I've been sort of depressed recently, and this kind of all came to a head yesterday, when I ran into a student of mine and her younger brother, who's maybe 5 or 6. And he said "Didn't the Japanese attack the Chinese?"
It demonstrated with a problem I've been wrestling with for a long time. That would be my relationship to the motherland. How do I relate to a land that my family rejected, but we're still marked by, and a legacy which involves, as highlights, ethnic cleansing, imperialism, rape, mass murder, and wartime atrocities on a large scale?
I guess I'll start at the beginning and when I come to the end I'll stop. I remember as a kid, watching the Olympics. I was cheering for the Japanese, I mean they looked like me right? And my mom said, "You're not Japanese, you're American." It was set out for me pretty early on that there was a distinction, a separation between my family and our place of origin.
That of course would be World War 2, and my family's internment. The experience divided us, between those who had been interned and those who had not. It was portrayed to me as a difference between Japanese and American. The passive Asian people who went behind barbed wire without a struggle, and their righteous American children who made redress possible for them later. I only see now that this is quite racist against ourselves. But I digress, I was clearly marked, as American.
And there were the little things too, switching from saying "Banzai" at weddings to saying "Kampai" because Banzai recalled the kamikaze pilots in World War 2. And this was told to me in the 90s. But I kind of figured this was all over. My grandfathers had paid their dues by fighting against their cousins in World War 2. Showing America that we were American (yeah right).
However, when I was in middle school, I used to get a lot of Korean kids telling me they hated me, because I was Japanese. Once I found out why, I never really knew what to say. I couldn't deny that they had a very legitimate reason to be angry. And I still feel vaguely responsible, especially as Japan continues to deny that it has done. However I often also feel quite resentful, how many times has my family taken the fall for Japan? How many more times will we continue to take the fall for Japan? And what was the mother country done for us anyway?
It's weird to be the collateral descendant of the Japanese empire, with its host of war crimes. Should I feel guilty? I don't really benefit from Japanese imperialism. Arguably, I have in fact been disadvantaged by it. However I certainly look Japanese (I've also been told I look Chinese, by Chinese people, whatever), I've probably benefited in some ways. (Ok in concrete ways, the history geek in me will point out that due to the superior political position of the Japanese government they did enact the Gentlemen's Agreement which banned Japanese men from immigrating to America, but managed to keep a loophole open which allowed Japanese women to continue to immigrate, allowing the Japanese American population to grow significantly in comparison to Chinese, and Filipino populations of around the same time, whose countries had no such bargaining power with the US. Thank you Ronald Takaki.) However, at the same time, y'know, my grandparents did not kill those people, my grandparents' cousins killed those people. So where does that leave me?
What exactly is the right thing to do here?