On a very pleasant night in Southern California, I was cruising in my best friend Scott’s Ford Forerunner. We were going nowhere but getting there fast in his gas-guzzling SUV. We were listening to the Blink 182 album, Enema of the State, when the song “What’s my age again?” came on. The chorus to that song is, “What’s my age again? What’s my age again?” However Scott turned to me at that part of the song, pointed and said, “Where’s my Asian friend? There’s MY Asian friend.”
My name is Scott Sakiyama. My father is Japanese, and my mother is an interesting mix of Anglo-Saxon-Franco heritage that allows me to claim that I am Irish-Japanese. Other than the fact that this means I am not very tall, it is a pretty cool mix. Although, actually I could claim that I am Japanese, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English and French. I like to just say I am Irish- Japanese, I am told I don’t really appear Asian. In fact I am most often asked if I am Hispanic (which is understandable considering that my skill with the Spanish language has been rated as fairly proficient by the esteemed Spanish Department here at Georgetown).
How I got here is sort of an interesting story. On my mother’s side of the family there are roots in Illinois and Missouri. Her side of the family is hard to trace too far back because someone just rode into a little Missouri town one day, married one of my ancestors and refused to talk about his past. That is a little curious. Once we get to my grandfather the story gets a little easier to trace. He was a Baptist preacher who went around starting small churches until they were big enough to build a Sunday school wing. Then he would move on.
My dad was actually the second generation of Japanese immigrants born in America. My grandfather was the first, born in Southern California, but he went back to school in Japan. He came back to the United States when he was about 18. My dad was born in 1947, a few years after my grandparents had gotten out of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. So it was in the late ‘60s that my parents met at the University of Redlands in California.
When he told his parents that they were engaged, my father’s father announced that he needed to use the restroom at the restaurant where they were. He indicated my father should follow him. As they stood next to each other at the urinals my grandfather said, “Tommy! She not Japanese.” (I still have a hard time understanding his English.) My father indicated he knew, and my grandfather said, “Okay, I just wasn’t sure that you knew.”
So they were married. I was born in 1979. As far as I could tell we lived a very white lifestyle. My father did all his schooling in the United States in the time after World War II when it was not a particularly good time to be Japanese on the West Coast. While in college, a guy he knew mailed him a model of the Enola Gay on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. My dad does not speak any Japanese, and so I never learned a word.
I grew up in a very white community, and so I tried to be as white as possible when I was a kid because being different was bad. I didn’t have it too bad. Kids made fun of my last name saying things like “Scott Sock-your-mama” or something like that. I got called a Jap a few times. Although when I told my friend’s mom, she asked me who called me that, and I told her Matt Lin. She told me to call him a Chink. Even being a fifth grader I knew that probably wasn’t the nicest thing to do, so I didn’t follow that advice.
High school was a little better. My football coach just shortened my name to “Saki.” That was kind of cool. Then some guys on the team just shortened it to “Sack.” Then some guys added “big,” to make “Big Sack.” I figured being called “Big Sack” was better than “Sock-your-mama” or “Suck-my-llama.” Still, even with the change of names, I was the Asian friend. I was the token minority.
But coming to college was good for me. I came to Georgetown, and we all know about Georgetown and diversity. There are enough real Asians here that no one ever identifies me as their Asian friend. True, I am still not white enough to be the Catholic white male who played lacrosse in some Jersey high school, so I cannot totally fit in with the majority. I think I kind of like that though.
I am a Protestant, so on this campus I am a minority in that sense, but that is a pretty small matter. I don’t really like going to Catholic Mass, but if I don’t want to I don’t have to, which makes me happy. I am a heterosexual so I am not a minority in that way either. I can check the Asian-American box on standardized tests so I guess that helps the University look more diverse. And hey, I would do anything for the dear old blue and gray. So I guess it is interesting to have been taught what it is like to go from the minority to the majority. I can say “Thank you” to Georgetown’s diversity for that. In the meantime, I am headed back to California this summer because my friends miss their Asian friend.