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I Am a Rainbow! - Part 2

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A particular dance enthusiast who joined in on one of Kanemura’s epic Instagram dance parties was the sister of someone who worked for Little, Brown and Company, a publishing group from Hachette Book Group, a leading trade publisher based in New York. She told her sister to reach out to Kanemura to see about doing a children’s book.

Kanemura remembers the day he received the email, which read in the subject line “Children’s Book…”

“I immediately got teary eyed and was like ‘oh my gosh, what is happening?’” beamed Kanemura. He opened the email to confirm that they were looking to collaborate with him if he was interested in writing a children’s book, which he instantly said “yes!”

“It was unbelievable how it happened,” said Kanemura. “How it came through social media and through these pandemic dance parties on IG.” 

While in the process of writing the book, Kanemura wanted to make sure it was authentic to his story of growing up and shared a message that he felt kids needed to know about themselves.

He was mindful of his own upbringing and the lessons he learned about love and acceptance with the help of his family, and how many other children who may not have been so lucky. He wanted those who didn’t have an outlet or a support system to feel that within his book and imagined what a book such as that would have been like for him to read as a child.

I Am a Rainbow! features a young Kanemura dressing up and putting on shows and theatrics at home with his family, being happy and carefree.

School, however, is another setting filled with isolation and bullying from his classmates just because Kanemura is “different” and tries to be himself. When his parents start to notice Kanemura not being himself, they gift him a rainbow cape, which is to remind him how beautiful he is.

Kanemura wears the cape and feels transformed into an invincible superhero. He takes the rainbow cape everywhere such as to Kaimana Beach, the Aloha Market, and even to the doctor’s office. His only wish is that he could share that same feeling of love for himself with some friends.

One day Kanemura notices a group of kids who look just like him – “fierce, fabulous, and fun.” A girl named Aiko invites Kanemura to join them. He’s reluctant at first but takes a courageous step forward. With his rainbow cape on, he feels brave enough to do so. He then finally feels like himself outside of his family members with his new friends.

Pictures show him dancing up a storm with his new pals. School becomes not so bad as he knows he’ll see his dance friends soon after the bell rings. But one day, Kanemura can’t seem to find his cape. It’s gone!

Kanemura thinks he needs the rainbow cape in order for his friends to still like him only to be reminded by them that he’s the same person with or without it. Kanemura soon realizes this and embraces that same invincible feeling that the rainbow cape brought to him. He didn’t need it after all, “it just helped [him] discover the bravery, talent and magic that already existed within.”

The book then concludes with images of Kanemura continuing to dance as he grows up, ultimately showing him as he is now, in his late 30s, strutting down a runway, dancing to the beat of his own drum and leaving the reader to know that “there is only one me, there is only one you, and there is space for all of us to dazzle when we embrace our true selves!” 

Mark and Aiko at Diamond Head Theatre after their performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which was Mark’s first participation in a community theater musical. (Photo courtesy of Mark Kanemura)

“I wanted it to feel accurate and representative of the space that I came from and the people that I grew up around,” said Kanemura, who confirmed the authenticity of the characters portrayed in the book including his parents, sisters and even his friend Aiko. 

“Aiko is a real person!” laughed Kanemura.

“I met her while doing musical theater. She was one of those friends who I was like ‘Whoa! Who is this person?’ She had a way of making people feel seen and special. You could be around her and express yourself and she will be there every step of the way cheering you on.”

The rainbow cape was not part of his childhood experience, but Kanemura included it in the story as a tribute to his adulthood – as the cape became a regular part of his dance costumes on IG live. He wanted to incorporate the rainbow cape as a symbol that we’re all unique and invincible without or without a rainbow cape on our shoulders.

Kanemura credits having his support group of family and friends who helped remind him of his true beauty and get through dark moments in his life, including middle school years when things were really tough for him. 

A present-day picture of Mark and his family; (from left to right) Marissa, Rhesa, Nora, Mark and Jeanine. (Photo courtesy of Mark Kanemura)

“I was lucky because I had my older sisters who I confided in, when I told them that I just didn’t want to exist anymore,” said Kanemura, whose message to young people going through a tough time in feeling isolated or alone to find one person or outlet to confide in, and to know in general that he understands and sees them himself.

“Having [my sisters] and then also my chosen family, my friends, people who I felt safe with and open to be vulnerable. As human beings, we cannot carry all this on our own. That’s why we have people around us to help us get through the challenges that life and this world can bring.”

Mark proudly shares his I Am a Rainbow! book with his father, who, like all of his family members, has been his biggest fan since he was born. (Photo courtesy of Mark Kanemura)

Kanemura says he’s especially “lucky” to have had such supportive parents who were right there with him putting on plays in their living room and going to every performance that he was involved in. He’s quick to understand that not many households are like his.

He hopes his new book also teaches parents that their kids, no matter who they are or end up to be, are individuals who will not always fit into the “box” that most of society wants them to be compartmentalized in. As a gay man, Kanemura especially wants parents to know that their kids will be “OK” if they are gay.

“Overall visibility is helpful for all generations because a lot of it is fear,” asserts Kanemura.

“They think ‘is my child going to be OK? Is my nephew or granddaughter going to be OK?’ Which I get and understand but it’s like ‘Hi, I’m here, I’m surviving and creating my path in the world.’ They will be fine.”

In a moving tribute to the reader, Kanemura writes a message in the beginning of the book that if there were anything he could tell his younger self “it would be that everything is going to be okay.” He understands that there will be times that will make it feel really hard and challenging but reassures that things will get better.

He emphasizes to find people to connect with and embrace who you are and eventually you’ll notice that the “love, acceptance and freedom you seek [has] been inside you all along.” He finishes the letter with “I am so proud of you!” – a message that our youngsters need to hear more than ever these days.

Kanemura’s beautiful book and message shines as bright as his costumes and dance moves on stage (or IG live). Illustrations are beautifully done by Richard Merritt.

To pre-order I Am a Rainbow!, go to linktr.ee/markkanemura. Kanemura hopes to do a book tour in Hawai‘i, which we’re all hoping will be very soon, and we’ll be dancing along front row center to see him! 

 

 

*This article was originally published in The Hawai'i Herald on May 5, 2023. 

 

© 2023 Kristen Nemoto Jay

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About the Author

Kristen Nemoto Jay was the former editor of The Hawai‘i Herald: Hawai‘i’s Japanese American Journal. Her late grandfather, Wilbert Sanderson Holck, was a 442nd RCT veteran and, after the war ended, helped create the sister-city relationship between Bruyeres, France and Honolulu, Hawai‘i. She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chapman University and a master’s degree in journalism from DePaul University. When she's not working full time as a manger of corporate communications for a health insurance company, Nemoto Jay enjoys teaching yoga and spending time with her husband and two daughters.

Updated January 2024

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