others at the same table. I try to be congenial so I introduce myself to those in front of me and to the side of me and begin asking questions, but not questions for which the answer can simply be “yes” or “no,” such as “What area in Los Angeles do you live?”
In a managerial position, I worked in an establishment in Los Angeles with Nisei volunteers. It was extremely difficult for me to get the cooperation of the Nisei volunteers at this establishment. I had one volunteer tell me, “Well, Maggie, rules are made to be broken.” Another said to me, “We’ve been doing it this way for years and we’re not going to change.”
During my tenure at this establishment, a terrible incident occurred. As a pedestrian, I was crossing the street in the crosswalk and was hit by a careless driver making a right turn. One of the volunteers told me, “It was probably your fault.” I am citing these examples to demonstrate how cruel some Nisei can be.
It was a different story working with Nisei volunteers in San Francisco and San Diego and even working with Caucasian volunteers. We were as one happy family. It was a joy and fun working and sharing with them.
As I indicated at the beginning of this article, these are some of my feelings as a Nisei and my thoughts on encounters with Nisei. Of course, no one can choose their parents, but I am glad I had the parents I had. Why am I bringing up my parents? Because of them, I am a grateful Nisei.
Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist. She can be reached by email. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.