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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


As a younger Sansei/older Yonsei, I've been reflecting a lot on the big sisters and cousins of the Sansei generation who have raised or influenced many of us in our activism, community involvement, and understanding of ourselves as connected to others. This month, we feature pieces of generational and personal reflection from two Sansei - writer Patricia Takayama from the San Fernando Valley, and NCRR founding member, Janice Yen, who is based in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Janice Iwanaga Yen is a retired retailer and long-time community volunteer. She is a founding member of NCRR (National Coalition for Redress/Reparations) and continues to be active in Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, the successor organization to NCRR. Janice is the Recording Secretary of NCRR and is a member of the Education and Archive committees. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband John.


we all yearn for peace
decades go by without it
an elusive dream


That old suitcase
meant nothing to HIM
Because I didn't tell him
how much it meant to ME


I am the daughter-in-law of a foot-bound woman.
Her feet are tiny and always protected by soft slippers.
In Arizona she buys Native American moccasins.
She can't walk far on her broken feet.
She never complains,
But her children know her pain

1905 - 1981

John, Dave, Apple, Mother, Mori

* These poems are copyrighted by Janice Yen.


* * * * *

Patricia Takayama is a writer of fiction. Her first short story collection is titled, The Winter of Melancholy. Her second collection is due out in later 2023. Both are works of historical fiction based on the lives of real people.

Patricia was raised in California. She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Hastings College of the Law. She lived in Tokyo for three years where she taught English at a business college while she studied the Japanese language. After law school she received a fellowship to continue her language studies at the Inter-University Center in Tokyo.

Sansei – The Feminist Revolution Generation

Betty Crocker Home Maker was not a career option.
On the coattails of black power civil rights organizations,
NOW and MS magazines offered new visions and alternate
Role models for young women in search of new opportunities.

Finding others who shared the same experiences
Removed the curtain of isolation; Assaulted by racism, women
Of color converged, empowered us all to shape our future,
Tear down artificial boundaries and push beyond our limitations.

No longer would we accept back alley abortions.
Insisted on medical care, and got Roe v. Wade.
No longer would we accept relegation to second class status
Girls sports leveled the playing field with Title IX opportunities.

Sexual freedom and loss of financial support
Sent us careening into divorces, searching for jobs,
Establishing our own credit, independent of men,
Remaking ourselves in our own proud, beautiful image:
Standing tall, with self respect and supported by our sisters.

Our revolution reshaped the world for our daughters
And children to compete in a world where
Sex is not the first measure of competency.
As our vision changed, so did our daughters and sons.

Expectations were modified. We transformed
And made the world better. It was fifty years before
A woman rose to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
How much longer before
A Woman can be the U.S. President?

Must we wait for the next generation?

*This poem is copyrighted by Patricia Takayama.

Hummingbird Song

In Hawaii when a person dies, it is said the first creature that returns to the family home embodies the spirit of the departed

My hummingbird father sang to me
Perched on a twig above Puget Sound.
Pale, color washed feathers on his tiny body,
Early spring cedars, spruce and pine were the only green.

A quiet man, he spoke not many words.
Until my mother passed away
She spoke for him.
He mourned her loss in many ways.

Remember how she drove from the passenger seat, he’d say.
Change lanes. It’s clear. Go now. Hurry, hurry.
My father would recount those days.
He vowed to have no other woman, no other wife.
He’d wait to meet her in the afterlife.

When my father died, his voice was silent;
His eyes were closed.
He only waited for me to say,
She’s waiting. It’s okay to let go.

When my hummingbird father sang to me
On his perch above Puget Sound,
His song was filled with joy.
He sang of soaring through the sky.
He sang of sadness and good byes.

When next I saw him, there were two,
They swooped up, down in a greenish swirl.
Brown, black and white buntings and sparrows chirped;
Green tanagers chattered; red wing black birds sang.
My hummingbird father had found his mate.

* This poem will be included in the upcoming short collection
The Currents of War, which will be published in 2023. 
It is copyrighted by Patricia Takayama.


© 2018 Janice Yen; Patricia Takayama

haiku hummingbird Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry sansei

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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