Thursday, November 22, 2012

"What you see in the mirror, and what you are can be two different images."

Transgender fortune

On Saturday I had dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant where I received the above fortune. I had spent the evening chatting with my friend's friend who works at Keshet (Hebrew for rainbow), a Jewish LGBT advocacy group that works to ensure that Jewish LGBT people are included in all aspects of Jewish life. He reminded me that Sunday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to memorialize transgender people who have been murdered because of prejudice.

I'm a little late to the party as Transgender Awareness Week was last week, but after thinking about this for several days, I decided to post. On Saturday I'd come across this extremely moving story from Korean American adoptee Andy Marra talking about her experience meeting her birth mother, coming out as transgender, and gaining the courage to complete her transition. (Get your tissues before you read it.) Reading her story made me realize that I'd never read a story written by an Asian transgender person before and it got me wondering if there were any famous Japanese American transgender people. A quick search for "Japanese American transgender" turns up very little. I tried a few other variations without any luck. 

My search results reminded me about Kim Coco Iwamoto, a member of Hawaii's Board of Education. Kim was recently featured in The Huffington Post's list of The Most Influential LGBT Asian Icons at #2, along with 1 lesbian and 5 gay Japanese Americans. I'd first been introduced to Kim via Equality Hawaii's excellent forum No Shame! Talking About the Gay/Lesbian/Transgender Japanese American Experience In Hawaii (Part 1 & Part 2 of the panel are available, but sadly the keynote from George Takei isn't!).

The only other Japanese American of note I found was Marsha Aizumi, mother of a transgender son, Aiden. Marsha authored the book Two Spirits, One Heart, about her journey accepting that her daughter was actually her son and becoming an advocate for LGBT youth. She's an inductee to the API Family Pride Wall of Pride, a project honoring supportive Asian families of LGBT people and exhibiting their profiles. Part of the Wall of Pride was recently exhibited in Boston at The Meeting Point in Jamaica Plain, thanks to QAPA, the nation's oldest queer Asian organization. API Family Pride is the only support organization for Asian families of LGBT people in the US.

As far as I can tell, Kim, Marsha, and Aiden are the only three somewhat well-known transgender-related Japanese Americans.

Something else that turned up in my search was The Visibility Project, spearheaded by two Japanese Americans, Mia Nakano and Shawn Tamaribuchi. They travel the US taking portraits & shooting video of "Queer Asian American Women, Gender non-conforming, and Trans[gender] people," to bring "more presence and representation to our community through powerful imagery." It seems that this year they also started including parents. Marsha Aizumi is currently the only parent of an LGBTQ API. Their tags and labeling aren't consistent, so it's not easy to find the Japanese Americans, but they do have a few portraits of genderqueer Japanese Americans. You can find them by looking through the gallery of participants.

Growing up during the 80s, at some point I learned to be afraid of men who wear women's clothing (I should note that people who cross-dress and perform in drag are not necessarily transgender). I have no idea when this notion was introduced to me, but it took root and festered. I'm still unlearning many years of prejudice, so I don't feel qualified to write a treatise on what it means to be transgender, but I wanted to highlight a topic that's rarely discussed in the Japanese American community. 

Something that's been incredibly helpful in changing my understanding of what it means to be transgender and genderqueer is the increasing number of articles profiling families with young children struggling with gender identity. Boston's Children's Hospital has a Gender Management Service Clinic (GeMS), "one of the few of its kind in the world." I never knew that this was something that most transgender people know and try to express from a very young age. Most of the articles feature only white families, so I was surprised to find that this New York Times Magazine piece, "What's So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?" features an interview with Moriko, the mother of a boy struggling with his gender identity, who I assume is Japanese.

For further reading, I recommend the following resources. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tewassa Update

I just noticed that I never actually posted this back in late September. Oops. This quilt is going to the Ivy Baby Home nursery in Yamagata.


Capping off my weekend full of Japanese stuff, I went to Tewassa, where we had our first felting class so people could make ornaments to attach to our Christmas quilt.

I couldn't participate since wool makes me itchy, so I worked on the quilt by myself. I forgot to take a picture of the quilt. This picture is from August.

Everyone always comments on how kawaii the bears are.

Maple sometimes attends our meetings...
...and sleeps when we don't pay attention to her.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Margie Yamamoto: Justice Denied: A Personal Perspective in Concord & Acton

If you don't know about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, you may find my introductory post helpful.

I meant to post about this sooner, but completely forgot! Margie Yamamoto, co-president of the New England chapter of the JACL, will be speaking about her family's incarceration experience twice this month.

Tomorrow, 11/15/12, she'll be speaking for the United Women's Club of Concord at the West Concord Union Church at 1317 Main Street at 1pm.

Later this month on 11/30/12, she'll be speaking at the Acton Council on Aging Senior Center at 50 Audubon Drive.

Justice Denied: A Personal Perspective 
Friday, November 30th, 10:30-11:15
This richly illustrated talk by Margaret Yamamoto tells the story of the Japanese internment during World War II as seen through the eyes of a Japanese-American family. It follows their passage from immigration in the 1890s through imprisonment during the war years and documents how they rebuilt their lives. Beyond describing the internment experiences of a single family, the talk focuses on the plight of the 120,000 Japanese - two-thirds of them American citizens - who were imprisoned by a Presidential order deemed by many to be in violation of the US Constitution. Margaret Yamamoto, a Lincoln resident, is a member of the family featured and was incarcerated at two months of age. She is co-president of the New England Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and is retired after 40+ years in communications and public relations, mostly recently at WGBH.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tewassa Christmas Charity Concert

I will continue to update the raffle information. 
Last updated: 12/12/12

Local Japanese violinist, Momoko Matsumura, is generously organizing a Christmas concert to benefit Tewassa, the Japanese quilting group I'm involved with. Momoko-san played in the Play For Japan concert series that raised money for the Japanese Red Cross Society to support victims of the 3/11/11 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The concert is also being supported by the Japanese Women's Club of Boston (JWCB), where Tewassa started. There will also be a bake sale and raffle. A Christmas quilt that will be delivered to a nursery in Yamagata next month will be on display.

Date: Saturday, December 15, 2012
Time: Doors open 2:00PM, Concert 2:30PM - 4:00PM
Location: First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, 630 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, MA 02476
Tickets: $12 includes one concert ticket and one raffle ticket. $20 includes one concert ticket and 6 raffle tickets. $2 each for additional raffle tickets. Kids under 12 are free. Tickets will be available at the door. Cash only.

Parking: Parking in Arlington municipal lots is free on Saturdays until 12/22/12.

MBTA: Multiple bus lines stop near the church. Please check the MBTA Trip Planner or Google Maps for directions.


The concert will be kid-friendly. The first half of the program will be classical music, including music from the Nutcracker. Then we'll show a video of Tewassa's work and give out raffle prizes. The second half will be Christmas music with a surprise visit from Santa at the end.


$1,320 worth of prizes!
  • 314 Studio: Two necklaces - $40 & $45 value (Chihiro Makio) 
  • Amnet: Ten $30 discount vouchers for JAL airfare (Tomoko Leman, travel agent) 
  • Café Mami: $30 gift certificate (Carlos Garcia) 
  • Ebi Sushi: One Sashimi Set - $15 value (José & Alfonso Garcia) 
  • The Genki Spark: Two spots in a taiko class - $60 value (Karen Young) 
  • GrayMist Studio & Shop: Gift items - $100 value (Etsuko Yashiro & Ken Kimura) 
  • Hair Stylist Kayoko: Two gift certificates for hair cut, shampoo, and blow dry - $70 value (Kayoko Matsumoto) 
  • hanaya floral: Dried flower arrangement - $50 value (Hiroko Takeshita) 
  • Miso Market: Japanese snacks - $24 value (Fumi & Steve Genova) 
  • NOCA GlassSchool: Hand-blown vase - $40 value (Jesse Rasid) 
  • Snappy Sushi: $20 gift certificate (Kazu Aotani) 
  • Studio Aika: Reversible Japanese apron/skirt - $120 value (Miho Takeuchi) 
  • Tomoko Photo: One portrait photography sitting - $190 value (Tomoko Leman) 
  • Tokai: Tokoname style teapot - $68 value (Hideyo Kanai) 
  • Yakitori Zai: $50 gift certificate (Kazu Aotani) 
  • Yume Wo Katare (no website): Ramen for 2 - up to $28 value (Tsuyoshi & Naomi Nishioka) 
Thank you to all the owners!


Update 11/11/13: Ittoku is finally open! See First Look: Ittoku!

I'm finally able to announce the name and location of the restaurant I mentioned in this post back in September! Ittoku, a joint venture between Carlos Garcia of Café Mami, 2 people Manabu Ito and Taiji Miheo of Sapporo Ramen, and Chiki-san, a sushi chef at Ebi Sushi, hopes to open early next year at 1414 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton. This location is currently home to Petit Robert Bistro. They were on the schedule for the Boston Licensing Board tonight to transfer the alcohol license from Petit Robert to them.

I'm told that they will be serving the same ramen as Sapporo.

Mazie Hirono and Mark Takano make history

Japanese Americans Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Mark Takano (D-California) made history in yesterday's elections.

Hirono is making history on multiple fronts:
  • Hawaii's first female senator.
  • First Japanese American female senator.
  • First Asian American female senator.
  • First person born in Japan (or anywhere in Asia) to be elected to the Senate.  She is also the first foreign-born Asian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives.
  • First Buddhist senator. She is also one of two Buddhists who were the first to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Takano is making history as the first openly LGBT Japanese American, Asian American, and person of color to win a Congressional seat. He was one of eight LGBT candidates running for Congress this year. Of the 8, 6 have won and 1 is too close to call 7 won. Two other LGBT candidates also made history: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), as the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate, and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), as the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Takano was recently featured in The Huffington Post's list of The Most Influential LGBT Asian Icons at #38.

Hirono and Takano join four other Japanese Americans in Congress. Omedetō gozaimasu!

List of Japanese American Senators and Representatives:
Update 12/18/12: Sen. Dan Inouye passed away yesterday. Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a successor who will serve until 2014, at which time they'll have an election for someone to fill the remainder of Sen. Inouye's term (until 2016). Sen. Inouye wanted Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to succeed him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Voted!

Just because it's my responsibility to vote, doesn't mean I can't reward myself. :)

Celebratory cupcake from Lyndell's

No excuse not to vote

If Japanese American internee and WWII vet, Frank Tanabe, can vote on his deathbed, you can vote too. Japanese Americans were only granted the right to vote in 1952 - just 60 years ago.

Asian American and Pacific Islander voter turnout has historically been very low and our vote is often overlooked. As non-whites, we face additional obstacles to voting such as our names not being listed correctly on voter rolls, language barriers, racism, and improper requests for identification. As American citizens, it's our responsibility to vote.