Embracing Uncertainty
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida


Certain things fill me with anxiety. Like speaking in public. My mind goes blank. My heart pounds. I can’t breathe. When I was in elementary school, I was so shy, I would sink way down low in my chair and try to be invisible so that my teachers wouldn’t call on me. I was terrified of being called on.

In college, as I started coming out of my shell, I would go to dances at my dorms and even went to a club or two. The darker the room, the better. Aside from a ballet recital as a child which I have erased from my memory, the rest of my youth was spent avoiding any kind of public performances with me in them.

As I have become more active in the Japanese American community, I’ve enjoyed going to the summer obons. Friends who grew up dancing in the Nisei Week parade, glide gracefully by, hands curved just right. But I often feel clumsy and uncoordinated, two steps behind, my body facing the wrong direction.

So, it’s a bit of a shock to me that I will actually be emceeing and performing at this year’s Day of Remembrance for the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations on Saturday, February 20th. DOR is the commemoration of the February 19, 1942 signing of Executive Order 9066 by Franklin D. Roosevelt which enabled the government to put 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. My friend Glen on the DOR Planning Committee suggested me as one of the emcees. "Argghhh!" is what went through my mind as I frantically tried to think of an excuse why I shouldn’t emcee.

At the planning meetings, we talked about how NCRR wanted to draw in some younger people to the DOR program. So this year, we are working with hereandnow, a young and hip Asian American theater group that performs in colleges across the country.

At our first joint meeting, we met folks from hereandnow, and the rock band Visiting Violette which features musicians Lee Takasugi and Glenn Suravech. We met some of the draft resisters from the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee who shared their stories of resistance while in Camp (The FPC will be receiving NCRR’s Fighting Spirit Award this year). We also saw a video clip of the 1981 Los Angeles Hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) that the NCRR Education Committee has worked hard to edit and preserve these tapes.

hereandnow will be performing a piece called "Breezeby" which is played by Visiting Violette with a rousing taiko solo. Several of us "non-performers" from NCRR/Seigi will be joining hereandnow doing tai chi and kembo, a form of martial arts. After the first rehearsal, I knew there was no way I was going to participate with the group. There I was, two left feet, no rhythm, wrong direction. It was just too potentially humiliating.

But a couple of things happened before the next rehearsal. My yoga teacher Krishna gave us this advice. "Uncertainty brings creativity. Uncertainty creates trust. Embrace uncertainty and let go of everything else." As I began to think more about doing it, I thought of that obon saying "A dancing fool being watched by a fool, if they both are fools, what a pity not to dance." I also remembered the sign of encouragement that my husband Tony has on the wall of his fourth grade classroom, "Dare to struggle, dare to win."

I went back again to the next rehearsal and things went much better. Thanks to the patience and generosity of many hereandnow people working with us, repeating the steps over and over, things started to fall into place. I forgot about wanting to quit.

I thought about NCRR and why I believe in what NCRR does, continuing to fight for not only redress, but for all issues of justice. I thought about this year’s theme - Resistance and Redress: Standing for Justice.

I thought about Frank Emi, Yosh Kuromiya and others on the Fair Play Committee, who weren’t too scared or embarrassed to stand up and fight. It took awesome courage to resist the draft while they and their families were incarcerated in Camp without their constitutional rights. I thought about people like Dr. Mary Oda and the many others who bravely testified at the public CWRIC hearings, telling their stories, many unleashing pain that they had buried for 40 years. I thought about Japanese Latin Americans who were kidnapped from their homes, put into American camps and denied redress. Today, people like Carmen Mochizuki and Alice Nishimoto are continuing in their fight for redress, despite everything the government has thrown at them.

These are all courageous people who found their voices, and how lucky we all are to have such heroes and role models. After pondering all of that, I decided that if I limit myself to only the things I know and feel comfortable with, then I won’t grow, and I will ignore the lessons of others who have set such powerful examples for me. So, I’m going to take the advice of my yoga teacher to embrace uncertainty. And if I pass out at the podium or foolishly crash into the dancer next to me, well then, at least I will have stood up and tried.

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Jenni Emiko Kuida is a member of NCRR/Seigi. The 1999 DOR will be held on Saturday, February 20th at 2pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. Call (213) 625-0414 for reservations. Copies of the CWRIC Hearings are available on videocassette from NCRR. The opinions expressed here are not necessary those of the Rafu Shimpo.


Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, February 3, 1999

Updated: 11/10/02

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