Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

on Racism

This is an excerpt from a chapter in my Teacher You Look Like a Horse book. This chapter covers how I made changes in children who came to class with vocabulary such as Jap and the N-word. By age five, they were well taught by adults. I will donate this book to any school district interested in knowing how one person handled racism in the classroom.


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Under the rising sun

The enemy came

Wearing my face.


And so we all became the enemy.

The enemy on December 7th who wore my face is not me.

A Muslim  terrorist is not my neighbor from Syria.

That black man who robbed me at gun point is not the next black man I see.

We may dress as, or wear the same face of your enemy, but know this:

Cow 1 is not Cow 2.


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Protecting My Race

Protecting my Race

I rushed to the airport, late for early boarding. I made it, sat down and began working on the in-flight crossword puzzle while others boarded the plane. A man stopped by my seat and began to verbally attack me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. His wife’s face showed such discomfort and she kept looking at her husband, I believe, wanting him to stop. I asked her,” What’s wrong with him?” She shook her head.

Then while in flight I realized what I had done. I had cut in line in front of him. He looked like a tourist going to Hawaii with wife and two young children. “OMG,” occurred in my mind. “Maybe he’s from the Midwest and I’m the first Japanese he’s encountered and  he’s going to think all Japanese are rude and they cut in line. And he’s going to have a story to tell about us.”

I knew I couldn’t let this happen. I had to do something to not let one person speak for the whole culture  so at the baggage claim area, I looked for him and this was our conversation.

Me: Are you the person who spoke to me on the plane?

He: Yes. (Wife looked very worried, he looked very stiff.)

Me: I owe you an apology. I was late for the flight and didn’t realize until after you spoke to me that I had cut in line. I’m very sorry. Thank you for letting me know.

He: That’s all right, Ma’am. I understand, Ma’am.

Me: I’m truly sorry. I hope you have a good visit.

He: That’s all right, Ma’am. That’s all right, Ma’am. Thank you, Ma’am.

I believe we all felt better. I know I did. I couldn’t let Cow 1 become all the Asian cows in his life.

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I am up to my ears with all this discussion on theorizing and intellectualizing on racism, it’s cause, it’s solution and etc. etc. etc. Why don’t we just do this: Each time we leave the house, be kind to few people. This morning a man saw me walking toward a door and he stood and waited so he could open it for me. A man at the front desk of the gym mentioned how sleepy he was because he didn’t have time to make himself a cup of coffee. I know he has no money, working his way through college so I gave him some cash and told him to run across the street for some coffee. You’d think I gave him a million dollars. Later in the day while exiting a place, I saw a man walking toward me so I waited with the door opened and asked if he were entering the building. He thanked me and said no…then as he walked away, he turned and thanked me again. You don’t need to know the color of skin nor age nor gender, right? But we all felt good in experiencing human kindness and this is what counts.

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Cow 1 is Not Cow 2*


I’m driving along the road and I see a cow.

A few miles down, I see another cow.

That Cow #2 is not the first cow I saw.


So I’m waiting in line

and a black man cuts in front of me. I’m

upset with him. The next day I see another black man.

Careful, careful, Cow 1 is not Cow 2.


A police officer shoots someone in the back.

Police officer 1 is not police officer 2.

Cow 1 is not Cow 2.


My ancestors bombed Pearl Harbor and I

became Cow #1. Yet, Cow 1 is not cow 2.

Such a simple, uncomplicated rule.


* Semanticist S.I. Hayakawa wrote this on the blackboard when I was

a young student at his feet.


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Racism: Nothing’s changed or Has It?

I was a young teacher in Jackson, Michigan in the 60’s. I lived with my high school pen pal and her family for a whole year. One weekend I drove to Mansfield, Ohio to visit the parents of my kid brother’s pen pal.


They had exchanged a few letters in the elementary grades but unlike me, that letter writing stopped after a few months. When the eruption began to destroy our village Kapoho, the pen pal’s mother wrote: “I saw Kapoho in Life Magazine. Will someone please get in touch with me to say you are all right. My son was a pen pal of Albert.” Her letter found us in the small plantation town where we had evacuated to and found residence.

My brother wasn’t interested so I began to correspond with her.

I spent a weekend in their home in Ohio. She invited friends and family to show me off.

Throughout the weekend, I heard the N word over and over as they discussed various parts of their city. Finally I asked, “ Why am I welcomed here when I’m not white?”

“Oh,” she explained. “You’re not black so you’re all right.”

I looked at them and felt racism would always be with us. It was in their kitchen that I realized the depth and culture of racism. I knew that if they sat me down and tried to indoctrinate me into sharing their views about color, they would fail. They would never turn me into the kind of racist they were. So in reverse, nor would I be able to change their views on racism. Both of our views were so deeply in-bedded in us,what were the chances of change?  I speak of the real change, not those imposed by law. It’s a lost cause, I said, and drove back to Jackson, never to return again.

I hope my views can be contradicted by others. Would like to hear from people who will share their own experiences to prove how wrong I was in that kitchen in Ohio.


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I felt so threatened and frightened last Sunday in Venice, CA. I thought I was going to be handcuffed and dragged away. I can’t recall the last time I felt such fear.


After the conference in Venice, three men and I were walking, looking for a restaurant. It was night, then. A car drove up and the passenger rolled down his window and dangled handcuffs before us and began yelling derogatory language at us. It was to our Asian faces.


Mack tried to approach them in anger. I held him back and told him to let it go. I was afraid it would erupt into a fatal scene. My heart pounded and I felt so relieved when they finally drove away. How dare I feel such fright in my country?
Guy, one of the men, is a founder of MANAA (Media Action Network for Asian Americans).
Howard appeared in Joy Luck Club and other films.
Mack is writing a script.

So I did what these men do in response to racism and other inhumanities to man…use one’s own creativity to bring awareness to the ignorant. I picked up my pen on the flight home and wrote the following:


  Living on a Hyphen

“Get off the hyphen”
My balancing act
Soon after Pearl Harbor.

I slid toward dead center…
English, shoes, bread and pasta,
Less rice. Forks, desserts, Frances.

Only for a moment. My face-
Took me back to the right
Sliding, losing grip, hanging

Hideko, Slant Eyes, Yellow Belly
Chopsticks, sushi, sashimi

To the left, after sundown
Losing face in the night
To Dawn’s eastern sun.

How many more years
On Oxford’s link, am I
Etched in stone


On a hyphen
Between two faces.


© Frances Kakugawa









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Cow 1 is not Cow 2

I recently read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It wasn’t an easy book to read. Her story of WWII veteran Louie Zamperini’s atrocious and brutal treatment by the Japanese guards in POW camps sent razors up my spine. I wanted to enter the story to stop those guards:” Don’t do this. You are more human than this. Besides, you’re going to let the world hate us Japanese all over again.” In the book, the man of Honor was Mr. Zamperini who sought and found forgiveness and devotes his life to a world without war.

War Dehumanizes

Almost a year ago, on February 24th, I posted the following review of The Last Train from Hiroshima by Charles Pellegrino on a site that carried an excellent review of this book: http://avomnia.wordpress.com.

…”In 1945, I heard my parents discuss the death of their families in Hiroshima. A child, I didn’t know the significance of that day, a day that my ancestors were all destroyed.
I later wrote:


We cut the chrysanthemum
Off its stalk
And left it naked in the sun.
(from The Enemy Wore My Face)

In 1989, Noriyo, a third grader from Hiroshima entered my classroom. They had moved to Hawaii because her grandmother was dying from cancer. She was a child during the bombing, and her doctor had advised: Go to Hawaii where the weather is sunny for the last few months of her life. I wrote the following poem for Noriyo:

44 Years Later

a dark mushroom cloud
follows me across the Pacific
into my classroom.
forgive us, Noriyo
for Hiroshima
and Nagasaki.

( from The Enemy Wore My Face)

In 1995, Dr. Jiro Nakano edited and translated 100 tanka poems written by survivors (hibakusha) of Hiroshima in a book called Outcry From the Inferno. I was deeply honored to be one of the English editors.
In 2010, I read Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima.

Nothing, not the discussions in our kitchen, my poems, the editing I did to Outcry From the Inferno, nothing is more real than this book. One of the main survivor’s tanka is included in the Inferno book. One of the survivors bears the same name of my mother’s family. Mr. Pellegrino, thank you for taking me back to where it happened…”

A few weeks ago, Charles Pellegrino recommended the following book: Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness by Takashi “Thomas” Tanemori.

Mr. Tanemori was a young child when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. His story is as brutally painful as both Pellegrino’s and Hillenbrand’s books. He was ostracized and left on the streets by his own grandparents and his villagers because orphans were considered nothings. They were treated like lepers. His escape to America continued his dehumanization His story lifts the masks of both the Japanese and the Americans long after end of the war. Throughout his journey, he upheld his father Code of Honor and the name Tanemori, and sought and found peace and forgiveness. Today, blind from radiation, he heads the Silkworm Peace Institute in Berkeley, California.

I posted the following review on Tanemori’s book on Amazon.com:

…”Tanemori-san, Mr. Tanemori,

If I were to meet you I would fill your glass with the best sake ́.

Your story took me beyond flower arrangements, tea ceremonies, silk kimonos and koto music of my ancestral land. It also took me into the blind spots of my birth land of hope, humanity and equality here in America.
How one man could have suffered and still stand up to honor his father’s name, and to strive for world peace and love of brotherhood are indeed awe-inspiring. You remind me once again that we need to rise above all cultural, political, religious, racial and social beliefs if they begin to reduce our own humanity toward our fellow human beings. There is a flaw somewhere when our own beliefs and practices in the name of religion and culture dehumanize others. Thank you for not only telling us your story but for making a difference in at least one reader that forgiveness and love of humanity must be preserved by being practiced by each of us.

War does not end. War does not end with peace treaties or withdrawal of arms. War does not end.

Perhaps someday, the word “forgiveness” will disappear from our vocabulary when there is nothing to forgive in a world created by true humanists like yourself ( and men like Pellegrino and Zamperini). I took your “butterfly” and your “blade of grass” and wrote the following:

A white butterfly
Flits from flower to flower
After a rainfall.

a blade of grass bends,
raindrops on its back, then springs
in the noonday sun…”

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It Can Begin at a Hair Salon

I’m off the escalator today because nine years on this date, my mother died.

On Wednesday, I treated a friend to a haircut at my hair salon. It wasn’t just an ordinary act of friendship.

This is about my eighth hairdresser since my move here. That’s how difficult it is to find that perfect hairdresser and I have found him. He not only knows my hair but we both sing the same songs.

I also have my nails done by Carol ( not her real name) , an African-American manicurist at the same salon. When one client couldn’t get an appointment for a manicure, she announced, “This is the first time a N—– ever rejected me.” Carol was also referred to as “that colored girl who must do the towels” by one of the clients of another hairdresser.

For months now, I’ve been observing the clients from my limited point of view, and felt it was time to get on my white horse. I clued my friend in about my intentions and warned her that she may be their first African-American client. She went in for a haircut on Wednesday.

When I was a young teacher in Hilo, I was up for Presidency in this teachers’ sorority. I visited the parent office in Missouri and discovered that African Americans weren’t allowed membership.

I returned to Hawaii and quit the sorority. My then principal told me I was taking the coward’s way out; that I should become President and change the national policy, but I didn’t because I was entangled in my own emotions and didn’t want anything to do with such an organization. And who would listen to a single voice in the middle of the Pacific?

So Wednesday became better late than never…over 50 years later.

My mother is smiling with me today. Her favorite flowers and the cinnamon aroma from the lighted candle give pause while I honor her with my Hairdresser’s story. It was her favorite saying: Everyone is different, meaning we respect all those differences. I also give pause to
Dr. Martin Luther King and to President Obama who reminded us in Tuscon, that if we all return to our own humanity and to that of others, our world will be a peaceful, just and safe democracy as our Founding Fathers had envisioned. Yes, you can all count on me.

The following poem is lifted from one of my books: White Ginger Blossom: Naylor Co. 1971

The Human Race

a grain of sand, a lighted coal
lonely nights, a cup of coffee
stokely carmichael

sizzling sunset
a lava flow
an autumn day

ginger blossoms
a banana split
lighted candle, a spicy scent
the orient, spring

cotton candy
crested waves
drifting snow in early morn

chocolate fudge
a firewood
hawaiian eyes
a glass of beer.

Each a color in its right
Yet not a rainbow in sight
Till each stands hand in hand
Across the cerulean sky.

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