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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

What we hold - Part Two

Over the past several years, Vigilant Love (an organization working towards safety and justice of communities impacted by Islamophobia and violence), has hosted a community Iftar bringing together hundreds of Muslim, Japanese American and other LA community members in the spirit of many years of solidarity practice between our communities. This was the first year the program had to be virtual due to Covid-19, but over 170 people still came together for the online breaking of the fast. I had the great honor of working with Vigilant Love’s Solidarity Arts Fellows to collaborate and support their group performances. We’re sharing the four group performances over last and this month's columns. Today, we share words and movement of collective voices woven together by six truly amazing, young artists and activists - Christine, Donna & Seiji; and Amina, Miyako & Nora. I was so impressed by their openness, courage, vulnerability and creativity - and they did it all while distanced physically. Take in their words and watch the accompanying video performances. Enjoy...

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Christine Miyazato is a queer and gender non-conforming Nikkei/Nisei spoken word poet, activist, and writer born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She was a 2020 Solidarity Arts Fellow with Vigilant Love and has previously written for publications like GLAAD. Most of her work focuses on her queer and Asian American (Okinawan) identity. When she’s not writing, she works as a case manager at Trans Can Work, a non-profit organization committed to creating transformative and inclusive workplace cultures where trans and gender-nonconforming individuals can thrive.

Donna Ghassemi is a lover of raccoons, donuts, and nostalgia. She is a short story writer that occasionally dabbles with poetry, usually during the late hours of the night. Her work is inspired by daily life, her family history, and weird dreams she has after eating too much food. Donna hopes to one day be good enough to have her books sold at grocery stores. 

Seiji Igei is an Okinawan-Japanese American member of Vigilant Love’s 2020 Solidarity Arts Fellowship and an artist with a BFA in Animation. Last year they completed a training program in Kin Town, Okinawa to connect with their familial and cultural roots. He creates comics, illustrations, animations, and promotional materials featuring QTPOC representation and Asian American pop culture. They have been involved with activist groups in Chicago such as i2i, AAAJ, and QTPOC club at DePaul University. Through narrative storytelling and nonlinear artistic exploration, they hope to engage viewers and their imaginations on what the world is and what it can become.


What I Breathe

Time rushes and blurs around me
     so I stop.
Everything is soft and still.
  I plant myself on the floor.
     I breathe in the light around me.
           I breathe out the tension in my body, let it drop below.

My breath, like an anchor,
     keeps me rooted in the present moment.
And as I feel the cool air filtering through my lungs
              on this sticky summer day
                          it is a reminder that I am here, I am alive.
As the wind gently brushes past me
                I take it as a good omen,
                             reminding me that all things, even this, will pass.

But sometimes it feels rougher: swirling around me,
                  clouding up my thoughts and soaking into my skin,
It surrounds me, corners me,
               and fearing that I have no other option
                                                              I breathe in.

The tension simmers in my chest
                 and I feel myself ready to boil over
                         when familiar words reverberate in my mind
                              --this too shall pass--
                                                 and finally,
                                                       I breathe out.

Exhaling better days filled with comfort and ease,
             no longer haunted by staticky voices
                       reporting high numbers of this and that
Days filled with glowing skin
                               warmed up by the presence of others
Sprinkled with eye-crinkling-smiles and tear-jerking-laughter

To hear our shared voices cut through the noise of
                                                            endless news cycles
Have my feet planted firmly on the ground
             and not feel the Earth shake and sway beneath me
I seek to soak in the sun’s rays,
                  relish in the feeling of toes poking lazily at warm sand

I dream of glimmers of the old normal.
    Of closeness and movement.
        I seek memories and futures to study with touch.
As I feel the world differently,
        I seek understanding of my truth and my present.

I offer solidarity in the form of clasped hands and linked arms,
      a vision of voices shouting together in unison until they
                                become one
Standing shoulder to shoulder as we march forward
                     towards the unknown

                                                         with no space to be,

use my shoulder to push your way through the crowd,

                                   And stand tall,

                shouting out what needs to be heard.

                  Take my eyes and I use them to See you,

                                    my arms to raise you,

                          my heart to set the world on fire.

*This poem is copyrighted by Christine Miyazato, Donna Ghassemi, and Seiji Igei (2020)


* * * * *

Amina Abuthahir (she/her) is a first generation Muslim Indian-American. Her parents are from Southern India, Tamilnadu; Tamil, her mother language and culture has played a large part in her upbringing and identity. She is in her senior year at California State University, Long Beach, pursuing a bachelors in Political Science, with an emphasis on U.S. Law and Public Policy. She initially studied biology at Norco College and Riverside City College, but switched majors once she discovered her true passions lied in public work and activism. She attained an associate’s degree in Political Science from RCC. Her interests in political and economic discrimination in minority communities have informed the way she practices her solidarity and support. Abuthahir is currently looking forward to learning how to grow individually and in community using an amalgamation of art and politics.

Nora Fujita-Yuhas is a mixed Yonsei from Seattle, Washington (Duwamish land). She is a rising senior at Occidental College where she is majoring in Politics and minoring in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, community, and politics. She has found a loving community in California as she has worked to learn more about her Japanese American history and family. The sun and the rain hold equal parts of her heart.

Miyako Noguchi is a fourth generation Japanese American (Yonsei-han) who grew up in both Los Angeles, California and Hutchinson, Kansas. Her jichan was incarcerated at Tule Lake and her bachan was incarcerated at Gila River. She graduated from UC Davis in 2019 with a degree in Plant Sciences and a minor in English, and currently works as a lab assistant in an immunology lab at UCLA, but has always had a strong passion for activism that she gained through learning about her family’s incarceration experience, and passion for art and writing that she gained from her parents.



I breathe in promise
A reason to believe
A movement to keep me grounded

I breathe out weighted memories
An ancestral ache in my bones
I am generationally exhausted

I breathe in a new understanding
A story you tell me late at night
Through struggle, we still share a laugh

I breathe out love and passion
A feeling that is appreciated and adored
We are all one

I breathe in better days to come
A reunion for community
Making a little more light

I breathe out colors and patterns
The shapes of our shared experiences
Morphing into an embrace

I offer reciprocity, a hand extended
We can dance together in the dark
What’s mine is yours

I offer vulnerability, a wall put up generations before us
Broken down brick by brick, stone by stone, together,
We can work to build a bridge in its place

I offer empathy, a heart to listen and help
Your struggles are mine to bear
Together we can fight

I seek connection - the sun on my skin,
The feeling of our communities arm in arm,
The ability to embrace our friends once again

I seek happiness - a welcome reprieve
The feeling of no inhibitions
No fear or sadness or wrath

I seek a voice - to survive
A call answered,
A chorus created

*This poem is copyrighted by Amina Abuthahir, Nora Fujita-Yuhas, and Miyako Noguchi (2020)


© 2020 Christine Miyazato, Donna Ghassemi, & Seiji Igei; Amina Abuthahir, Nora Fujita-Yuhas & Miyako Noguchi

breathe Nikkei Uncovered poetry Vigilant Love

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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