Koji's Column

“Koji’s Column” is a column series contributed by Japanese American National Museum staff member, Koji Steven Sakai. His column explores Nikkei identity and culture from the standpoint of a second- and fourth-generation Japanese Americana American male from Southern California.

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Why Are Asians Yellow?

African Americans are black. Caucasians are white. Latinos are brown. But why are Asians yellow? When I look at my skin, it doesn’t look yellow to me. If anything, it looks olive and if I’ve been in the sun at all, it’s brown. So if I’m not yellow-skinned, where does that idea come from?

Because I’m constantly interested in racial stereotypes, I decided to do some Internet research on the origins of skin color, specifically the idea that Asians have “yellow” skin. This proved a lot harder than you would imagine.

The first thing I wanted to do is look …

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My Mother, My Anchor

My father died in my early twenties. His death devastated me in ways that I am still dealing with today—more than 13 years later. At his funeral, I read his eulogy and told him how much I loved/admired him but the hardest part of it all was that he would never get to hear my letter. I don’t want to make that same mistake with my mother, so this is my attempt to write her eulogy while she can still appreciate it.

My mother is my hero. I never accepted the whole passive Asian woman stereotype because my mother is …

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I remember as a child knowing that I didn’t look “American” and because of that sometimes I didn’t feel “American” either. As a person of color living in the United States, these truths are self-evident, even if no one has ever said it to my face. And a part of me always felt like I was Japanese who just happened to live in America. That’s why I was so excited about going to Japan the first time with my family when I was seven years old. I believed (maybe it was hoped) that I would finally find an identity ( …

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What Would You Do?

I am a coward. It’s easy to fight racism when it’s in the abstract, but it’s so much harder to do it when it smacks you in the face. I was smacked and didn’t do anything. Actually, I just ran away.

Okay, let me explain. I recently had a phone meeting with a person who wanted to represent my writing. It was the opportunity that I had been waiting for for a long time. It was going to be my big break!

At first, everything was going so well. He seemed like one of those fun older guys who had …

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We All Look Alike

Do all Asians look alike? Where does such a stereotype come from? I’ve recently spent a lot of time studying other Asian folks—especially Japanese people—to see if there are any similarities between them and me. Personally, I think I look pretty damn unique—and handsome. My mother always tells me so at least!

The other day I decided to look into this. A quick Google search brought me to a lot of sites. My favorite was a Yahoo Answers webpage where I found the following question:

    Why do Asian people get called "look alikes" or "same"?

A lot of people weighed …

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