An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America

John Katagi is a former staff member of the Japanese American National Museum. He shares memories from almost two decades of travel to South America. His experiences result from study and observation as part of the directorial staff of JEMS, a cross-cultural agency based in Los Angeles.

food en

Brazilian Sashimi and Killer Fruit!!

A large part of cross-cultural adaptation involves something as basic as food. And depending on the culture, food can require a giant leap of adjustment. Admittedly, Brazil doesn’t have really strange food like some other cultures. There are no one thousand year old eggs filled with fertilized chicken embryos, no Indiana Jones-style monkeys’ brains, no intentional efforts to eat insects of any kind. But there were a few moments when my teams or I called into question the rule: “eat everything put in front of you.”

On her first trip to Brazil, one of our trainers and team leaders related …

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sports en

World Cup: Even Twenty Years Later, It was a Night to Remember

July 16, 1994. We were in São Paulo, Brazil. We being, Curt, Grace, Chris, Ruth, Albert, Darin, and me. Some 7,900 miles away, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, an event was in progress that would rock our world. The event was the final of the World Cup Soccer game.

I must say that having watched my son Brandon play soccer in the West Covina soccer league gave me an understanding and appreciation for the game. Watching the television in my small rented apartment in Bosque da Saúde, I found myself explaining the game to my Californian co-workers.

The game …

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identity en

You want to buy what?

Language acquisition is tricky. 

Before I began working in South America, I had a couple of opportunities in the early 1990s to visit Brazil and do some investigation and research to see if a career change was something I really wanted to do. During my first trip, as I brought my visit to a close, I wanted to make some souvenir purchases. I wanted to buy a tee shirt with “Brasil” and a design of the green and blue flag emblazoned across the front.

Two girls from a local church in the city of São Paulo took me shopping. Their …

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community en

My Journey to COPANI

My journey to COPANI began thirty-three years ago. I was a young pastor in San Diego, when I was invited to offer the invocation at a San Diego landscape gardeners convention banquet. The convention included Japanese gardeners from the San Diego area as well as from Tijuana, south of the US-Mexico international border. I was seated at the head table and, after I offered grace for the dinner, I stayed on to listen to the remainder of the program.

What was particularly surprising to me at the time were the speeches given by the Japanese Mexican gardeners association. Of course, …

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community en

Km 41 - Part 2

Read part 1 >> 

Night falls on the Paraguayan landscape. The drone of thousands of insects begins to grow as the sun goes down. Bugs the size of B-52s begin to take flight and circle around any light source in the darkening countryside.

October 2008 and I was in Pirapó, one of nine farming colonies settled by Japanese immigrants on land that was set aside for agricultural development by the Paraguayan government. These colonies, scattered throughout the country, still maintain a strong cultural and linguistic connection to their Japanese heritage, being geographically isolated from their surrounding communities. The year …

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