Childhood shame for being Nikkei in Enumclaw, Washington

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Oh, I think there was a great deal of shame, not justified shame. I recall very distinctly not letting the other kids see what I brought to school for lunch. If it were rice with some meat in it, on the side, and tsukemono (Japanese Pickles) or whatever, there was a great deal of pressure not to reveal this kind of information to your hakujin (European American) classmates. I did not want my hakujin classmates to see me eating with chopsticks. I think that begins to tell a little bit of the story of my upbringing within that community, which is predominantly white.

As I grew older and particularly after I finished law school, or even during law school, I actually took pride in using chopsticks, and I would deliberately go out of my way to use chopsticks if my Caucasian friends were around. So it was kind of a complete reversal.

Date: August 27, 1998
Location: Pennsylvania, US
Interviewer: Darcie Iki, Mitchell Maki
Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

food identity tsukemono

Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage

Submissions accepted until September 30.

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