A letter home

Karen Anderson Veal is a young black American who has been fascinated by diverse cultures since she was a child. This interest culminated in a study of the Japanese language at Harvard, and her present, if temporary, residence in Japan. She is not writing as an academic, but as an informed observer.

Following are extracts from a letter to her family.m

Dear Family:

. . . There is no provision here for foreigners, except by accommodation of international law. Everyone is super-polite and ''helpful'' but not willing (or perhaps able) to actually help. Fortunately I'm not like so many (of the) American men here (white) who've ''turned Japanese'' due to a lack of strong social identity. As a black person (I noticed this very much among the black servicemen), there's no need nor desire to trade identities. Having a Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend is fine, but with them one always remains oneself. Of course most servicemen don't speak Japanese and this may help that retention of self, and there are many (white) Americans who do so quite well, being polite and happy in both cultures.

As for myself, I think that the US will always be my spiritual home because my people have laid a lot of blood in the earth called America. Americans have not failed to notice this - though they have tried - and despite its uncomfortable position, we do have a place, a niche, a foot in the door of America. Not only do we have no such thing in Japan, but I have not seen any group, not even other Asians (except grudgingly the Koreans, who have some of the same emotional history as the blacks in the US) who have a foothold. Marriage barely gets one through the door . . . and then it is quickly and tightly shut behind him.

I can equate our relationship to the Japanese as having a caged parakeet within your house. Though it is greatly desired to have and bring one into your home, and you treat it with the utmost polite and gentle treatment, you in no way have equal relations or even imagine they would be necessary with the bird: You think it needs no more of you than food and water and perhaps one other parakeet. It's weird to be a parakeet in Japan. I think that when I return to the USA I will be glad that our ancestors fought so hard to stay in America and make a place there, because it is for this reason their daughter has a homeland now.

I haven't been to Africa yet, so I can't compare this to that; for now the comparison is between Japan and the US. (It makes me all the more curious to visit Africa now, to see if we blacks have really made a home in the USA yet or is it an illusion yet to be realized.)

I realize that the same reason the Japanese have their own strong identity and the blacks have fought to make one at home is the reason why I must come back to my home and continue this fight for our sakes and our childrens' sakes. Not one black person, no matter how oppressed, should leave the USA, or at least the Americas, and make a permanent home elsewhere, lest we weaken the tenuous hold we have on that which we have fought so hard to gain. After one hundred years, and at this five thousand mile distance, I see we have gained a lot of ground very quickly. When I see the black servicemen here and compare them to the white, who often get drunk, and others who ''turn Japanese,'' I see how strong spiritually our men are, how they strive to keep a dignity, how little they relinquish of their own peculiar identity, how gentle and kind they can be, how much they want and try, and how little they are given to do it.

I don't blame the US government. It has given us many generous laws to help us in our struggle. But I do blame the American people for their hardness of heart, in the one-sided generosity of spirit and their lack of faith in the one God who has made us brothers and sisters all. Yes, perhaps some of us blacks have leaned too much on the US government for help because we perceived there was no help otherwise. Yes, the US government has gone a long way to help us, but not because it wasn't needed. Now, if they make us forget them, to face ahead on our own, I don't think we as black people will fall but will after one hundred years more be stronger, more diligent, better students in college and high school, more competitive and even more spiritually oriented than before. Yes, our families break up, our kids get on drugs, our people commit crimes, but despite this, our people pull, drag, push, crawl, cry, scream forward. We have never given up. We have never stopped trying and that is a prayer I see always answered by God. A people who never stop trying to do good, to succeed despite, are a people who have faith, and faith is never thwarted. I see this very clearly from Japan.

Love, Karen

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