On Saturday I hit up the Powell Street Festival, an annual whoopdedoo that happens in the heart of suburban East Van. According to the website, the "Powell Street Festival Society’s (PSFS) mission is to celebrate the arts and culture of Japanese Canadians and Asian Canadians... our main activity is the presentation of the Powell Street Festival (PSF), an annual celebration of Japanese Canadian arts, culture and heritage." My attendance was not by choice.
Let me be clear. I am not anti-Japanese, though if you're familiar with my first competition piece ever (here's looking at you, Ottawa folk,) then you'll know that I know the history of their people in correlation to the history of my people, and you'll know that while I have forgiven, I have not forgotten - like so many of my people - what they've done to us in the past. It is not for love that Japanese blood runs through my veins.
If anything, I have been wary of Japanese culture for as long as I've known of Japanese history, and while the North American society - including most of my friends growing up - has gone crazy for Pokemon and Nintendo, sushi and Hello Kitty, Ichiro and ninjas, I have always remained distant.
However, as I walked among the booths and tables Saturday, it struck me that I could have just as easily been browsing the organized chaos of Richmond night market, which is, for the record, one of my least favorite places in the entire world. And as I watched a Japanese cultural dance, I could see more than coincidental semblance to the lion dance I used to lead as a young kung-fu kid. As I observed the people in the park that day, a history that I have long known but chosen to store away began to creep into the outer edges of my conscious mind again. Knowledge of issei who built rock-scrabble lives in the slums of Vancouver Island, barely getting by but always managing to put food on the table to ensure that a new generation of nisei would grow up strong, fluent in English and ready to champion the rights of Japanese-Canadians.
I have knowledge of how British Columbia treated them in World War II, ripping fathers away from families and breaking homes apart to make sure the Japanese invasion was not a homeland one.
It reminds me of the Chinese-Canadian history, when our forefathers connected this country by way of railroad, alone in a foreign land because their families couldn't afford to pay the head tax. It reminds me of the signs that read, "No Chinese or dogs allowed" that used to pepper downtown Vancouver. And it reminds me that, for all the tension that exists between our two cultures, maybe we're not so different after all.
Maybe shallow, but what forced my mind to start thinking? The abundance of half-Japanese, half-Canadian girls in attendance that day, lounging in the shade yammering in sansei English, hair knotted in experimental dreadlocks and skin permanently bronzed by British Columbia sun, a long way from the alabaster European complexion that first landed on the West Coast so many years ago, or the pale yellow tone of the original Japanese immigrant. Their style and speech tell me that most of them have been here longer than we have; their cockiness tells me that race is the last thing on their collective mind, for they have found humanity's sublime.
And if it took a festival's worth of gorgeous half-Asian girls in summer dresses for me to realize that I might not always be right after all, well then... in the words of one Adriel Luis, rejection never sounded so sweet.