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Nikkei al descubierto: una columna de poesía


This month, we are honored to again feature the fierce Miya Iwataki, a veteran activist, core member of NCRR (Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress), and writer based in Los Angeles. She presents four poems here—an observation of and hailing to the world around her, from the intimate to the masses. Miya will be featured in our 2nd annual Nikkei Uncovered virtual poetry reading on May 13 (RSVP required), where we will feature “pairs” of writers. She will be paired with poet Amy Uyematsu, who leads a weekly writing class where Miya is a participating poet. We look forward to hearing their voices together. Enjoy!

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * * 

Miya Iwataki’s life experiences as a poet, writer, host/producer of East Wind Radio series; designer of diversity and cultural competency programs for LA County; NCRR fighter for Japanese American reparations; one of 30 women sponsored by United Nations NGO to UN Decade for Women Convention in Nairobi, Kenya; and co-author of first study on cultural barriers to reproductive health care in 8 API communities have shaped a lifelong understanding, awareness, and commitment to justice and equity. It has breathed life into the importance of valuing cultural beliefs, practices and traditions in health, and in our daily lives; and an appreciation for how deeply language is tied into, and reflects our culture.



This poem written in 2018 is dedicated to Jully Lee, who was nominated for Featured Actress in a Play at the 2021 Ovation Awards; and had her name mispronounced, and the wrong photo shown.

Hello. My name is Miya.
You’re Japanese
So please don’t call me Miwa. It is Miya.
NO, NO. I am not MIYE, that’s someone else
I am Miya!

Hi. My name is Miya
Spelled M-I-Y-A
Yes, that’s the correct spelling
It’s a Japanese name
That’s how we Japanese spell it

I don’t know what it looks like to you
but, it’s not My-ah
It’s Miya. Mee- yah
Yes, just like Mama Mia.
Ha ha that’s real funny,
Never heard that one before…

Uh, no. You did it again
My name is Miya, not My-ah.
No, it’s not spelled M-I-A.
No, I’m not Missing in Action
Ha ha. Another funny one
I never heard that one before either…

No, you wrote it wrong again
It’s not spelled M-A-Y-A.
It’s MIYA!

M as in Mary
I as in Ice
Y as in You-Dumb-M*****F*****
A as in Apple

Oh. Now you want to know my last name….

*This poem is copyrighted by Miya Iwataki (2018).


**Tsuru - the Japanese crane is a symbol of hope and longevity, some say it can live up to a thousand years.

In June 2019, Tsuru for Solidarity and other Japanese Americans (JAs) went to Ft. Sill, OK to protest detention of 1400 children seeking asylum – at the very same site where JAs were imprisoned during WWII. Thousands of colorful origami Tsuru were hung as a symbol of hope and resistance. These mass protests forced the plans for opening Ft. Sill to be withdrawn.

A young crane lost
Soaring, seeking, searching for
familial sounds

          The tsuru tsuru
          Of graceful wings fluttering
          through summer skies

Her outstretched wings have
seen many days, many miles
Searching for family

The young crane cries
Mama papa where are you
Cry little crane cry

Wings beating tsuru tsuru
A hushed brushing sound
As she circles the camp


Barbed wire
Silent barracks
Dimly lit bulb
Casting shadows
on a
small wooden table
deft fingers
Gently fold
Tsuru for peace, for hope

Across oceans -
Clouds mushroom
then dissipate
a young Sadako.
Gentle fingers
intently folding
a thousand cranes.
Tsuru soldiers
for peace,
for hope
until time runs out


Tsuru tsuru
The wings beat harder
Her journey bringing
Reluctant witness to
Family separation
Nuclear devastation
70 years across time

Desert detention.
Grim guards
Demean/defile – deaf to
Silent screams
Whispered whimpers
Children – chattel
Innocence on ICE


Threading her way
thru space and time
from camp to camp -
Woven in history
the young crane
finds her Family
In the Spirit of
Ten thousand Tsuru
Congregated Connected
Crafted in unison
By hundreds of gentle fingers
By families borne of the camps
Rising in resistance across clouds of time

Tsuru tsuru
Tell your story
Tsuru for Justice
Tsuru for Solidarity

*This poem is copyrighted by Miya Iwataki (2019).

Uncivil War

“Osama bin Laden did not fly planes into any US buildings; he just asked and inspired people to do it, drew money and resources to the effort, set the timing and launched the execution from afar.  In what way was Donald Trump’s role in January 6th any different?” 

— Pamela Keith, on Democracy Now! February. 10, 2021

January 6 - MAGA magnets lure scum from every direction
Covidiots converge at his call for Capitol insurrection
He cast the die, the damage is deep, the cost is dear
Division, distrust, antipathy, blood-spattered fear

Red-capped gasbags spew Covid-tinged hate speech
Shattering windows and civil boundaries as they breech
The Seat of Government, deaf to the 85 million votes
To end 4 years of lying, racism, corruption and bloat

A thousand injuries sustained, and seven lost lives
Among the fallen, at least two suicides
An historic scar on America’s psyche?
Or a wake-up call to arms – wait and see.
January 20- the anticipation, the Inauguration
And here I sit in homebound isolation
Connected with family through shared congratulations
Excitedly texting emoji ovations

Four years of anger, rage and frustration
Cluttering our lives with no approbation
No Kondo-esque spark of joy.  An infestation
To be cleaned and detoxed with no hesitation

Engaging in national and worldwide celebration
The GOTV, the victory, the dedication, the elation
One day of shared joy throughout the nation

Ding Dong the Bitch is Dead!

*This poem is copyrighted by Miya Iwataki (2021).

Mother’s Day Memory

May 2019

You look like your mother, they’d say
The ladies at church, or family on my Mom’s side
No, I don’t! I’d quickly say, bristling
I wanted to be like Dad
Hip, Athletic, fit
Tall 5’11,” thick black hair
Dancer, laugher, lots of fun

Mom wasn’t as interesting
Always working, always writing
Feeding, raising, bathing four rambunctious kids
Teaching ESL on weeknights,
While earning her Masters at USC
And introducing multicultural content
Into ESL curriculum
Authoring a textbook still used today

Nothing near as exciting
As my Dad
Wine connoisseur, gourmet cook
Carpenter, jeweler
That artistic flash

Mom was Just a teacher
Who loved her students
Just an administrator
Who believed in her work
Cherished by those students
Beloved by her colleagues
Nothing near as exciting
As my Dad.

To my Mother who gifted me the love of reading, writing, art, politics.
My Mother, whom I appreciate more each year as I grow older, wiser, and more reflective. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.

*This poem is copyrighted by Miya Iwataki (2019).


© 2018/2019/2021 Miya Iwataki

Miya Iwataki Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry

Sobre esta serie

Nikkei al descubierto: una columna de poesía es un espacio destinado a la comunidad nikkei para compartir historias a través de diversas composiciones sobre cultura, historia y experiencia personal. La columna presentará una amplia variedad de formas poéticas y contenido con temas que incluyen historia, raíces, identidad; historia—el pasado en el presente; la comida como ritual, celebración y legado; rituales y supuestos de tradiciones; lugar, ubicación y comunidad así como el amor.

Hemos invitado a la autora, artista y poetisa traci kato-kiriyama para que sea la curadora de esta columna de poesía mensual, en donde publicaremos a uno o dos poetas los tercer jueves de cada mes, desde escritores mayores o jóvenes que recién empiezan en la poesía a autores publicados de todo el país. Esperamos descubrir una red de voces vinculadas entre sí a través de innumerables diferencias y experiencias conectadas.