Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
One year ago, in The Hawai‘i Herald’s 2016 New Year’s edition, I posed the question, “What is the Legacy of the Sansei?” Herald Editor Karleen Chinen suggested that we turn this question into a yearlong series, and she and I came up with a list of Sansei whose thoughts we wanted to seek out. Throughout 2016, I had the honor of contacting the Sansei and inviting them to contribute their views, and the pleasure of collecting their essays and photos to send to Karleen.
The reason I posed this question a year ago was because, to be perfectly honest, I had no clue. I had only observed that in the national press, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and the countless magazines I subscribe to, Japanese Americans were rarely, if ever, mentioned. I wondered what we were doing since we were virtually invisible in the national media.
Over the past year, 30 Sansei responded to my invitation and were published in these pages. All of their stories struck a chord with me in one way or another. The similarities of growing up with Issei grandparents and Nisei parents resonated deeply with me, and the scope of what each contributor had done to perpetuate their legacy was truly amazing.
As I got to know each contributor by email, phone and in person, many of whom I had not previously met, I saw my generation and myself with new eyes. What I knew before, but never verbalized, is that It means something to be Japanese American. My pride in being Japanese American swelled and was further crystallized as I read and heard stories in the media surrounding the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and watched documentaries like “442nd: Legacy of Heroes” — The Nisei Soldiers of WWII. As I read the contributors’ stories, I began to see a contour of a “Sansei Legacy,” one that each of us contributes to in our own way. We each apply our individual talents and abilities to perpetuating the legacies of the Issei and Nisei that have been passed down to us, and in so doing, give rise to a larger generational “Sansei Legacy.”
While a sample size of 30 is hardly representative of Sansei — for this series, we mean Sansei from or living in Hawai‘i — I no longer feel clueless about what we are doing as a generation. Yes, we are passing the culture, history and values of our ancestors to future generations. But we are doing so in a way that is unique to Sansei. The traditions of the Issei and Nisei were brought from Japan or created out of a need to survive. With our largely comfortable lifestyles, we Sansei are taking those traditions and creating something new. We are creating new values and culture, and our motivation, rather than survival, is service. Furthermore, with the privileges largely afforded us by our forebears, such as education and prosperity, we are expanding our service orientation not just to future Japanese American generations, but to all of Hawai‘i and even the world, as well.
Thus, what I’ve learned from these 30 Sansei and their essays, is that the Legacy of the Sansei is to pass on the traditions of our ancestors to future generations, and also to create new traditions and expand whom we serve to all of Hawai‘i and even the world. The following three sections will show how each contributor to the Sansei Legacy series lives this legacy in his or her own way.
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