Christine R. Yano
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Sansei live in a strange and unique position. We form the last of the generations of Japanese Americans with direct knowledge of Japan in the form of grandparents. That tie, for many, is both very real and very tenuous. Because most of us did not grow up speaking Japanese, the tie itself is relatively mute. Japanese was what our parents and grandparents spoke when they didn’t want us to understand what was being said. And we complied, accepting the language barrier even as the occasional household words of admonition (“abunai,” “yakamashii”) poked through. So although our grandparents were certainly there in the house, at gatherings, maybe cooking food or working in the garden, we didn’t have real conversations with them. We talked around them. (I write this feeling very clearly the difference that language and generation makes. Three of my grandparents were Issei and thus spoke only Japanese. My one Nisei grandmother spoke both English and Japanese, and she was the only one with whom I could talk. As a Nisei who attended school in Hawai‘i, she already had one foot firmly planted in American soil. This language — and, to a certain extent, cultural — barrier made a world of difference in terms of my relationships with them all.)

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