Drifting away from your roots

Fall is in the air, my favorite time of year! Except I’m not so happy. Today is my mother’s birthday and she’s no longer with us. As the leaves begin to turn my thoughts turn to my mother’s last days. She became ill a few weeks after her birthday last year and did not recover, passing into another existence days before Thanksgiving. With her passed a big piece of my life and a piece of my heritage.

I have enjoyed celebrating my Japanese roots ever since we moved to this area and found a good-sized group of Japanese-heritage people. There’s even a big festival and a big Japanese garden! I’d be happy to celebrate my Dutch heritage, too, but I don’t know anything about it. My dad’s family didn’t do anything particularly Dutch – except go to a strict Dutch church – even though they were immigrants. The Dutch heritage was absorbed into American-ness by the first generation.

Since I’m being melancholy missing my mom, I have been wondering how fast our Japanese heritage will disappear. One daughter looks entirely Caucasian and will probably marry a Caucasian man. She has some interest in things Japanese, particularly in Hello Kitty and Totoro and certain foods (she can make tempura). Will her children (if she has any) be interested in the one-eighth Japanese heritage hiding inside them? Will my daughter sing the Shojoji song to her kids? Will she take pictures of her white toddlers in hand-me-down kimonos and feed them rice with seaweed sprinkles? We’ll see. This daughter may relate more to her daddy’s Southern family in the Tennessee countryside, but she is very much an American Midwestern city girl.

My other daughter does look like she has Asian heritage and has some interest in things Japanese, but about as much as her sister. She did try to learn Japanese with me one summer with a private tutor, but quit in frustration (I didn’t last much longer). Recently, though, she surprised me by saying she wanted to teach English in Japan and maybe live there for a while because “It’s not that interesting here.” We’ll see. She was referring to culture in her statement. American culture can seem rather bland compared to old cultures with colorful customs and traditions and thousand-year-old buildings.

If my younger daughter follows through with her plans (she’s only in high school), then the Japanese heritage might live on. I’m not holding my breath. I will be sad to see the richness of that heritage wash away, but I may not be around long enough to see. No matter what, my mother and I will smile down upon our future generations from behind a veil, our whispers blending in with the wind, knowing there is a book that tells our story.

A few yellow leaves
Drifting from the locust tree
Reminding me
My mother left this earth
When the maples burned red


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
This entry was posted in death, heritage, relationship and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Drifting away from your roots

  1. krpooler says:


    I am so touched by this bittersweet longing to honor your mother and your Japanese heritage. It is a lovely tribute. Though we never have control over the choices our adult children make, I hope you feel the consolation of knowing you have done all you could to keep the Jaoanese traditions alive. And yes, you do have two books that tell your story and will keep your mother’s spirit alive for generations to come. Thinking of you on this anniversary and wishing you peace.


  2. Thank you, Kathy, and of course you are right. We do what we can and then let our children loose to make their own way. One season ends and another begins.

  3. Yes. We cannot know tomorrow. Your daughter’s wish to teach English in Japan is a perfect synthesis of the heritage she carries in her genes and in the culture in which she’s been raised. Life surprises us. Who can say?

    Janet Riehl

  4. In “Far From the Tree,” Andrew Solomon’s book on families with children who differ profoundly from their parents, he developed the idea of horizontal and vertical identity. Vertical is the identity you inherit from your parents, like race and religion, and horizontal is the identity that comes with your difference. The horizontal identity is a centrifugal force: it leads the child to look for “fellow travelers” outside the family to find support and culture, or subculture.

  5. Pingback: American Midwestern City Girl | American Midwestern City Girl

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