Descubra a los Nikkei

What's in a Name?

On my early morning walk the other day, I heard behind me, faintly, in the distance, “Sochi, Sochi…” I wondered, is someone trying to channel the Olympics but didn’t look back, just kept on going. Then the sound caught up with me. It was Flossie from the same senior citizens’ building where I live.

“I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics on TV and I finally got your name straight…Sochi.” Close enough, I thought, she had already gone from “Soxy” to “Sascha” to “Saki.”

Sachi Kaneshiro

Mine is such a simple name to pronounce even for non-Japanese. What if I had been named Tsuyako or Natsumi? Funny things happen when you have a foreign or an uncommon name. Some people assume they must be male monikers or misnomers. Occasionally, I receive in the mail, pamphlets or ads on how to prevent or treat prostate problems. They are addressed to Mr. Sachi.

At times, it could be a good thing. Years ago, just after the end of WWII, I boarded the liner, S. S. Lurline, bound for Hawaii where I intended to help my sister with her first-born child. I approached the berth I had been assigned to, in the hold of the ship. To my astonishment, I found that I was bunked with six or seven GIs, probably occupation forces, who had already claimed their beds. One of them remarked, “Looky here, we got ourselves a China doll.” Others offered more lewd remarks. Close to tears, I picked up my suitcase and rushed up to the purser’s office. He apologized profusely. I’d been listed as a male and there were no other spaces available but he suggested, “Just wait here.” Waiting also was an older Hawaiian lady who was unhappy with her accommodations. Two hours later, before we set sail, the purser led me into a spacious stateroom with a private bathroom and two beds, the only cabin available, he said. I invited Leilani to share my stateroom. We traveled in style. Because of my name, I really lucked out…a luxury suite at a steerage rate!

Years later, employed as a social worker for Los Angeles County, I learned to say my name very slowly when introducing myself to new clients. My first encounter was with elderly Mrs. Goldberg living in the Fairfax district. I called her. “Mrs. Goldberg, this is Mrs. Kaneshiro, your social worker. I’d like to visit you tomorrow at one o’clock.”

When I appeared at her door, she seemed reluctant to let me in. Very slowly she looked me over from head to toe, then said incredulously, “You’re Connie Shapiro?”

When I explained what had happened, she laughed and, although somewhat disappointed that her social worker wasn’t Jewish, she and I had good rapport.

Like the Jewish people, we have had to endure derogatory name-calling and negative stereotyping through our school years and after, but, because we lived in a “live and let live” farming community, the name-calling didn’t seem as harsh as in other areas where incidents of violence were reported. Some persons of Japanese descent were actually relieved when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decreed that all persons of Japanese ancestry be removed from the West Coast.

The only time in my life when my name did not present a problem or an opportunity was the year I spent in an isolated prison camp in the Arizona desert. All of the 10,000 residents there had a name similar to mine. When introduced to strangers, I never had to repeat my name or spell it out. The extreme heat, the suffocating dust storms, the congested spartan living quarters…we shared the same inconveniences and experiences. That was what made it bearable. The name was insignificant.

So you may be asking, what’s in a name? For me, it was a yoke, a joke, and a stroke…of luck!


© 2014 Sachi Kaneshiro

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Sobre esta serie

¿Qué hay detrás de un nombre? Esta serie introdujo historias que exploraron los significados, orígenes y las historias no contadas que hay detrás de los nombres propios nikkei. Estos incluyen apellidos, nombres de pila e ¡incluso apodos!

Para este proyecto, le pedimos a nuestros Nima-kai votar por sus historias favoritas y a nuestro comité editorial elegir sus favoritas. Aquí están las historias favoritas elegidas.

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Acerca del Autor

Sachi Kaneshiro nació como Sachi Tamaki en Covina, una ciudad del condado de Los Ángeles en California. Asistió a UCLA, donde recibió una licenciatura en Relaciones Internacionales. Estuvo encarcelada en el Centro de Reubicación de Poston entre mayo de 1942 y enero de 1943, y en el Centro de Reubicación de Heart Mountain de enero a mayo de 1943. Trabajó durante 28 años como trabajadora social para el condado de Los Ángeles y el estado de Hawaii antes de jubilarse en 1984. Tomó una clase de escritura creativa donde escribió este ensayo para cumplir con una tarea sobre la reacción a una noticia.

Actualizado en septiembre de 2007

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