Monday, September 15, 2008

Me in the Japan Times

I didn't realize that the Japan Times already published my letter to the editor last week.

For those of you interested, it can be found at this link or below:

Strength in cultural differences


Debito Arudou's assertion in his Sept. 2 article, "The 'gaijin' debate: Arudou responds," that there is any sort of comparison between the words "n--ger" and "gaijin" are strained, pathetic, and causes more harm than good because, at the root, his argument is tawdry and facile.

Arudou's stated desired outcome is to have his Japanese status acknowledged. What would that look like? At a social event, would a recent acquaintance mistakenly call him "Taro" instead of "Debito"? He has been issued a passport and a health-care card, and is entitled to all the benefits the nation offers. The state has given him what he wants. What does Arudou want from me and the readers of this newspaper?

I appreciate that he plays at fighting the good fight, but in this instance he has seriously offended me. Because, let's face it, Arudou doesn't speak for the "n--gers" living in Japan. He is not a champion of the rights of Filipina sex workers who are brutalized here in Okinawa. He is not the defender of Chinese students or third-generation Koreans who still aren't "Japanese."

He wants to champion the cause of newcomers to Japan. But instead of ham-fisted and ugly similes, we need words that can nourish the imagination of the reader -- words that speak to every human being's basic need to be a part of a community predicated on mutual benefit.

In the American tradition, we can look to the poet Robert Frost for these kinds of words. In "The Mending Wall," we read that good fences make good neighbors. It is in our supposed boundaries -- our cultural differences -- that we find the very source of our mutual strength. That we are the inheritors of rich cultural traditions means that we are better able to meet the needs of our communities.

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