Okage Sama De – I Am What I Am Because of You

Recently, I learned that my parents seriously considered moving to California when my older sister and I were toddlers. Apparently, landowners were offering interested parties a plot of land to farm. My Dad was interested; he loved growing vegetables and fruits, and his ambition had been to become an agriculture teacher. As the oldest of seven children in his family, however, he quit school and went to work for the pineapple company when he was old enough to work. Mom didn’t remember much about the details; she left the decision to Dad. Ultimately, they decided against moving their young family to California. My siblings and I grew up here in Hawaii and had wonderful experiences that helped to shape us into who we are today.

Last week, Randy and I watched the 5-part PBS series on Asian Americans. It was eye-opening. I didn’t realize how sheltered we were living here in Hawaii. We have not experienced the kind of discrimination that many of the mainland Asians endured and continue to face today. If my parents had moved to California in the early 1950’s, they may have encountered negativity against Japanese Americans despite the fact that so many had proven their loyalty to our nation during World War II. I have no doubt that my parents would have worked very hard to make a success of this farming opportunity.  I am also sure they would have expected us children to do our best in school but to also help around the farm after school, on weekends, and during vacations. We would have learned many skills and developed a strong work ethic if we were children of farmers.

I wish I could talk with my Dad about what his thoughts were as he pondered this decision. I wonder what the pros and cons were and the possible impacts he considered, not just for him but also for his young family. I wonder if he considered the opportunities he would have to advance at his job with the pineapple plantation as opposed to being his own boss as a farmer. I wonder if he felt some obligation to stay in Hawaii since he was a the oldest in his family and was counted on to help out. I wonder if the culture here played a part in his decision; he didn’t know what to expect if we made the move to California.

I don’t know what my Dad’s thoughts were at the time, but once the decision was made, he and Mom probably didn’t have regrets. They moved ahead and together, they provided my siblings and me with positive experiences that helped to build our character and gave us the grounding we needed to be successful in our lives. To Mom and Dad: Arigato. Okage sama de.