MANIFESTO – Monologue from UC Berkeley Nikkei Student Union’s 6th Annual Culture Show

For those of you who missed it, the UC Berkeley Nikkei Student Union held their 6th Annual Culture Show, (r)evolutions a couple weeks ago on Sunday December 7, 2008. I really enjoyed the stories presented in this year’s show, as well as the fun dance sequences and an amazing performance from Cal Raijin Taiko. Following a similar format to their culture show in 2007, this year’s show also featured in part several monologues from NSU members giving voice to their experiences, feelings, hopes and reactions regarding several issues pertinent to the Japanese American community as well as their identities as Japanese Americans.

With the author’s permission, we are posting a transcript of one of the featured monologues by this year’s Culture Show Co-Chair, Brian Jocson, titled Manifesto. Brian’s monologue focuses on the incident that occurred back in late July/early August of this year when the Building Developer as well as the President of the Homeowner’s Association of the building at 1600 Webster Street threatened to stop the Nihonmachi Street Fair from happening because of the supposed problems of litter and disruption the annual event poses to the tenants of the building. If you’ve been following our blog since then, you may remember several posts we put up on the Nakayoshi blog regarding this same issue (which you can read here, here and here). Brian’s piece speaks out on behalf of the younger generation of the community in defense of these community gatherings against those outside of the community who fail to recognize the significance of these events and the cultural enrichment these festivals provide. The monologue begins with a reading of the actual letter of complaint written to the Nihonmachi Street Fair Organizing Committee:

To Nihonmachi Street Fair Committee,

As you are aware, this Association (along with other members of this neighborhood) must tolerate what seems to be an endless use of Post and Webster Streets for a series of look-alike street fairs with the same purveyors of schlocky souvenirs, mediocre food stands and exhibitors who have absolutely no relationship to the community.

The streets and sidewalks of this neighborhood are usually filthy, especially those that surround that appalling mall, and 1600 Webster already devotes part of its yearly budget to the maintenance of its sidewalks and street trees from which this neighborhood receives a direct benefit.

We want to make it very clear to you that if the neighborhood sidewalks are not cleaned in an adequate fashion this year, this Association will file a protest with the City when you seek a permit for next year’s street fair.

You want to put on an event; you take responsibility. In this instance, you make a mess, you clean it up. You don’t get the benefits (proceeds), without the liabilities (expenses). If your event doesn’t make money, you should rethink it’s usefulness.

President, 1600 Webster Street Homeowners’ Association

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To the President of the 1600 Webster Street Homeowners Association,

Thank you for your very “enlightening” letter regarding this year’s Nihonmachi Street Fair. But after carefully reading your letter, I have something to say on behalf of the younger generation of this community.

You say that our festivals and participants have “no relationship to the community,” but I have to question what “community” you’re referring to. What “community”? Your community that replaced the Japantown Bowling alley that used to bring youth and life to the neighborhood. Your “community” that decided to build those expensive condos that refuse to contribute anything positive to our community? Or maybe you’re just referring to the “community” of avid Starbucks drinkers that tried to put mom and pop coffee shops in Japantown out of business?

As you are not aware, this community must fight what seems to be an endless struggle. From losing blocks and blocks of San Francisco Japantown after World War II. From hundreds of Japantowns in the U.S. reduced to only three left in the entire nation. And then to have two of those three bought off and sold. We have over 100 years of history here in Japan Town. For you to move into those condos and complain with so much authority and crass about our traditions and how we choose to celebrate our culture, shows how much you really know about us.

To think that these festivals are about fundraising or making a profit is to truly miss the point. Growing up, these festivals were my only connection to the community. Going to Obon, Nihonmachi Street Fair, and Cherry Blossom festival every year with my Baachan and parents are experiences that defined my identity as a Japanese American. And you’re willing to deny that opportunity to countless others and future generations by threatening our festivals in Japan Town – all over a few pieces of trash on the sidewalk. How can you be so ignorant of the repercussions? My community, memories, and experiences are not schlocky, mediocre or appalling. And anyone who tells me so doesn’t even have the slightest clue of what it truly means to belong in a community. To be tolerant and accepting of diversity.

You should have known what you were getting yourself into when you decided to live here. You want to live here; you take responsibility. In this instance, complaining about our trash is one thing. Saying our festivals are useless and threatening its liveliness is another.

Because I can’t see a Japan Town survive without its long tradition of festivals, and I can’t stand to see it go down because a bunch of overpriced condos complained about a few pieces of trash.

Brian Jocson, Proud member of this community

To find out more about the UC Berkeley Nikkei Student Union (especially if you’re a student!), go to http://nsu.berkeley.edu/. Photo Credit: Charlie Nguyen

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