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Little Momo in the Big Apple

Greetings from New York!

Hello, and welcome! My name is Simone Momoye Fujita, and I will be writing a new column for Discover Nikkei entitled Little Momo in the Big Apple. This bi-monthly column will be a series of reflections upon my current and past adventures living in New York City, written from the perspective of a Nikkei, an American, an Asian American, a native Californian, a Japanese American (yonsei), a twenty-eight year old woman, and a hapa all rolled into one – me! These writings will include anecdotes, observations, and musings related to identity, culture, race relations, and Japanese American history, just to name a few. I will be connecting each article back to the Nikkei experience, and I invite you, the reader, to comment and share your own experiences and insights with the Discover Nikkei community and me. By sharing my particular perspective in this column, writing from my adopted East Coast home, I hope to shed new light on Nikkei life having experienced it within two distinct American cities (New York and Los Angeles).

As an introduction to my column and me, allow me to tell you a little about my name:

My first name, Simone, was a result of my mother’s eclectic musical taste. She was a fan of the late, great American jazz songwriter, pianist and vocalist Nina Simone, a.k.a. “the High Priestess of Soul.” Simone is a French feminine derivative of Simon, a name with Hebrew origins. The authentic French pronunciation sounds something like “sea-MUN,” but most Americans call me “see-MOAN” or “sah-MOAN.” My very favorite pronunciation of my name comes from a few of my Mexican American friends, who enthusiastically refer to me as “simón,” a term that means “yes” in caló, or Chicano slang.

Many Japanese Americans have American first names and Japanese middle names. In that same tradition, my kibei Nisei grandparents suggested the middle name Momoye, which, roughly translated, means “peach blossom.” Growing up, it always reminded me of that Japanese folktale about Momotaro the Peach Boy. To non-Japanese speakers, my middle name is, by far, the most difficult part of my name to pronounce. Despite that, several of my non-Japanese friends have come to love this name, pronounce it very well, and insist on calling me by it.

My last name, Fujita, is also from my mother’s side of the family. Although our family hails from Sapporo originally, I grew up in and around Los Angeles, where Spanish surnames are common. For this reason, Fujita was often mispronounced “Fu-HEE-ta.” My last name should make you think of other Japanese-y things, like Mount Fuji or maybe Fujifilm, but it has most often been incorrectly confused with the similarly-spelled Mexican dish called fajitas.

Growing up, I never liked my name very much. I longed for something that was a little “cooler” or easier for people to pronounce, like Cindy Smith or Nicole Brown. With age and maturity, I have grown to appreciate its uniqueness and the story that it tells. I am very proud of my name, its origins, and all that it represents.

All names have stories. I tell you the story behind mine because it contains multiple layers of meaning and history, much like the Nikkei experience. As is the case for myself and many other Nikkei living outside of Japan, our daily experiences and interactions are a product of the intermingling of our Japanese heritage and the cultures with which we come into contact. They are characterized by a blend of histories and traditions, some of which are old-school Japanese and others which are more recent cultural hybrids. I hope to examine these concepts more deeply in this column. Next up – the downlow on hybridity from a hapa perspective.


© 2008 Simone Momoye Fujita

hapa identity multiracial

About this series

A column of reflections written from the perspective of a Nikkei, an American, an Asian American, a native Californian, a Japanese American (yonsei), a twenty-eight year old woman, and a hapa, Simone Momoye Fujita.