Anyone Can Be a Writer:
Two Upcoming JA Publications

by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column June 18, 2003


When I was in the 4th grade, I wrote my first autobiography saying that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. But my vision of a writer was someone who stayed home writing and made a living writing books. That wasn't me.

But in 1995, I met Tony Osumi, who I would marry three years later. I had long-admired him as a poet, writer and activist from reading his writings in The Rafu Shimpo. Tony encouraged me to write. When I complained about some injustice or another, he would say, “Baby, you should write about it.” But I wasn't a writer, I insisted. But Tony can be very persuasive.

I tentatively wrote my first article drawing similarities between the Thai Garment Workers who were enslaved in El Monte, and Seabrook Farms where my grandparents worked after WWII. To my surprise, the Rafu published the article. Tony bought 10 copies for me.

Tony also read my short story, Mitsugi's Christmas and suggested that I submit it to the Rafu for their Holiday Issue. I did so hesitantly, but was thrilled when Naomi Hirahara, then English Editor, called to tell me that she liked my story.

In 1996, I joined the “Through the Fire” column at the Rafu. I have since written over 30 columns. Even though my turn in the column rotation only comes once every two months, I found that I have a lot to say. I often write to share my opinion about an issue, or plug some event or organization that I'm involved with.

About a year and a half ago, again at Tony’s urging, I created a personal family website for us which includes our writings, and even the original “101 Ways to Tell If You’re Japanese American.” And I have become a “blogger,” someone who keeps a regular online web journal, or web log, allowing people to leave comments and create online conversations.

What does it take to be a writer? (1) You gotta have something to say. (2) It has to come from your heart. (3) You have to write it down. On paper, typed into a computer, into a Palm Pilot, onto a tape recorder, whatever. As Tony says, “If you can talk, you can write.”

Sometimes we don’t write for ourselves, but for others like our children and our communities. Our childhood stories, poems, opinions, and family folklore make up the history of Japanese America. If we don’t write about our histories, who will? Imagine how beautiful it would be if each of us had 100-year-old stories written by our Issei parents and grandparents. In doing so, we can leave our children a sense of history, identity, and a tradition of expressing ideas we believe in.

So, the point is that everyone can be a writer. Whether you jot some notes on scratch paper or into a blank book, type some ideas onto your Mac or PC, or create an online journal, you should write. It doesn’t matter if you have a column, or if you ever write your memoirs or a novel, you can still be a writer.

But if you are interested in being published, I am involved with two opportunities for possible publication. The first is through the Manzanar Zine. The Manzanar Committee received a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP) to create a publication documenting the poetry and spoken word that has been shared by young people at the Manzanar Pilgrimage’s Manzanar After Dark (MAD-ness!) program for the past 6 years. We are in the process of creating a zine, which is a smal l magazine booklet, self-published by the Committee.

We have expanded the guidelines to include submissions from the community as well. We are looking for poetry, essays, drawings and photos about Manzanar. If you were incarcerated at Manzanar, have a story or poem about visiting Manzanar years later, or attending one of the 34 pilgrimages, we’d like to hear your story. Submissions can be emailed to manzcomm@yahoo.com, and should be no more than 600 words, which is about one page, single-spaced. We have extended the deadline to June 30, 2003.

The second opportunity is a publication called Nanka Nikkei Voices III: Little Tokyo - Changing Times, Changing Faces, published and edited by the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California. We are looking for people who have a story about the past, present or future of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo from a historical, cultural, personal, business, organizational, community, social, or religious perspective.

Our goal is to have a broad spectrum of stories that would show the birth of Little Tokyo and its evolution to the present day. The stories would be from personal experiences or knowledge of the parts that make up Little Tokyo. Submissions can be mailed to JAHSSC, P.O. Box 3164, Torrance, CA 90510-3164 or can be submitted by email. Submissions have a 1200 word limit, and must be typed. The deadline for stories is August 1, 2003.

So even though I am not a full-time writer, I find that I have things to say. I write from my heart. And I write it down. Until we live in a world of peace, free from racism and oppression, I will always have something to write about. And whether it’s for yourself, your family, friends, community, or even the world wide web, I hope you will write, too!

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Jennifer “Emiko” Kuida’s website can be found at www.kuidaosumi.com. For more info about the Manzanar zine, see the website: www.manzanarcommittee.org. For more info about the JAHSSC publication, call (xxx) xxx-xxxx. ©2003. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

Updated: 12/14/03

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