Teriyaki to Chitterlings

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Like every other year, a spectrum of color surrounds me on the first day of 2009. My January 1st mornings have always been shared with Grandma, a 91-year-old woman who still manages to scurry through the kitchen preparing the brunch that stares at me from the center of the table—literally. One crimson lobster’s eyes dare me to snap one of its feelers, but to Grandma, ruining the little guy before it’s time to devour him is bad luck. After everyone chimes their glasses, it’s time for homemade sushi, complete with pink Japanese radishes and zesty horseradish paste of nearly glowing chartreuse. As usual, I spread a bit more on my rice than I can handle—but feeling my eyes tear up is part of the wasabi experience.Noontime arrives, and with it, even more food. It’s off to Nana’s house—where aromas can be smelled from the driveway, where everyone seems to be my cousin, and where you don’t touch the orange, marshmallow-covered candied yams on the stove before they’re ready. The earthy tones of collard greens, sauce-lathered barbecued ribs and black eyed peas line the kitchen counter waiting to be consumed, but not before everyone joins hands in prayer around the perpetually plastic-covered dining room table.I’ve never given much thought about the uniqueness of my family’s traditions or composition. To many, my Japanese and African-American heritage is fascinating. I’ve been inundated with puzzled questions. “If you’re Asian, why aren’t you good at math?” “Aren’t Black people supposed to be good dancers?” “Oh my God, we should do your hair in an afro, and call it a JapaFro!” And, the most frequent, “What are you?” When this question is asked, I respond that my father is Japanese and my mother is African-American. Occasionally, I am tempted to play with the open-ended nature of the question and respond, “A friend. A writer. A Judd Apatow film addict.”There are so many facets to my identity that my racial background has never been an especially integral part of how I define myself. People have always tried to place me in a category, though I’ve never felt the need to categorize myself or anyone else. I have acquired my core values from very different “categories”: my Japanese Grandma and my African-American Nana. Despite differences in their appearances and life experiences, they have both taught me the importance of perseverance.Grandma, who spent the years of WWII in Osaka, Japan away from her husband interned at Manzanar Concentration Camp, returned to Los Angeles to find him terminally ill. After nursing him until his death, she was left to raise three children alone, which she did without an ounce of self-pity. Her ability to persevere while maintaining optimism translates into many arenas. As a Los Angeles native, she has managed to stay true to her beloved Dodgers by means of an AM radio or a ticket to Bobblehead Day.Nana’s life story is worlds apart from Grandma’s; however, her experiences have taught me a similar lesson. She once recalled that as a girl living in the segregated town of Emory, Texas, she visited the State Fair—on the single designated day for Black patrons. Amazingly, Nana viewed the experience objectively, and recalled only the fun that she and her sisters shared after weeks of picking cotton in the sun on the family farm. My grandmothers’ dedication and eternal optimism in the midst of hardship have modeled the resolute strength that I have applied when facing adversity.Moreover, my grandmothers have demonstrated the importance of tolerance. Each Thanksgiving, when my father recites grace at the dinner table, I glance over at Grandma— whose past I know did not include very much spirituality—bow her head in appreciation. In spite of Nana’s unwavering Christian faith, I watched her accept an incense offering process at the Buddhist funeral wake of Grandma’s sister. Through the patience that they have exemplified out of pure devotion to our family, I have increased my willingness to see the beliefs of those whom I may not agree with in a more accepting light.Although a New Year’s Day during which one could eat teriyaki chicken and chitterlings within hours of each other might seem unusual to most, it’s all I’ve ever known. Only recently have I noticed that my ability to be colorblind has been possible due to my colorful background. The important values of perseverance and tolerance that I have acquired come from two racially contrasting, yet similarly wise women—my Grandma and my Nana.

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