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Friday, April 3, 2009

Not in Touch with the Japanese American Issues - The SF Cherry Blossom Queen Program

Featured in this week's Nichi Bei Times is the upcoming 2009 Cherry Blossom Festival, and will take over the neighborhood for two weekends on April 14, 15, 21, and 22. One of the major events of the Cherry Blossom Festival is the Queen program, which offers young adult Japanese American women an opportunity to participate in a "pageant" (however, I have been told this word is not used anymore) where the six candidates compete over the queen title. But more importantly, they learn about traditional (Meiji era) Japanese customs, the "spirit" of the Japanese American community, proper etiquette, and community service.

As part of my thesis work, I mentioned a lot about this queen program and how it affects the community with regard to the mixed heritage/ethnicity/race issues. One of my goals with my Master's thesis work is to share my research and opinions with the community, and I feel that now is the perfect time for you readers to get an insight into the controversy of the queen program and how its policies affect more than just women trying to win the title of "Queen."


As Asian American Studies experts know, the next generations of Japanese Americans are becoming much more mixed, with Census statistics showing over 50% of the 0-30 year old Japanese American population being mixed with another ethnicity or race. This is primarily due to a high outmarriage rate, as well as a lack of immigration of Japanese citizens to the United States today. In order for some Japanese American programs to survive, they created eligibility policies, which was enforced by the percentage of Japanese ethnicity.

The mixed heritage issue and topic has created a rift in the community, where some still have decided on a strict standard of enforcement by blood, while others have welcomed anyone, regardless of their Japanese American ancestry to participate. People's reactions are also a mixed bag, where some feel disgusted that there is even a mixed Japanese American population, others welcome it and are willing to discuss it openly, and there are many who are not interested in talking about it or don't even understand the potential issues, benefits, and problems.


What made me want to write this blog piece is with regards to the interview portion of the queen candidates in the newspaper. Everyone was asked the same questions, but this particular question I noticed hit a personal nerve:
  • "Given the high rates of intermarriage/outmarriage in the Japanese American community, and current rules and regulations, it may be possible that your children or grandchildren may be excluded from participation in such things as this Queen Program and some sports leagues. How do you feel about this prospect?"
The question the program organizers asked is in really poor taste with my personal view of the future of Japanese American communities. What they are trying to encourage is to keep enforcing this ethnic standard, in which we can allow or deny an individual access to programs and services in the Japanese American community in the future on the basis of their blood, but also on the way they look, and their personal feelings and attachment to the Japanese American culture.

The potential problem of the continual restrictions for people to access programs and services like the queen program and basketball leagues is that it starts tearing the community apart. The Japantown community and its population is shrinking; but when we add a growing population of mixed heritage individuals that will become even more diverse generation after generation, people will shy away from Japanese American communities because they are not welcomed.

Are the queen program/pageant organizers trying to put a fear tactic into the community saying that "your future children and grandchildren are not welcomed" if people marry someone other than a person of Japanese ancestry?

When we tell people that you are not "welcome" to a Japanese American community, the overall power of the community goes down. When the community faces troubling issues, only the "welcomed" individuals will step-up and fight for the community, but the consequence is that by excluding people, you also don't have as much power to fight back.

It should be noted: Japanese American sports teams used to enforce a 50% Japanese Ancestry rule, but have decided that since the kids participating are sometimes 25% Japanese American, that excluding them from opportunities to be part of the Japanese American community is inappropriate. The Queen program still enforces a minimum 50% ancestry rule.


So what am I proposing? I think Japanese American communities should drop the ethnicity policies for programs like the queen program.

The queen program has been extremely controversial. While on one end, having ethnicity regulations for eligibility helps preserve the program to be "Japanese," others can be disqualified if they are less than 50% Japanese American by ethnicity, REGARDLESS if they have a stronger sense of Japanese American identity over someone who may be 100% Japanese American by ethnicity.

If someone was only 25% Japanese American by ancestry, but feels 100% Japanese and participate in the Japanese American heavily, it's just not fair to exclude her from participating in a program that recognizes good people doing good things for their community.

Lastly, with a high population of mixed heritage individuals, a portion of our next generation of community leaders and organization high-ranking officers will be mixed. My thesis research shows that the leadership within the mixed Japanese American population: females will lead the community; but even more interesting is that women of Japanese-White ancestries will be more likely the leaders.

I know that I'm going to generate a lot of heat in Japantown for this blog posting when Cherry Blossom comes around. They all know where to find me.


Nerd Mom said...

I'm mixed race myself (JA mother, Caucasian father), and while I think that they should lower the percentage, I don't think that they should drop it entirely.

Anonymous said...

Hey Aaron, how about that 1600 webster discussion haha! I find it ironic that you stand in front of that sucker ever year at the festival for the kimochi booth. First off, much respect for your voice to share the concerns of many.

i agree with you that the queen program should lower the percentage bc the program teaches the girls about Japanese culture and we want more of that. For basketball, i think i gotta disagree with ya haha. Because the leagues don't teach you anything about JA or Japanese culture. The non-JAs are kind of leeching off our programs and taking playing time away from the JA kids who would otherwise won't be playing anywhere.

take care aaron. keep up the good work. I'll see ya around.