THROUGH THE FIRE: What to Write About?

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By Sharon Yamato
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Once again a deadline to write this column rolls around, and once again I am at a loss for a subject. I try not to take this column lightly. After all, how many people get a public forum for expressing their uncensored thoughts every month. As we head into 2010, only three Through the Fire columnists, Mari Nakano, Trisha Murakawa and I, remain—and for that reason it has become a more weighty assignment. Inspiration will definitely have to strike more often in the coming year.

Recently, I happened across “The Soloist” on TV, the film story of Nathaniel Ayers, the homeless musician who was befriended by one of my favorite LA Times columnists, Steve Lopez. Lopez brilliantly and empathetically used Ayers’ amazing story as the subject of a series of columns. As portrayed in the movie, his discovery of Ayers happened one day by pure accident as Lopez sat across from the LA Times Building wracking his brain to find something to write about. Ayers magically appeared mumbling something about Beethoven. It took a curious journalist like Lopez to open a conversation with this street person and to brilliantly uncover his amazing story. I’m afraid that if I happened across the disheveled Ayers on the street, I would have run the other way. It’s nice to know that even the most seasoned journalists have problems finding just the right subjects, but obviously Lopez does it better than most. For my money, Lopez deserves all the credit this well publicized Hollywood film has given him.

Which also brings to mind a similar story brought alive on film in the award-winning documentary, “The Cats of Mirikitani.” Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf literally picked up a homeless artist from the streets of New York to uncover his remarkable World War II incarceration story. Jimmy Mirikitani, a remarkable 85-year-old street artist, was captured indelibly in this touching story that reveals the power of journalism and art. Most astonishing, Mirikitani became more than just the subject of this film. Hattendorf went way beyond Lopez’s mission of helping Ayers find a home. She actually took Mirikitani into her own. I first met Mirikitani at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage nearly four years ago, and was glad to hear that he and Hattendorf made a repeat appearance this past year. All the more reason to travel to Klamath Falls for the annual pilgrimage (coming up again this year in July). Though the film has been around for more than a year, it’s a must-see.

Thinking ahead some more, I am pleased to know about several upcoming events that make worthy subjects for columns. Two of them involve the dedication and hard work of a tireless organizer in our community, Iku Kiriyama. This coming Sunday, Jan. 17, 2-4 pm, at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, she’s hosting a town hall meeting on the subject of the future of The Rafu. With discussion centering on concrete things we can do to help keep the Rafu going, it is a much-needed conversation.

Also thanks to Iku, on March 6, the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California is sponsoring an Artist and Art Fair from 11am to 4 pm at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library in Torrance, featuring diverse artists and writers within our own community in a lively forum that is sure to be entertaining and informative. New books are coming from Wakako Yamauchi, Naomi Hirahara, and first-time New York author Stanley Kanzaki, who, along with many others, will all be there to talk about them. Music, poetry, and art displays will also be featured throughout the day.

While checking out the Japanese American National Museum’s website, I found an exhibition that I am definitely taking my friends’ kids to. Though it’s not until March, Kip Fulbeck’s “Mixed: Portraits of Interracial Kids” looks like a charming follow-up to his wonderful “part asian, 100% hapa” exhibition in 2006. In his own inimitable and whimsical way, Fulbeck celebrates the multicultural identity issue with laughter and insight. He features kids themselves, many of them wiser than adults, to put together the material. And he even got quotes from President Obama’s sister and Cher (not on the same page, thank goodness) to make his point. It looks like a definite highlight of the spring season.

So there’s plenty out there to write about. I’m looking forward to another year of looking for just the right subjects.
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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey. She can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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