A brilliant weave
Towards the end of writer Susan Aihoshi’s piece on page 34 she writes, “While the fabric of our community was torn apart in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the threads of that old life are being re-woven into a vibrant new tapestry. Those threads are strong. I have never been more proud of my heritage than on that day.”
Susan is referring to the Canadian Nikkei community but it got me thinking about the bigger picture—at the metaphors we use when looking at issues of race, heritage and citizenship in the pluralistic society we are building.
When comparing our country and our neighbours to the immediate south, the US is generally referred to as a melting pot and Canada as a mosaic.
The melting pot analogy works for me, but in the latter case, surely the metaphor of a tapestry, or even a patchwork quilt, is more apt than that of a mosaic. After all, a mosaic, for all its complexity and vibrancy, is hard and unyielding. Once the pieces are laid in place, they are fixed, immovable, set in stone.
As a country, we are the sum of all of our parts—millions of minds, ideas, experiences, customs, each constantly in flux, constantly evolving.
When I look at who we are as a country, I see a great, billowing, weathered piece of fabric, made up of millions of coloured threads, fraying at the edges, patched here and there, but essentially whole. And rather than being set in stone it is constantly being rewoven, with new bits added on and others removed or covered over. It’s not always pretty, but it is always beautiful. It is sometimes full of holes, but it is always strong.
Our Canadian Nikkei community is an integral part of the whole, woven by hand into the fabric, each thread a brilliant colour; each thread running into another to create a new combination, a new colour.
Last month our Canadian tapestry became just a little less interesting with the passing of Ian Belcher. I interviewed Ian in 2001 and for a number of reasons our conversation has stayed with me all these years. It wasn’t an easy interview.
Mixed-race at a time when that was unusual, Ian had very mixed feelings about the community, and a lot of anger, I think, left over from the war years and his experiences growing up in Vancouver’s east side.
Born in Shanghai to a British father and a Japanese mother, Ian, along with his brothers and mother, lived in Vancouver during the war while his father remained in Shanghai before being taken prisoner by the Japanese. As Ian told me, “It was quite a difficult period because you weren’t sure who you belonged to. Even afterwards, you were not quite sure where you belonged. Because as you grow up you’re not quite accepted by the white community and you were not accepted by the Japanese community. So you are sort of sitting out there all by yourself saying, ‘I don’t belong to anybody. It gives you a very lonely feeling, especially when you are a kid.”
Articulate and gracious, Ian treated me with respect and consideration the one time we met in person. His willingness to share his story, despite the pain that it caused him, impressed me.
Ian Belcher was a part of the fabric of this country, and we are the lesser for his passing.