He's Japanese. And American. But When Tragedy Struck Japan, His Mom Didn't Think He'd Understand?

When your parents grew up somewhere thousands of miles away and the culture you're growing up in is so different from theirs, how do you build a relationship with your heritage? In this incredibly moving and powerful performance, poet G Yamazawa speaks about his personal struggles growing up Japanese in North Carolina and how a natural disaster awakened his sense of "home" even though he was hundreds of miles away at the time.

If any of this resonated with you or you just liked what he had to say and want to hear more, you can follow G Yamazawa on Facebook and Twitter.

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Narrator: Everybody give it up for your host, G, y'all! [clapping] And while I'm over here tallying the scores, would y'all like G to do a poem? Do y'all want to hear G do a poem? Alright, G, you're up.


G: Cool, cool. Shit. Uh, I decided to do this poem because I heard a couple Japanese poets today, and it really, really inspired me. Um, I know I was saying I'm all Japanese, Japanese, this, that, but um, it's different when you're isolated in the South. And you're fully Japanese, but you're not from Japan. So, um, uh, this is for you guys. Thank you guys.

My parents immigrated to the United States in 1979. They were the only ones on each side of their family to leave their loved ones and homeland. They gave birth to me and my older sister and have been living here happily ever since. See, I was born on November 16, 1990 in Durham, North Carolina. The controversy began the moment I opened my eyes and took my first breath. I glanced at my grandmother talking to me. I saw my history and could hear Japanese, but I inhaled America, and the doctors tricked me into thinking that English was my native language.

My middle name is Masao [SP], which means good husband, and that always makes the girls smile. I speak conversational Japanese, but I can't read or write so I got to talk to all my cousins in spoken word. And it's funny that this poem is the only thing that I have to offer to the land that my blood trickles from. You see, on March 11th, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 struck the northeast coast of Japan. It angered the waters and made the ocean furious at the way we treat her mother. I sat back and watched the tsunamis on CNN the same way I watched Haiti, New Orleans, and Indonesia like a sympathetic angel getting a glimpse of hell on the Saturday night news.

I found out what happened. I assured everybody I was fine. My family hadn't been affected because they lived further south on the island. And my parents hadn't called me yet, but I knew something was wrong. There had been an 18-wheeler parked in my heart from the moment I put down chopsticks and paid attention to the forks in the road. I am no wilder stone, you know? Like a truck driver waking up on anesthesia after a collision between Japanese parents and American pop culture. I've been in a 20-year coma. I woke up the moment that I got home and spoke to my mother. You see, the way that she was frowning, I could tell that she wanted to go back. Her face gave me a shrug like the shoulders of a little girl the moment a social worker asks why she ran away from home in the first place. I said, all of our family is okay, right? They live further south on the island.

[Japanese speech]

I don't think you'd understand. You're not from there. I wanted to cry, but my tears were playing Red Rover with my ducts, still stuck in a care-free conscience like an American childhood. See, I write and recite poetry to express my emotions. But, the problem is, now, I can't feel anything. I was never connected to my motherland. I kept looking at news updates on my iPhone like holding a stepbrother's umbilical cord, realizing that this is proof I am birthed from an American womb. See, I am a star-spangled banner with a red hole in it. Straight Japanese that was raised in a foster country that tells you to forget where you're from instead of embracing the things that you never had. But, see, I'm going to start finding my own heart and find a place to call home.


Thank you guys, man, so much. [inaudible] Sorry to get kind of sad and shit. You know? Like, that's bull. They were, like, do something, like, uppity. And I was like, I ain't got no uppity shit. You know, but thank you guys.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Original poem performed by G Yamazawa at Brave New Voices 2011.

May 23, 2014

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