Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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stories in Wisconsin, click:
Retaining Traditional Cultures for Children
By Paul H. Kusuda
Asian American parents in the relatively recent past have faced a dilemma about raising their children to be
American while retaining “old country” cultural values, beliefs and traditions. Publisher/editor of Asian Wisconzine,
Heidi Pascual, described in her “Over the cup of tea” column (July 2010) how a few groups of Asian parents dealt
with a concern faced by both Asian and non-Asian immigrants to the U.S. She discussed experiences of Hmong,
Asian Indian, Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese parents.
Ms. Pascual clearly brought to light some of the fears and hopes many immigrant parents had as they adjusted to
the change in culture from “old” to “new.” Those of us who are not immigrants take for granted that what we are what
we are. We were born in the U.S.; therefore, we are U.S. citizens with no effort on our parts. Many of us have no idea how fortunate we
are to have that citizenship, its responsibilities, its rights, etc.
According to an article in the August 20-September 2, 2010 issue of the Pacific Citizen (publication of the Japanese American
Citizens League), in the 1940s, the Native Sons of the Golden West, a long-time California group, “… launched a concerted effort to deny
… citizenship …” to U.S.-born children of Japanese immigrants. Similar efforts are being pursued today relative to children born of
undocumented aliens. That certainly doesn’t appear to be reflective of the American Way.
Few of us have understanding of , or give credit to, immigrant parents who did their utmost to raise their children to be American
while retaining as many “old country” values, traditions and cultures as possible. Often, such merging was not possible or only
minimally possible. Much depended on their children’s associates and milieu. For Asian parents, the task was doubly difficult. In the
1900s and earlier, legally-entered Asian immigrants were denied naturalization processes. Not until the mid-1940s was that changed.
Non-immigrant parents, viz, African American and Native American, faced similar identity concerns but with considerably different
historical backgrounds. Hispanic and Hispanic American parents face similar issues but with differing U.S. experiences.
In my case, which I know best, I consider luck had to be with us despite the many barriers my parents faced and had to overcome.
My father emigrated from Japan after high school graduation with the ability to read, write, and speak English. His speech was what I
would call passable; he was able to express himself well enough to be understood to get by. My mother emigrated when she was 13
years old to join her step-mother who came to California years previously. Both of my parents did not plan to return to Japan as did my
grandmother. They never returned, not even to visit relatives and friends. They decided to stay in America even though they could not
become U.S. citizens.
When my parents opened their small neighborhood grocery store in the near west side of Los Angeles, they found the previous
owners had living quarters in the back of the store. The space might have been adequate for a couple, but not for a family of six. So,
they rented a house about a half-block away from the store.
The wholesalers, delivery people, mailmen (women weren’t mail-carriers those days), policemen, and others wanted to give a
name they could easily pronounce. They called him Frank, Jim, or George; he chose George. I think he could have used Mas since his
name was Masao, but he decided an American name was preferable. My mother received the name Elaine, even though her name was
Chiteko, when she was enrolled in elementary school. She hardly ever used that name because most of the time, she was called Mrs.
My older brother was named Bill and had a middle name, Hideo. The name on his birth certificate was not William, and he never
answered to Will. Some teachers tried to call him William; he continually had to correct them. My younger sister and I had to call him
Nisan (pronounced knee-san). We didn’t call him Bill until we became young adults.
My sister was named Helen and had a middle name, Chiyoko. For some reason, while growing up, I used her Japanese name. Now,
I call her Helen. She was never called Nesan (neh-san) because she had no younger sibling to call her that.
I was named Paul (suggested by the doctor who helped my mother during delivery) with the Japanese name Haruo, difficult for most
to pronounce. I don’t use it. Instead I use a middle initial. My sister had to call me Haruo Nisan, to differentiate me from my brother whom
we both had to address or make reference to as Nisan. I don’t know whether that practice was followed in other Japanese families, but
my parents insisted on it.
My parents chose to give each of us children two names, not only to ease communication with peers and others but also because
of their determination to help us become Americanized. Further, when we were growing up, they spoke English to us as much as they
could. That way, they felt we would not be lost when we entered elementary school. It worked. When I was in kindergarten my teacher
used me as interpreter with other Nisei students.
Our family experiences were both similar to and different from many other Japanese families. The largest difference, I think, is that
my parents really wanted us to be Americans. Thus they had the difficult task of inculcating us with old country culture, traditions, etc. All
three of us children attended an Episcopal Church within a half-mile of our home. We actually knew nothing of Buddhism or Shintoism.
However, somehow our parents managed development of bicultural understanding and appreciation. They did a great job — and I’ve
always been thankful.
Paul H. Kusuda