Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“Love without apology.” That is a lesson I learned from my Nisei grandparents, Toshi Oshima Miyamoto and Mikio Miyamoto. They dared to embrace love at a time of war, and even seemed to defy logic. But then again, when does love, or emotions, for that matter, follow the rules of logic? Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my grandmother was a senior at UCLA and my grandfather had recently graduated. When the news of the bombing spread across campus, my grandmother was studying in the library and knew that she had to get home across town to safety because distrust of Japanese Americans in California was so strong. That night, my grandpa’s father “disappeared.” He was taken away by American authorities because he was a leader in the Little Tokyo Japanese American community and was looked on with suspicion because he helped house and financially assist working poor Japanese and Japanese Americans across Los Angeles and agricultural California. Anti-Japanese sentiment was strong and living under the threat of violence was real. Rumors were spreading about an uncertain future for our Nikkei community in Los Angeles and soon the U.S. military authorities posted signs about the forced relocation of Japanese Americans.
It was under these conditions that my grandparents chose to love without apology. They chose to get married. They had not been dating for a long time, but they knew they loved each other. In the face of orders to leave their homes for an uncertain future, they chose to get married in order to stay together and not get sent to different concentration camps outside of California. This might not have been the logical choice and in fact it went against my grandmother’s father’s wishes. He did not believe it was a logical or reasonable time to get married … but they knew they wanted to affirm love in the face of war. They chose love and marriage. They married quickly in downtown Los Angeles in a small civil ceremony and spent their honeymoon incarcerated in a horse stable at the Santa Anita Race Track along with other Japanese American families and our larger Japanese American community. Shortly thereafter, my grandparents, along with other Miyamotos, were relocated to the Gila River War Relocation Center, located in Rivers, Arizona.
When I first asked my grandmother what it was like in camp she said: “Dust, there was so much dust. The walls were so thin and had so many cracks the desert sand would always fly in. It was so cold. No matter how hard I tried or how often I cleaned, I could not keep our space clean.” That was the setting for the beginning of my grandparents’ married life. Within a year, my grandfather got a job as a bookkeeper at Mayflower Donut Company in Chicago and my grandparents were allowed to move to the Amache, Colorado, concentration camp. That is where my father was born.
Fast forward 23 years and my parents, Alan Tsuneo Miyamoto and Carolina Elizabeth Jimenez got married in Los Angeles. In their own way they also chose to love without apology. They grew up in different parts of Los Angeles. After the war my grandparents returned to Los Angeles and lived in Crenshaw, in a property that African American family friends protected from anti-Japanese looters throughout the war. My grandpa and grandma remained active in the Centenary United Methodist Church and my grandpa worked as a bookkeeper while also building businesses such as the Premier Lanes bowling alley. My mother grew up in a section of Los Angeles behind the South Bay oil refinery affectionately referred to as La Rana. My grandfather Dominador Jimenez worked a pattern grater for the Cole of California swimwear company and my grandmother Guadalupe Hererra Jimenez was a homemaker. My parents met during summer school at El Camino College. My mother was pursuing her bachelor’s degree from Cal State Long Beach and my dad at Stanford University. They were both taking anthropology, my mom, cultural anthropology, and my father, physical anthropology, from the same professor. One day my mom came to my dad’s physical anthropology class to take a make-up exam and as he says, he “was smitten.” My mother shares that her attraction was not so immediate. She shares that he was trying to be an arrogant show-off and found that unattractive. She gave him a false phone number when he approached her after class. However, with the help of a friend my father wrote a letter of introduction to my mom’s parents and delivered it to their house. My grandmother was immediately impressed and called my mother to the door. When my mother told her tell him to go away, my grandmother forced my mother to go out with him, and thus their courtship began. My parents’ love grew with time. But my dad’s mother was resistant to the marriage because my mother is Mexican and Filipino. My grandmother’s acceptance of their relationship also grew with time, perhaps she was initially resistant due to stubbornness she inherited from her father who initially disapproved of her marriage. Perhaps, she became more accepting because she remembered the pain or frustration she felt from the lack of his acceptance of her marriage? Perhaps, this is a generational continuation of the theme love without apology.
I write to you today as a Yonsei who carries lessons from my Nisei grandparents and Sansei father. How can we dare to choose love when it might not seem to be the logical thing to do? When our parents might not approve or when society might not find it the right time to love? I write to you today as the product of war and concentration camps. I write to you today as the product of Japanese, Mexican and Filipino parents. I write to you today as a Yonsei who is also a gay male. Today I choose to celebrate being gay as an opportunity to love without apology. Many people choose to celebrate our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities by proclaiming “love is love.” For me, I choose “love without apology” because, like my grandparents and parents, it points to what makes the quiet strength of our Japanese American community unique and special. It affirms the uniqueness and strength that is the diversity of multiracial families. It affirms the transformative potential of love of LGBTQ+ people to create new ways to embrace the whole of humanity.
Things were not always this way for me. I spent many years wishing I could be anything but gay — fearful that I would let my parents, grandparents or community down by being gay. But today I ask: Why should I try to censor love? Rather than hide from my truth or avoid the reality of the love that fills my soul, I choose to carry forward lessons from my family to live courageously. I ask all of us: What can we do to maximize love today? How can we increase compassion towards all sentient beings? These past few years have brought much political turmoil, war, disagreement and, perhaps, a rise in disrespect and lack of civility. In this column for The Hawai‘i Herald, I will be sharing my journey of self-acceptance — how I got to the place where I am today as a gay male who choses to love my family, my community and to love without apology. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore dimensions of our LGBTQ+ and Japanese American communities with the goal to increase fairness, understanding and compassion in the world we share.
Camaron Miyamoto is the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Queer+ Center and tenured faculty in the Division of Student Success at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. As a Yonsei, Mexican and Filpino American, Mr. Miyamoto has served on the boards of the Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation and the Japanese American Citizens League, Honolulu Chapter, where he advocated for marriage equality in Hawai‘i. Mr. Miyamoto continues to learn from his students at UH Mänoa and is fueled by the belief that by being grounded in our culture and community we will create a better future through compassion, education and a steadfast commitment to social justice. The Hawai‘i Herald is a cornerstone of that future.