THROUGH THE FIRE: Another Year, Another Column

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By SHARON YAMATO

Around this time of year, I’m assigned the lucky job of making out the schedule for the “Through the Fire” columnists, a hardy group of brilliant, community-minded writers who graciously agree to sink their teeth into writing a column on their own time every other month or so.

Since there are only five of us who regularly eke out a column to fill out the half-yearly schedule, we’re always on the lookout for new people to lighten the load. After having done my share of looking, I’ve found that writing is not always at the top of most people’s lists.

In this age of catch phrases, acronyms, and incomplete sentences, the art of writing has sadly been lost in favor of clipped posts on social media or instant messaging. Even before Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I discovered it was especially difficult to convince any Yonsei or Gosei to contribute to writing a column. I got everything from no response to “I just don’t like to write.”

I understand their hesitancy as I sometimes would rather do anything else than try to come up with an interesting idea for a column, then having to spend hours honing it so that it doesn’t sound trite or even worse, illiterate.

Not to overgeneralize, but there are some really gifted writers in our midst. You only have to look at the winners of the annual Little Tokyo Short Story Contest to attest to the fact that writing is definitely alive and well. Writing a monthly column is easier in many ways than writing a short story, but it does require the regular discipline of putting words to a blank screen when you may not have anything particularly scintillating to say or simply don’t have the time.

Mary Karatsu

I recently got a call from the son of a dear friend and role model who passed away in 2018. Mary Karatsu was a guardian angel who was always there for her community, her family, and her friends, so I would do anything to help anyone in her family. In this case, I was elated to hear her son’s request: Mary’s granddaughter, Kyra, was interested in volunteering at JANM, and she wanted the name of someone to contact there.

I could just see Mary smile knowing that her granddaughter was interested in helping to fill the gigantic hole that was left in the JANM volunteer ranks when Mary died.

I later found out that Kyra was a journalism major interested in writing — which added to my elation. After Kyra was asked by the Discover Nikkei team to submit a writing sample, I suggested she write something about what it meant to be Nikkei. She responded with a beautifully written piece that gave me hope that our future is in good hands.

Her very first paragraph, which I’d like to excerpt here, drew me in. The piece is titled “The Commodification of Asian Americans” by Kyra Karatsu:

“When I was younger, I didn’t like the fact that I was Asian. Even as someone who is half-Japanese, I still found myself envying the thick, blonde curls of my favorite Disney princesses. I wished that I wasn’t so dark-skinned or tan easily so I could look more like my childhood friends. And I wished that my last name didn’t sound so foreign and feel strange on the tongues of teachers and classmates.

“I was never very Asian-presenting, and I have accepted that I never will be. But it was always the little things that tied me back to where my family came from. It was the way that kids would tug at their eyes on the playground, it was the way my friends called me ‘yellow,’ and it was the way that my classmates would knowingly ask, ‘Aren’t you Japanese?’ right before a lecture on World War II.”

The essay goes on to give a timely perspective on some of the drawbacks of growing up hapa in today’s materialistic and racist world. Frankly, I can’t remember being able to put my thoughts together so well when I was her age, but I figured maybe she could write a column or two in the next few months to enlighten this old Sansei on what young people today are thinking. One thing’s for sure, this column could use a strong dose of youth, and I’m all in favor of turning it over to them before my generation gets too old to pick up a pen or pound on a computer.

Just as Barack Obama sees young people capable of changing the world if we give them tools, I agree that if we make way for them, we’re going to be just fine.

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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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