SENIOR MOMENTS: An Open Letter to Bill Yee



Dear Bill,

I have been following your columns with great interest. We seem to have a lot in common: You are a retired high school teacher, and I am a retired high school counselor. I was at Cleveland High in the San Fernando Valley for over 30 years, as well as an itinerant special education counselor for the last three years of my career. I have been retired now for 21 years. I have been writing a column for The Rafu Shimpo for the past 4 1/2 years.

I appreciate your openness in telling about your background — growing up in San Francisco, having Japanese American friends and being married to a JA woman. Next week my wife, Marion, and I will going to Las Vegas to celebrate her 78th birthday, as well as the 26th wedding anniversary of my daughter Laurie, who lives in San Francisco and is married to a Chinese American man. (With marriage equality, I guess we’re going to have to designate the gender of marriage partners from now on.)

Their son, Miles, graduated from Lincoln High in San Francisco, and has started his classes Cal State Long Beach. Marion and I visited him last week and took him out to the Boat House Restaurant at the Marina.He seems very happy at Long Beach. Appropriately, Miles ran the mile on the track team at Lincoln, and works out every day between classes. He loves being able to lounge around in T-shirt and shorts.

Marion Shigekuni with grandson, Miles Gong.

Marion Shigekuni with grandson, Miles Gong.

In one of your early columns you wrote about the cultural differences between your Japanese wife and yourself. Because you and I had careers dealing with human relations, talking about interracial/interethnic differences comes more readily. Given the high rate of outmarriages in the JA community, and I would imagine in the Chinese American community, as well, I think it is useful to talk about these matters.

Topics having to do with stereotypes are difficult to broach, and I was a bit shocked to have you mention the stereotype of Chinese being cheap…It brought me back to my early childhood, hearing the racist rhymes about the Chinese being close with their money. Unfortunately, these early memories linger, and affect a person’s attitudes years later.

Having a Chinese grandson forces me to take a position on these issues that may be helpful to Miles. I could tell him that with all stereotypes, there is some basis for them. The Chinese, along with other immigrant groups, have endured years of poverty, which has forced them to be careful of about spending. Being careful about spending money allows the family to have the funds for the important matters in life, such as putting money aside for getting a good education and other essentials.

From reading your column, there appears to be an understanding of these things. I found interesting the practice amongst Chinese Americans of receiving gifts and passing them on to others.

Being careful about spending, I think, is as much a trait amongst JAs, but the mediating factor is shame, which plays out something like this: “I cannot be close with my money around my friends because to do so would appear to be stingy and self-centered, and I cannot let others think this about me.”

I was at an informal gathering of senior couples the other day when one of the women said, “Chinese men make the best husbands because they cook.” This was followed by an uncomfortable silence. Bill, I don’t know if you cook, but our daughter Laurie puts in some long days, and having her husband cook is a big help.

A few years ago we attended a large birthday party picnic held at a park outside of San Francisco in honor of one of Laurie’s husband’s aunts. At the gathering a number of people got up and sang, apparently, spontaneously. I was impressed, never having seen such spontaneous behavior at JA gatherings.

So, Bill, thanks for sharing your thoughts with Rafu Shimpo readers about our cultural similarities as well as our differences. Let’s do more of this in future columns.


Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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