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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

What we hold

Over the past several years, Vigilant Love (an organization working towards safety and justice of communities impacted by Islamophobia and violence), has hosted a community Iftar bringing together hundreds of Muslim, Japanese American, and other Los Angeles community members in the spirit of many years of solidarity practice between our communities. This was the first year the program had to be virtual due to Covid-19, but over 170 people still came together for the online breaking of the fast. I had the great honor of working with Vigilant Love’s Solidarity Arts Fellows to collaborate and support their group performances. We’ll be sharing the four group performances over this and next month. Today, we share words and movement of collective voices woven together by seven truly amazing, young artists and activists—Aaysha, Asuka, & Christie; and Angie, Elise, Safira, & Yukino. I was so impressed by their openness, courage, vulnerability, and creativity – and they did it all while distanced physically. Special acknowledgment to Sahar Pirzada (Co-director of Vigilant Love) for editing the videos! Take in their words and watch the accompanying video performances. Enjoy...

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Asuka Lin (they/them) is a Japanese-Taiwanese filmmaker/writer and a graduate of CalArts. Born near the sea in Kobe, Japan; raised in the Bay Area, they are a first-generation immigrant currently residing in Los Angeles. Their work spans across various genres, but Asuka’s artistic practice is mainly shaped by their strong interests in magical realism and fantasy, which are heavily informed by stories of diaspora, trauma, and surrealism. Their work aims to create an expansion of deep healing and reflection for its viewers/readers, as well as to carve out lasting spaces of empowerment for marginalized people on and off-screen.

Aaysha Memon is an 18 year old Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major at California State University, Long Beach. She has an interest in social work, filmmaking, journalism, and advocacy. Her passion for advocacy comes from her background as a Pakistani Muslim American woman. Her passion grew as she listened to the women in her community and female relatives who fight against gendered violence, assault, and injustices. Memon currently develops her passion through poetry, education, and filmmaking. She hopes to (un)learn more and engage more with community activism and community healing. One of her major goals is to expand women’s health research and healthcare, especially in ethnically marginalized communities.

Christie Yamasaki is a fourth-generation Japanese American (Yonsei) from Irvine, California who is currently wrapping up her first year in the Asian American Studies M.A. program at UCLA. She became fascinated with the study of history and empire after learning more about her own grandfather’s experiences being incarcerated at Gila River, later being drafted into the U.S. Army, and finally serving overseas in Occupied Japan. She is very interested in food and food studies and hopes to find a way to incorporate this topic into her thesis project. In the future, she would like to pursue a Ph.D. in history, but in the present, she is trying to create space for herself outside of academia to connect with community and make time for creating more art.


Sustaining Our Breath

I breathe in our histories, our generational demise
I breathe out angry passion, my truth in disguise
I breathe in, grateful for the connections that sustain my life
I breathe out healing to start better lives
I breathe in my past, the memories that linger
I breathe out hopes for a blooming future
In through my nose, count to 7, each number for a person I love
Out through my mouth, count to 8, each number for a color I see
The invisible emotions that ferment within us all, is what lingers in the air after I breathe
Seeking for solace... seeking a mother within me
I stare into the ceiling every night waiting for the sun--
seeking for myself, while delving through the history of others
It’s an intentional academic seeking that’s an escape, and yet a burden
Looking for a truth that may not be universal, but true to myself
I offer you whatever I am able, while also saving pieces of myself for me
My heart seeks something different from my eyes, something deeper, hazy and blurry
Like a never-ending game of hide and seek, I search for purpose that constantly shifts and mutates
It’s what I’ve seen and what I’ve yet to see that make a new day
I offer tenderness underneath my hardened shell; I let down my defensive front and open myself up for whatever may come
I offer an ear to listen to your problems--taking comfort in the sharing of similar emotions.
What I offer to you is my heart and my soul, my ears and my bones, my warm and my cold
What I offer to you, I hope you need
And may the offering live for centuries in the future; just like food placed on tombstones receive eternal value
I breathe in the dust that has collected on my things, waiting for me to come home
I breathe out----achoo! creating space for making life anew

* This poem is copyrighted by Asuka Lin, Aaysha Memon, and Christie Yamasaki (2020)

* * * * *

Angie Azad is a proud, Bengali, Muslim American. She loves art no matter what form in comes in, whether it be in video games, shows, or through activism and social justice. She feels that art has a way of telling a story and aspires to become an animator and/or video games designer so that she can tell her own stories.

Safira Patel is a working artist born and raised in Los Angeles. She is very interested in historical intersections of queer and Muslim culture. Her practice includes analog photography, found object and sound installation, and performance, while also exploring different art forms in the context of a larger history, such as underground zine and bookmaking, indigenious tattooing, and knitting. She cares deeply about supporting programming for communities that comes from a place of genuine need, care, and interest around the community.

Yukino Torrey is a Junior at UCLA, and is a Asian American Studies major with a minor in Public Affairs. She is really interested in teaching empathy through education for young children, specifically ethnic studies in public education. She enjoys learning and continuing to find spaces where she can engage with people of different backgrounds! She wants to support and create spaces where people can come together and learn more about others’ experiences and shift their perspectives. She wants to use education to create empathy grounded in community and a embrace of what makes a person unique and different.

Elise Umetsu grew up reading and writing in Camarillo, CA with her independent-minded sister, generous mother, and patient father. She recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she majored in International Development Studies and English. At UCLA, Elise was fortunate to join families of Taiko drumming, theater, and, of course, Vigilant Love. She will be relocating to Japan in the fall, where she will work as a teaching assistant in English-learning classrooms.

Elise aspires to teach high school English, build community wherever she can, and have cats. Her Tinder describes her fairly well: “Queer almost-adult with an appreciation for wit and thoughtful questions. Enjoys bookstores, cool trees, and giving inordinate amounts of attention to wandering bugs. Nothing serious.”


What Our Love Gives

I breathe in lightly, quietly
I breathe out intentionally, feeling the full weight and deepness of this body
I breathe in my pain and sorrow
I breathe out the air that tightens my throat
I breathe in the false sense of relief
I do not breathe out

Sometimes, I do
I breathe in your passion
I breathe out compassion
I breathe in dancing, branching, living love.
I breathe out fear, gathered in barren isolation.
I breathe in the air and energy recycled from your existence and work
We breathe in, together;
We breathe out, together.

I seek the blessings of a colorful outlook on my dull perspective
Show me, the light in the ominous black hole
The truth within the sea of lies
I seek metaphor to process ever-crashing waves of specificity
While, tide by tide, I learn how to swim.
I seek a way of being that reduces harm to those around me
I seek a way of living that honors our history
I seek a vehicle to tell your story, that will impact people across any border
I seek to know a world in which the air is clear and the land is soft
I seek the sun and the warmth in our blood that connects us all
I seek to elevate our community’s movement, so history and trauma do not repeat
We breathe in, together;
I start to see the formation and vision of what we seek

I offer a witness and a home
I offer recognition and safety
I offer an embrace
I offer my time and voice
I offer my hope and I draw from yours, knowing we give and take by a common source.
I offer a willingness to continue your legacy
I offer an expanded community that will learn from you
I offer my odd humor to amuse you when you least expect it
A ride down the path of your thoughts
My bleeding but comforting arms.
My electrifying wrath that can shutdown at your order
I offer my scattered grove of words,
Sown with the ideas of those before and around me.
We breathe out, together;
Together, we grow a forest.

* This poem is copyrighted by Angie Azad, Safira Patel, Yukino Torrey, and Elise Umetsu (2020)


© 2020 Asuka Lin, Aaysha Memon, Christie Yamasaki; Angie Azad, Safira Patel, Yukino Torrey, Elise Umetsu

breathe Nikkei Uncovered poetry Vigilant Love

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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