Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beyond FACTS: “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above”

The New York Times article “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above” is loaded with fantastic, insightful quotes from college students of mixed-race heritage. To get a glimpse of what many Americans of mixed-race heritage face on a daily basis, read this article and then read it again. It’s an eye-opener.

And it offers up a few statistics that may surprise some:

--Approximately one in seven new marriages in the U.S. is between spouses of different races or ethnicities

--Multiracial/multiethnic Americans represent one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups

--Experts expect 2010 census results—due to be released within weeks—to show a continuation and possibly an acceleration of these trends

What will really stick with you, however, are the heartfelt messages that reveal these students’ life-long struggles to come to terms with their identities...and their hopes for a more accepting future for all Americans despite the heritage—or heritages—they choose to claim.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Also edited by Suzanne Kamata, Call Me Okaasan reveals challenges faced by moms with multicultural families. As has noted, like much of Suzanne’s work, this essay collection explores “new ways of seeing family,” new ways that help those of us with traditional families understand what it takes to ensure a non-traditional family thrives. Meanwhile, Call Me Okaasan also reassures moms of “multi-culti” families they are not alone, that many others have traveled similar paths and succeeded. I found Call Me Okaasan so full of inspiring and revealing stories I’ve decided to write multiple posts in order to highlight writers whose works and writings reach far beyond its pages.

Concerns and challenges faced by moms with “multi-culti” families involve everything from language and foods to public perceptions, discrimination, and education to personal crises linked to adoption or identity issues. All this and more are explored in the pages of Call Me Okaasan, a valuable resource in this day and age of increasingly diverse and mobile families.

One of the surprising aspects of this book involves the role of children in multicultural families not only as family members in need of guidance, but as teachers to their own parents. As all parents ultimately learn and as Suzanne writes in her introduction, “Sometimes we can only observe from the sidelines as our children try to figure out what is expected of them,” allowing them to “ultimately work out issues of identity by themselves.”

Also in her introduction, Suzanne says that as an American mom based in an Asian country, she often found herself at odds with assumed parenting protocol. “The rules for motherhood, it seems, are different here, and are sometimes at odds with my beliefs,” she writes, citing surprising expectations for everything from what you should pack a child for lunch to how you should clothe him. Yet, she concludes, mothers in multicultural families, regardless of their locations, often find their efforts rewarded: “While mothering in a foreign country, or raising a child with a father from another culture, or learning about an adopted child’s native culture, our lives are frequently enriched, our visions expanded.” By reading of challenges faced by moms with unique families in countries as diverse as Japan, South Africa, and Australia, readers of Call Me Okaasan find their own views of motherhood enlightened as well.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


As noted in my profile of editor and author Suzanne Kamata, the premature birth of her twins and subsequent diagnosis of her daughter’s deafness and cerebral palsy led Suzanne to search for books that might help. “I was looking for deep and sustaining stories to guide me on the long path ahead,” she wrote in the introduction to Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs. “I needed to know that others had the same kind of pain, fear, and anger that I was feeling, and I wanted a better idea of how my daughter’s disability would affect my marriage, my son, my work, and other aspects of our lives.”

Finding few books that fit the bill, Suzanne set out to create one of her one. The poetry, personal essays, and stories that fill the pages of LOVE YOU TO PIECES not only serve to assure parents with children with special needs that others feel their pain, know their fears, and suffer through similar feelings of anger and outrage, they teach those of us who are not a parent to a child with special needs what is truly demanded, year in and year out, by our friends, neighbors, or acquaintances who face such challenges on a daily basis. I hope by spreading the word about this book at least a few people outside the world of special needs will read it and do what they can to help. Parents of children with special needs are strong and proud; they have to be. But they often could use a little help. Kudos to Suzanne and all the writers whose work appears in LOVE YOU TO PIECES for giving these parents a voice.

And for showing the magic that persists in the midst of some of the madness. In her incredibly memorable short story, “The Lives of the Saints,” Catherine Brady gives the mother of a boy who suffers from spina bifida this lovely, heartbreaking line: “Danny can still be propped like a baby, the least of weights, a tow-headed fairy, less dense than we are, more pure, so astonishing he makes me wonder at the mystery of his making.”

In her own very personal essay about her daughter, Suzanne Kamata writes that her daughter has taught her family “never to take anything about the body for granted, including the ability to breathe; that there is always something to laugh about; that there are worse things than being noticed by the neighbors; that you don’t have to be able to walk to dance….”

There’s so much more in this book, including:

Jayne Anne Phillips’s powerful excerpt “Termite’s Birthday,” which reveals the immense depth of a sister’s love (“I hear him smell the air like he’s drinking it.”).

Michael Bérubé’s “Great Expectations,” which celebrates a father’s fascination with and enjoyment of his unique son’s remarkable recall, conversational, learning, and teaching talents.

Penny Wolfson’s “Moonrise,” which makes it clear that anger is inevitable, especially when a teenage boy struggles to make his way when he can’t walk—and knows his type of muscular dystrophy will shorten his life.

Brett Lott’s excerpt from his novel Jewel, which gives a welcome sense of power to a group of devoted moms who just want to give their kids some time on a school basketball court.

Jane Bernstein’s “Mother’s Report” of “Rachel at Work,” which crystallizes the immense fear that there really is no safety net for a child with special needs once the parent is gone, especially with the present inadequacy of vocational programs for such children as they grow older.

Maggie Kast’s “Joyful Noise,” which allows a mother to admit her reluctance to trouble those around here by allowing her son with special needs to always fully participate in public outings. “Suddenly you wonder why you are often reluctant to meet people’s eyes. It’s a small and subtle thing, this avoidance…. If you focus only on [your child], perhaps no one will see you. … You are embarrassed to waste people’s valuable time. … You wish for a predictable sequence, like a meal. This event is bound to boil over.”

Vicki Forman’s memoir excerpt “Coming to Samsara” strikes close to my heart since I was familiar with Vicki’s writings a while back and mourned when her son, featured in this excerpt, died suddenly in July 2008.

All these parents have struggled and suffered and somehow redeemed themselves not only through their writings but through their immense love for their children. I don’t know off a more powerful force than that.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Beyond FINESSE: Suzanne Kamata: Cross-Cultural Spouse, Parent, Author/Editor/Publisher, and Advocate

Suzanne Kamata leads a much more diverse life than even your typical ex-pat: A Michigan native educated in South Carolina, she ventured to Japan to teach English to teenagers through a Japanese Ministry of Education exchange and teaching program. Within two years in Japan she met her husband, with whom she lives in rural Tokushima Prefecture on an island that sounds mythical with its coastlines, mountains, immense suspension bridge, and famous natural phenomenons, the Naruto whirlpools.

In addition to her perpetual dual status as a foreigner in a country she’s called home for more than 20 years and as the American half of a cross-cultural marriage, Suzanne is also a parent to twins who were born 14 weeks premature, one of whom is deaf and has cerebral palsy. Luckily for her readers, she fuels all these challenges into her award-winning writing. With short stories published in more than 100 journals and anthologies, Suzanne has had an amazing five stories nominated for Pushcart Prizes.

Suzanne’s first novel, Losing Kei, explores the limited–and painfully limiting–rights of an American woman who mistakenly assumed she would be granted custody of her young son after divorcing her Japanese husband. Originally a short story, Losing Kei benefitted from its author’s new role as a parent. “Motherhood gave me insights that I would not have otherwise had,” Suzanne said in an interview at

Most recently, Suzanne’s story “How Harumi Became a Punk Rocker” has been included in the Woman’s Work anthology (which has a gorgeous cover, btw) from GirlChild Press, while her story “X-patriate” has been published in the literary journal Monkey Bicycle.

Also fiction editor of the terrific e-zine Literary Mama and editor and publisher of the print literary magazine Yomimono (blog:, Suzanne has edited three anthologies. I have two of these books in my hot little hands and can’t wait to read and review them this month: Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.

In an interview on the Maw Books blog, Suzanne says this about raising a multicultural child: “I’ve found that my son’s identity is constantly shifting. Sometimes he identifies as Japanese, sometimes as American, sometimes as mixed–which is fine. My identity shifts quite a bit, too.” Regarding her drive to create an anthology on raising a child with special needs after her daughter’s diagnosis:

“I…wanted confirmation that others had gone through the same emotions–anger, sorrow, grief–that I had, and somehow survived them…but I couldn’t find any literary collections on the subject. I decided to put the book that I needed together on my own, and as I got started, I discovered that there were others hungry for just this kind of book.”

The Japan Times has profiled Suzanne as an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities who intends to continue to use her writing “partly to give her daughter a voice”: “‘There is so much more to [my daughter] than a wheelchair or a hearing aid,’ she said. ‘So I want people to understand that about her. I like I’m giving her a voice…[that I’m] trying to make it OK to be disabled and to be public about it and not ashamed.’”

Here’s to starting the New Year by celebrating an inspiring individual who sees a need, commits to filling it, and follows through to the ultimate benefit of many. Akemashite omedetou, Suzanne! (I HOPE that means Happy New Year!)

Beautiful photo of Suzanne with her daughter, Lilia © The Japan Times