What’s the definition of Japanese-American?

By Ayumi Luke

The Japanese people were so excited about the news that the scientist Dr. Manabe won the Nobel Physics Prize for climate models and the understanding of physical systems. 

Wait! But he is actually a US citizen now working at Princeton University. So should we say he is a “Japan- born American” instead of Japanese? 

Japanese have won various Nobel prizes since Hideki Yukawa in Physics in 1949. There are 12 Nobel prize winners in Physics and 3 of them were Japan-born Americans. Dr. Manabe gave an answer as to why he became a US citizen in his news conference at Princeton.

He said Japanese are very harmonious people. But he is not capable of being harmonious so he became a US citizen. In the US, you don’t have to worry about what other people think about you. You can do whatever you want. Also here he didn’t have to worry about money or anything at his University and could focus on his research. The other two Japan-born Nobel prize winners in Physics must agree with Dr. Manabe. 

Since he has done all of his climate change research in the US, the Japanese should not claim that a Japanese won the Nobel prize. Rather, Japan should worry why so many bright scientists move to the US. 

Anyway, I am like Dr. Manabe. I was born in Japan and became a US citizen 10 years ago. So I declare I am a Japan-born American. How about my son? Is he Japanese-American? Nisei? Last fall he had to fill out his college applications. For the race question: he checked: White (his father) and Asian (his mother). Sometimes he checked the box of multi-race. It must have been hard for him to categorize his race. He was born in Paris and spent his first 12 years in Asia and was surrounded by multi-race kids all the time. He didn’t have a chance to think what race he is until we moved to Vashon, a mostly white community. At last, he told me that he is just an American with a Japanese mother. True! 

My son was clearly cheering for Japan in the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008!

We have been challenged to think about what Americans are and what makes America for the last few years, especially. Living in Japan was much easier… 

I cheered for Japan and my son cheered for the US during the Tokyo summer Olympics. I wonder if Dr. Manabe cheered for Japan after living in the US for more than half a century.

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