Recently I spent a few hours in LA’s Little Tokyo, or “J-Town” as some call it. I got my work done, so I wandered around the area like a tourist. I like being a tourist.
It was my first time in Little Tokyo. I had spent time in Japan before both on vacation and on a missions trip, but this was different. Remarkably, I felt very much at home. I don’t necessarily feel this comfortable in Boston’s Chinatown and New York’s Chinatown, even though I’m Chinese-American. I don’t have a drop of Japanese blood in me.
As I reflected on why I felt the way I did, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily about ethnicity. It was about how people saw me. In southern California, an overwhelming majority of the Japanese-Americans are born here, and are nisei (second generation), sansei (third generation) or beyond. Most of them do not speak Japanese and are Americanized. The way I looked, I fit right in. Here I was, an English-speaking Asian-American.
I walked into a restaurant where they were making different delicious-looking Japanese snacks. I asked in English what they were made of, and what they recommended that I try. I was totally comfortable doing so. I realized to myself that if I did the same thing (ask in English) in New York’s Chinatown, I would have felt shameful for not speaking the mother tongue or Chinese culture, as if I had failed my parents, grandparents, and my entire race. Being Americanized was okay.
Attending and serving at Evergreen SGV, an English-speaking Asian-American church, I’ve also felt right at home. I don’t look any different, yet I am not ashamed at my Americanized self. It has been an oasis for me in different ways.
I’ve realized that God is bringing me on this journey to help me embrace who I am, and to learn how to minister to this generation of Americanized Asian-Americans. More on this in the future, of course.