I met my mother-in-law, (whom we all call “mama”) when Bobby was graduating from Dental School at NYU. She and two of his three sisters drove up from North Carolina to be part of the celebration. We all met at Bobby’s NYC apartment early one morning. Mama was the cutest little thing and when she realized Bobby and I were serious she grabbed my waist and said in her stern accent, “you take care of my son.” I loved her ever since.
Mama was raised in Okinawa, Japan on Yoniguni Island. She is the epitome of what Okinawan culture is. She grew up with four sisters and one brother on a farm where they mastered sugar cane farming. As a young girl she fed clams so they would grow pearls. She survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki and later on fell in love with an American soldier that was stationed in Japan around 1965. She eventually moved to the states with him and they went on to have four children.
Part of her culture is expressing herself through Okinawan Kenji Kai dancing. She still dances today. It’s one of the things I find most beautiful about her. She is so proud of who she is and I am so proud my children are 25% Okinawan. She still resides in the home where all of her kids grew up and I find it to be so impressive that her town has such strong Okinawan community. She has so many sweet friends and at times they get together for some traditional dancing.
It was such an honor to have her and her friends dance at our wedding. For many years people talked about our wedding and how all the Japanese dancers weren’t to be believed. It was truly beautiful and it felt like we had our own personal Broadway production.
This month I was able to honor my Okinawan mother-in-law and immerse my children in their Japanese heritage at the 10th annual Cherry Blossom Festival at the Japanese Friendship Garden located in Balboa Park in San Diego. We love teaching our children about who they are and where they come from. It’s definitely a highlight for me as a parent. With me being 100% Italian and my husband being half Japanese and German, our kids get to experience it all as far as culture is concerned.
What I love about San Diego is how it has so much to expose the children to. It has over 100 plus museums, plenty of theaters, The Del Mar Race Track, World Class Resorts, every major sports, concert venues every weekend, boating life, a pristine coastline with a plethora of beaches to choose from, and an amazing downtown. It has all of this with most days being 75 degrees with no humidity and my favorite, no mosquitos. I guess that’s why they call it America’s Finest City.
Cherry Blossoms have been very symbolic in the Japanese culture for many centuries. They have often been associated with mortality because the transience of the blossoms that go from extreme beauty to quick death. For this reason they have been richly symbolic and can be seen in Japanese art, anime musical performances and film. You could also see these blossoms on kimonos and other japanese consumer goods.
Our children loved honoring their grandmother and enjoyed the Japanese food, arts and crafts at the Cherry Blossom Festival. They particularly loved the Pocky stand, which is thin bread sticks dipped in chocolate. Definitely delicious! The kids grabbed their pocky sticks and enjoyed climbing over the rocks at the numerous koi ponds.
It’s a wonderful thing having multi-cultural children where you get to celebrate the best of all the cultures. I am glad we live in a city that recognizes so many and celebrates it all.
How do you celebrate your culture/s? I would love to hear from you.