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A Yonsei's Reflections...

on the Women Who Inspire Me

My grandmother and Yuri Kochiyama are two of the many women who, in their own ways, have helped shape who I am. March is Women’s History Month in the United States, so I’ve decided to take some time to reflect on the topic of women—not so much about feminism vs. femininity, but about real women in my family and those that I encounter in my life. Those women who inspire my dreams and aspirations, show me strength, and give me hope.

Kazoku (Four Generations)

My maternal grandmother was born in Southern California in 1908. The oldest of nine children, she led a very hard life. She married my grandfather in 1930 and had eight children, the two youngest born in American concentration camps during World War II. After the war ended, my grandfather took his family to Japan. They ended up living on the island of Miyajima back when there was nothing but dirt roads. She would walk across the island and take the ferry to Hiroshima where she would barter possessions for yams to feed her large family. Slowly, they recovered and eventually, everyone returned to the United States.

It’s been ten years now since she passed away. When I think of her, I think of contradictions. On one hand, she was a survivor. It’s hard for me to comprehend all that she lived through. I wonder sometimes what I would do if faced with the events of her life. On the other hand, the Oba-chan that I remember was a happy, gentle, yet mischievous old woman who read a lot, hid her eyes at the sight of blood or violence (particularly when watching her soap operas), always carried candies and cookies wrapped in tissue in her sweater pockets, and played the role of student to my teacher. I guess when I think of her, it gives me hope that I will find the strength to overcome whatever comes my way.

From my mother, I have learned to be resourceful, adaptive, creative, hard-working, and considerate. She has also imparted in me a deep appreciation for family, heritage, and culture—both Japanese and American. As children, my sister and I played with our American Strawberry Shortcake dolls and furniture made of kamaboko boards and thread spools carefully crafted by my mother. For hinamatsuri, she would display special hina dolls. On St. Patrick’s Day, she would make corned beef cabbage and pinch us if she caught us not wearing green. During summertime, she would make up math problems on scratch paper. She also made charts, flash cards, and homework sheets to teach us our hiragana and katakana.

A lot of who I have become is a result of my Oba-chan and my mother. I’ve also been influenced by heroes such as Yuri Kochiyama, Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig, and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. They give me inspiration to go beyond my small world and try to make a difference in whatever way I can.

It is with great appreciation that I dedicate this to all of the strong women of the world, however big or small their accomplishments. Please know that you inspire generations of women to overcome their fears and doubts to write, to speak, to take action, to do.

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“My Hinamatsuri” Nikkei Album collection

I photographed my family’s hina-ningyo and put them together into a Nikkei Album collection: My Hinamatsuri. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

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© 2007 Vicky K. Murakami-Tsuda

family grandmother heroes hinamatsuri mother women yuri kochiyama

About this series

Vicky Murakami-Tsuda is the Communications Production Manager for the Japanese American National Museum. She is a “self-proclaimed” yonsei from Southern California who comes from a large extended family who loves working at JANM (especially Discover Nikkei), eating good food, spending time with family, playing on Facebook, reading, and used to be an artist who explored Japanese American culture and history through her artwork when she had more time and energy. This column includes various reflections on her life and the world around her.